Alternatives to the War on Drugs.

By Luis Chavez – Sanchez and Klerissa Zolciak

These are the sources Klerissa and I used during our week of responsibility. We choose these sources because we felt like they provide good and valid information on why the War on Drugs has failed and continues to fail so many people and provides valid information for creating alternative policies. Essentially, they acknowledge the War on Drugs as hurting millions of people within this country and internationally and provide substantial evidence on what can be done to promote new alternatives to the war on drugs.

“Who Benefits from the War on Drugs?” video by AJ+

The War on Drugs was started by President Nixon in 1971. Marijuana became a Schedule 1 drug, DARE began to promote zero tolerance, and Congress began to pass strict penalties for drugs. Within the last 50 years, the United States has spent around $1 trillion on the war. Yet, the number of drugs entering the states continues to rise. The US started the war as a way to claim power over Americans, politics, and push the racial divide. The War on Drugs has caused our law enforcement to become more militarized which could be responsible for the rise in police brutality. Support for the military is associated with the Republican party which pushes a political agenda. The US seizes hundreds of billions annually from drug lords laundering money, so the government is profiting off of drug laws. Additionally, disparities within drug arrest rates between races further enforces racism and inequality in America. The war also enforces the idea that drug users are lazy, non-goal seeking, and non-essential to society. The only people who benefit from the war on drugs are the same people who benefit from capitalism. 

This video is particularly interesting when talking about the war on the drugs because it shows all of the aspects of the War on Drugs that are often time ignored. The video shows direct evidence of how this failed war is being used for profit by so many organizations.  For example, the private prison industry has seen a large increase in inmates and particularly when most of the inmates are convicted on non-violent drug charges. Furthermore, ending the War on Drugs only ends part of the problem. There are so many systemic ways that organizations profit from the War on Drugs and this should be acknowledged so that it can be dealt with. Therefore, this video by AJ+ does an amazing job showing how capitalism is affecting the failed war and how the tactics used to end substance use has hurt more people than it has helped. 

Harm Reduction vs Incarceration

            As a result of the drug war, nonviolent incarceration rates have risen. When comparing US residents born in 2001, 1 out of 3 black men will be arrested in their lifetime vs 1 in 17 white men will be arrested. In class we watched a video called “Drug Alternatives That Work”. The video captures the idea that drug use is a social issue. There are many social issues that find their way into the criminal justice system because there is nothing else out there. The criminal justice system only knows how to send people to prison. Humans are substance users and we have been for much of our existence. It is natural and normal. Yet in our society, it is looked down upon and substance users are not receiving the support they need. Most of the time, drug addiction issues stem from unhealthy coping mechanisms. This video brought light to the perspective of bringing harm reduction into incarceration.

This video is helpful to begin the conversation of what should be done with people who are continuously arrested for drug related incidents. Instead of incarcerating and further damaging the life of somebody there should be a safe and helpful alternative for them. This video focuses on the LEAD program and how LEAD has helped many people within Seattle.  The LEAD program is the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program and was developed to address low-level drug crimes. The program helps substance abusers, who have multiple low-level illegal drug offences, by using police diversion and community-based trauma-informed care systems. This benefits the substance abuser because instead of just putting them in jail cells they are placed in environments where they can fully deal with their trauma. Personally, my favorite part about this video was how it did not look at substance abusers but as victims of a failed system. This video really emphasizes substance abuse as an effect of a greater issues, like depression, physical pain and unemployment. Programs like this should be implemented nationwide instead of relying of the same old correctional system that does not correct anything. 

Alternative Policies

The alternate policies that can be used instead of criminalizing drugs and substance users are many, but new policies should help protect the communities the War on Drugs has failed. Instead of funding a failed operation, the budget can be shifted from spending for the pursuit, prosecution, and imprisonment of drug law offenders to spending for education, treatment and the research of these substances. For instance, instead of having a substance user arrested for using a substance they can have the choice to go through a treatment facility. It is often unmentioned that drug abuse often stems from a larger issue, such as depression or unemployment, and is a coping mechanism. New policies should take this and all of research that is being done with substance abuse into consideration when deciding new policies. 

This article provides numerous pieces of evidence on why the War on Drugs has failed and alternatives to the war on drugs. The points brought up within are very valid and unbelievable. For example, the U.S. spends around $15 billion dollars annually on federal drug control. This is particularly interesting when only 11% of prisoners with a history of substance abuse receiver any kind of substance abuse treatment during their incarceration. Or the fact that it costs at least $30,000 dollars a year to put someone behind bars, but on the average only $11,665 dollars are spent on every public-school student. Furthermore, when talking about alternative policies to the war on drugs we should safely educate people about substances. Instead of spending billions of dollars on ending the use of drugs, that money could be used to fund safe and non-deconstructive drug education in schools and, overall in a public setting. 

Medical Marijuana 

In recent years, the argument as to whether marijuana should be legal or not has taken up much space in our political conversations. It comes with many benefits such as treatment for eating disorders, mental health conditions, pain, and cancer just to name a few. The benefits of marijuana have been proven time and time again as beneficial to so many people facing different challenges in their life. Recently, a non-psychoactive compound of marijuana called CBD, has been used to treat people without the element of getting “high”. Marijuana is an inclusive drug that can be beneficial to a large portion of patients. In comparison to pills a patient would be prescribed, marijuana is more natural, non-addictive, and is not lethal since you cannot overdose on marijuana. The legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in America (in some places) has opened up the floor for the conversation of harm reduction and de-stigmatization of drugs. The legalization of marijuana has lessened drug violence and drug arrests have lowered. Legalizing marijuana has given professionals the chance to evaluate and experiment with weed. These studies have led to a better understanding of the plant, how to dose correctly, and different methods of consumption so the drug is inclusive to many needs and people. The magical wonders of marijuana have opened up the world to new perspectives on drugs and harm reduction. Magic mushrooms, ketamine, and ecstasy are now also being studied as drugs with therapeutic properties. This is all wonderful and an amazing move in the right direction! But the country is still not anywhere near accepting of drugs. It is a battle, a long one. Practice harm reduction spread the knowledge, and live safe in the meantime. 

Lastly, if nothing is done about the War on Drugs it will continue to negatively affect millions of people. For the last 40 years of the War on Drugs has not really benefited anyone besides those who can profit off of the war. The violence, mass incarceration and social marginalization will continue to happen if nothing is done about it. In order to do that safe and factual drug education should be implemented all over this country. Presenting these substances in a positive way instead of the demonized lectures provided by school counselors. Furthermore, these articles can be used to see what kind of strategies could be implemented to different communities. There is no “one-way” to cure substance abuse, which is something the War on Drugs did not realize. Substance abuse stems from a larger issue, like unemployment, depression or even physical pain; something the War on Drugs also failed to realize. Therefore, the “Drug War” has failed and needs to end so that new policies can be implemented that benefit instead of hurting the affected individuals and the affected communities. 

Works Cited

AJ+, director. Who’s Making Money Off The War On Drugs? Who’s Making Money Off The War On Drugs?, 2014,

Asia, VICE, director. Australia’s Underground Medicinal Marijuana GrowersAustralia’s Underground Medicinal Marijuana Growers, 2019,

Bridgeman, Mary Barna, and Daniel T Abazia. “Medicinal Cannabis: History, Pharmacology, And Implications for the Acute Care Setting.” P&T, vol. 42, no. 3.

Films, Brave New, director. Drug War Alternatives That Work • Overcriminalized: Substance Abuse • BRAVE NEW FILMS: JUSTICE. Drug War Alternatives That Work • Overcriminalized: Substance Abuse • BRAVE NEW FILMS: JUSTICE, 2014,

November, Bill, and Northpoint. “The Failures of and Alternatives to the ‘War on Drugs.’” Northpoint Washington’s Blog, 7 Nov. 2019,

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