The expected outcome of the War on Drugs is to reduce and eventually eradicate all individual and social problems associated with drug abuse. The basic principle that the war on drugs is founded on is that by imposing penalties for the production, distribution and use of certain chemicals, the overall use of these chemicals as drugs by the public will reduce. A necessary assumption is that by reducing the number of people who use drugs, a reduction in drug abuse and its associated problems will also occur.
Arguments For and Against
The main argument for the war on drugs is that because of the dangerous effects these substances have shown to produce in some people, there must be government control mechanisms to stop people from subjecting themselves or others to the same effects. Although this is a historically recent point of view with regard to the substances controlled in the war on drugs, the principle has been a recurring theme throughout the world at various times. Coffee and tobacco have both been seen as dangerous substances and banned by various governing bodies historically. This principle is the basis for many laws seen today, such as control of the sale and ownership of certain weapons. However few other laws, if any, exist to punish people for possessing physical means to potentially cause themselves physical or emotional harm.
Arguments against the war on drugs usually involve proponents of the concept of freedom of choice. Many people believe it is their own right, not the state's, to choose what substances they put into their body, even when they acknowledge that those substances will do them harm.
Others argue that the laws against drugs are hypocritical since many other dangerous drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco as well as some prescription and over the counter medications are tolerated, especially legal prescription opiates, such as oxycodone and morphine, which are highly addictive and can lead to overdose. Some even argue that the legality of the sale of unhealthy foods and drinks goes against the principle behind the war on drugs, since deaths as a result from unhealthy diet dwarf deaths occurring from illegal drug use.
Many express that the dangers drugs hold towards society are exaggerated by the government and media, who only choose results from scientific studies which support the point of view that the illegal drugs are as dangerous as they say they are. On the other hand, many proponents of legalizing or decriminalizing drugs ignore scientific evidence that goes against their point of view.
Few people hold a neutral and unbiased viewpoint on drugs, and as such, it is difficult to hold a rational and logical debate on the subject.
Before criminal penalties were applied to the production, sale and use of drugs, drug related crimes as we know them today did not exist. This is not to say that other problems, such as addiction did not occur. Before most drugs become illegal they are usually manufactured by professional companies under state law, and as such anything produced for human consumption must adhere to strict standards. Companies competing with each other in the drug market must do so in lawful ways. An unfortunate consequence of the war on drugs is that cartels and gangs who now illegally distribute drugs do not follow the same standards of production and practice. This results in gang related violence, as different gangs seek to control the trade for their own gain. Also sale to underage children and addicts since distributors feel no legal or moral obligation to do otherwise (as opposed to the sale of alcohol for instance).
The war on drugs extends the definition of what is a crime, and as a result actually creates more 'crime' initially, since previously legal activities become illegal. The idea is that people participating in the drug related activities are now defined as criminals, and become marginalized with respect to the legal system and the public who support it. In turn, this fraction of the population must submit to the law and refuse drug related activities in order to be accepted as a law abiding member of society.
Success or Failure?
There are different views on what constitutes success with respect to the war on drugs. Although the amount of drugs seized by government organizations increases each year, the number of people still using drugs has not followed any particular pattern since the initiation of the war. Despite this, most governments have a positive outlook for their efforts to curb drug use and its associated problems.