I recently ran across this article about the drug ketamine being used to treat alcoholism. It really stuck out to me because when I was going to school for my generals, I took a Drug Awareness course in which we were presented with an article about ketamine being used to treat depression. I began to think that there has got to be some merit to the idea that ketamine potentially has some medicinal benefits to it if almost two years later researchers are still studying its use in treatment of illnesses.
This got me thinking on an even larger scale than that. Last semester I did a research project all about the drug war in the United States. Although there is so much to it, I will give a brief background about it. The drug war began in 1971 under President Nixon who declared drug use as “public enemy number one.” He went on to create the DEA, or the Drug Enforcement Agency. In 1981 Ronald Reagan took office and went even further with it, enforcing very strict laws and consequences for possession of even the most minuscule amounts of illegal substances, and requiring a mandatory minimum sentencing for possession of any scheduled drug.
The entire drug war has been a complete failure in the United States. When I first had to present this topic from an unbiased viewpoint in my course last semester, I struggled to find any substantial benefits from the drug war because the reality is there are VERY few. The United States accounts for about 5% (4.4 to be exact) of the world population, yet we account for 1/5 of the world’s prison population. A large number of the prison population are non-violent drug offenders. That is billions of our taxpayer dollars going toward locking up individuals (some of who are serving time for something as ridiculous as marijuana possession) for committing a crime of choice. For the individuals who truly are struggling with addiction, locking them up has shown to do absolutely no good for them, often times it makes the addiction even worse. On top of all of that, it also stifles research such as the study conducted in the article above. If a drug is listed as schedule I, meaning that it has no medical benefit whatsoever, there cannot be research done on a federal level to find out if it may contain some sort of medical benefit. In fact, marijuana is currently listed as a schedule I drug federally, despite that fact that it has shown great promise in terms of its medicinal powers, and is legal both medically and recreationally in a growing number of states.
So how does the situation get any better? Well an awesome example of a country who executed drug law reform beautifully would be Portugal. Portugal was really struggling in the 1990’s with drug use in their country. Individuals were overdosing at alarming rates, and continuously being locked up. After so much time, Portugal decided something was not working, and in 2001 they decriminalized all substances. Decriminalization does not mean legalization, instead it means that if you are caught with possession of a substance, there may still be legal consequences, however they will be very minimal. Instead of locking an individual up in jail for possession, Portugal offers two choices, although typically most instances of possession do not result in anything. One, being going to treatment, or two being a fine. With the implementation of this policy, incarceration rates have declined, along with rates of drug use, and overdose is nearly nonexistent.
I remain optimistic that sometime in the near future we will see reform to drug laws in the United States. I think that we are on our way with the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana, however I also feel that there is so much more room for improvement. One thing I am certain of, something has got to change.