U.S. shifts dynamics in the ‘War on Drugs’

World Today

2014 was a break-out year for recreational marijuana. Colorado and Washington State were the first two U.S. states to make it legal. Following in their footsteps, two more states and the District of Columbia voted to legalize marijuana while other states consider decriminalizing marijuana use.

U.S. shifts dynamics in the 'War on Drugs'

2014 was a break-out year for recreational marijuana. Colorado and Washington State were the first two U.S. states to make it legal. Following in their footsteps, two more states and the District of Columbia voted to legalize marijuana while other states consider decriminalizing marijuana use.

CCTV America’s Jim Spellman reported this story from Washington, D.C.

The longest running American war wasn’t Vietnam or Afghanistan: It’s the war on drugs, launched in 1971 by U.S. President Richard Nixon.

“America’s number one enemy in the United States is drug abuse,” Nixon said at the time.

The message was amplified in the 1980’s by President Ronald Reagan.

“Drugs are menacing our society,” he said. U.S. first lady Nancy Reagan famously joined the public conversation.

“I was asked by a group of children what to do if they were offered drugs, and I answered, ‘Just say no,'” she said.

Through laws and vigorous enforcement, the war on drugs aimed to eradicate the production, sale, and use of illegal drugs, including marijuana. In 1986, Reagan cited to the war’s apparent successes.

“We have increased seizures of drugs. Shortages of marijuana are now being reported. Last year alone over ten thousand drug criminals were convicted,” the former president said.

Gradually, however, what Reagan and others claimed as success began to look more like failure, especially when it came to marijuana.

More and more Americans have rejected the war on drugs, according to pro-legalization advocate Betty Aldworth.

“They look at the international picture where people are dying every day in Mexico, where the cartels are largely in charge,” she said. “They look at the injustices of marijuana prohibition and other drug war policies that disproportionately impact people in low income communities and people of color. They look at the size of the incarcerated population in the U.S. and they say no more. Not in our names.”

The shift began in 1996 when the U.S. state of California legalized marijuana for medical use. Out of the fifty states, 23 states and the District of Columbia have some form of legal medical marijuana use and four states have legalized recreational use for adults.

In the first half of 2014, recreational marijuana sales in Colorado brought the state about $19 million in taxes. While it was less than projected before voters passed legalization, advocates said that’s money that would otherwise be in the black market and that police resources are now better directed by not going after pot dealers and users. Those against legalization have argued the taxes won’t cover the damage marijuana does to society.

In pop culture, the image of the marijuana user has shifted from clueless stoners Cheech and Chong to the suburban mom in “Weeds” as marijuana has gone mainstream.

“Many more people are realizing that marijuana is a substance frequently used similarly to alcohol and that by keeping it illegal we are actually creating more social problems than we are solving,” Aldworth said.

Current U.S. President Barack Obama has said he is open to a debate on drug legalization, but for now he remains opposed.

“I personally, and my administration’s position, is that legalization is not the answer,” Obama said.

His administration has not gone after states that have legalized marijuana, but the president’s party no longer controls either house of Congress and he has only two years left in his term, making the future of drug legalization in the U.S. hazy at best.