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The drug epidemic was addressed on a global stage during President Nixon’s “War against drugs” campaign in 1971. Since then, countries are taking different approaches on the drug epidemic. The United Nations (U.N.) limit the modes of regulation by prohibiting nations to cultivate, manufacture, and sell drugs on a legal scale (Hughes 2010). Two of the most controversial approaches are criminalization and decriminalization. The Unites States (U.S.) currently uses the criminalization – the act of making something into a criminal offense by making it illegal – approach whereas Portugal has been using the decriminalization – the act of lessening the criminal act without ceasing its illegality – method regarding drug consumption since 2001.
Despite legislation efforts over the past five decades, the U.S. drug demographics continue to rise and ultimately worsen. This is due to legislation efforts directly targeting minority populations, the influence of capitalism on social ideals, and the infrastructure of the health system. Portugal on the other hand has seen positive changes in the social and health sphere of their country after decriminalizing drug consumption.
The U.S. is a mixed economy, deriving its ideals from the principles of both socialism and capitalism; however, the social tendencies are largely influenced by capitalist principles. As stated by Oje Bejerg (2008), an Associate Professor at the Copenhagen Business School and author of books on the effects of capitalism, “the spirit of contemporary capitalism… seems no longer to be found in the sphere of production but rather in the sphere of consumption.
Consumption and enjoyment are no longer vices but rather virtues, and we are constantly bombarded by demands for us to buy, consume and enjoy.” Capitalism has led to the increase in demand for such material products; however, when this satisfaction is not met, individuals turn to other things to achieve “ultimate enjoyment” that otherwise cannot be achieved in the consumer industry.
This ideology is transferred into the consumption sphere of the drug culture. It is stated in the same journal that “being addicted to drugs… is a radical war of fulfillment the imperative of enjoyment constantly thrown at us by the contemporary ideology of consumption” The U.S. idealizing a free market where private corporations can conduct business with little to no government intervention allows for the illegitimate drug businesses to prosper, feeding the demand for a way to fulfill the “duty to enjoy” by providing drugs that “implodes the desire for other [stronger] products,” further imploding the drug epidemic.
Hence why the U.S. bases off the criminalization model. By taking away the consumers through incarceration, they weaken the “pioneers of [the global economy]” by lessening their profits; however, it fails to address that “there will always be a demand for drugs no matter how much [our materialism is “tempered”)” because “When governments intervene in multinational narcotics traffic they often open up the market for competing traders.”
Based on the Portugal model, the health system is crucial in the decriminalization of drugs; however, the success of Portugal stems from the infrastructure of its health sector. Portugal has a public healthcare system, where basic services are provided by the state government for little to no cost, that enables the success of decriminalization. Portugal was able to decriminalize and implement CDTs with its available resources in the healthcare system; an increase in collaboration and expansion of treatment places.
Considering this, the decriminalization model may not work well or at all in the U.S. According to Nina Santos (2017), an American-Portuguese freelance writer of three years, this is due to its private healthcare system. In contrast to Portugal, there are no governmental funds on healthcare and citizens are to pay for their own from many private companies. With this being said, collaboration and expansion of treatment places is not feasible in the U.S. due to the infrastructure of the healthcare system being privatized and separate. Although the U.S. has recently been making efforts to approach the opioid and heroine epidemic as a health crisis, this largely contrasts to the treatment to the crack epidemic in the 90s. This reveals a larger factor at play that makes decimalization almost impossible in the U.S.
Although the era of slavery and racial discrimination has passed, the U.S. criminalization system has brought a new era of racism into society. The war on drugs has become a war on Blacks and Hispanics as it is using the platform as a way to “discriminate… without officially banning their rights” and reembody racism into another outlet; the war on drugs has increased the racial divisions in the working class and attack the political status of Blacks. This is particularly evident in the disparities of incarceration rates between Whites and Blacks. According to corresponding author Allana Rosenberg, project manager and research associate at Yale’s School of Public Health, Blacks had more sentences resulting in inceration that Whites. In addition, Blacks were 8.24 times more likely than whites to have a sales charge, despite no statistical difference in self-reports of every having sold drugs. Though whites are just as likely to sell drugs, the discrepancies are due to the strong association of drugs with blacks, as reflected by the imbalance of charges, incarceration rates, etc. between the two races.
Consequently, the strict laws that target minority populations also effect the political rights of all citizens. As stated by Graham Boyd, attorney and scholar specializing in drug reform and founding director of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) Drug Reform Project, the war on drugs has resulted in “a shrunken Bill of Rights [and] diminished democratic rights.” The drug war and strict laws leave felons disenfranchised despite serving their time, neglect the fourth amendment of unreasonable search and seizure and replace it with the motivation to legally hunt for drugs in the absence of any pretext, and neglect of property rights.
The U.S. approach on the drug epidemic is driven by three factors: capitalism, the health sector, and racist political motivations. Capitalism influences the ideology of society by emphasizing the consumer industry, essentially encouraging people to seek “ultimate enjoyment” through other substances such as drugs. This is turn increases demand for drugs while also allowing provisions for private business to flourish. The U.S. healthcare system is unequivocal to Portugal’s, limiting the possibility of other legislation options, particularly decriminalization; the private sectors are not set up for collaboration to support an extensive treatment plan. Although the re-embodiment of racism into drug policies is evident through discrepancies in incarceration rates effects all citizens, legislators hold no regard and allow the bill of rights to be abused and neglected. With all factors combined, it the cultural implications are evident and the changes that can be implemented to counteract the misrepresentation of what the war on drugs is meant to stand for.
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