Controlled substances are clearly defined within the legal frameworks of the United States. They are regarded as chemicals or drugs whose production, use, and possession is under the control of the government (Gabay, 2013). Such products are subject to legislative regulations (Gabay, 2013). An illegal drug, on the other hand, refers to any substance that is outlawed under certain situations. In most cases, it is considered a crime for anyone to possess, sell, or manufacture these products (Texas Penal Code § 38.11).
Like other countries around the world, the US has laws governing the use of these substances. To this end, the country has put in place the Controlled Substances Act to achieve this objective. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the act. Prior to the introduction of this legal device, the government had put in place measures and sanctions to regulate the possession, sale, and use of illegal drugs and controlled substances. The rules have changed over the years, leading to the introduction of what effective legislations. Americans have also adopted a number of international treaties dealing with these substances.
In the current paper, the author analyzes the various legislations used to regulate drugs and controlled substances in the US. The evolution of these laws over the past 2 centuries will also be reviewed.
The war against the use of illegal drugs and other controlled substances started over two centuries ago (Abadinsky, 2013). Most prohibitions used in the past were selective. They barred certain groups of people from using specified chemicals and allowing others to do so at the same time. When a drug is declared as illegal, the group affected by the ban is expected to comply with the law. Failure to respect the legislation may lead to penalties whose severity depends on the prevailing circumstances within the state where the offence was committed.
As already stated above, control measures and sanctions related to the use of illegal drugs and controlled substances have been applied selectively in the past (Abadinsky, 2013). Most prohibitions are not based on medical assessments of the chemicals and drugs. It is a fact that scientific assessments are being carried out on certain drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana. However, some laws are viewed as discriminatory in spite of these efforts (Abadinsky, 2013).
A case in point is a legal provision outlawing the use of opium amongst Chinese immigrants in the country. The law was put in place in 1870. At the time, the government justified the legal framework by maintaining that China was one of the largest producers of the drug in the world. As such, the move was aimed at reducing the quantity of the substances circulating in the US. In 1900, an anti-marijuana law was passed in the southern side of the US. The legislation only banned the use of the drug among the black population living in the region. It was later adopted in the Midwest and the Southwestern regions of the country. At this point, the ban was targeting Mexican Americans and other immigrants.
The introduction of democratic governance has led to various changes. For example, there has been a shift in the enforcement of legislations involving illegal drugs and controlled substances. Today, equality is evident with all persons in the US required to adhere to the laid down legal provisions (Sapienza, 2006). Natives and immigrants are prosecuted when they breach the anti-drugs laws. However, there are concerns that the agencies involved in the enforcement of these acts, including the police and the judiciary, are still discriminative. A case in point is Black Americans and members of other minority groups. The individuals are subjected to stiffer penalties compared to other groups of citizens.
The rules regulating the use of drugs in the country have changed over the past 200 years depending on the policies identified by the regime of the day. To this end, different presidents have adopted varying approaches to the problem of narcotics and other substances. For the longest time, drugs have been viewed as a symbol of rebellion among the youth. A number of past administrations have regarded these substances as a major cause of political dissents and social upheavals in the country. As a result, the authorities outlaw many drugs without taking into consideration their potential benefits and possible medical applications (Reuter, 2013).
For instance, in 1971, President Nixon declared a nationwide war against drugs. During the time, he increased the number of federal agents enforcing the laws that governed the use of illegal drugs and controlled substances. The officers were also given more powers to carry out their duties. For example, the agents did not require ‘knock warrants’ to access premises suspected to harbor the substances (Spillane, 2004).
President Nixon also introduced harsh sentences for persons found to be guilty of drug related offenses. He appeared to focus more on the use of marijuana in the country. The substance was classified under ‘Schedule One’ during his rule. As such, it became one of the most regulated substances in the country. The move was a temporary measure. It was applied by the government as the authorities awaited the report of a review commission headed by Governor Raymond Shafer. The 1972 report made a number of proposals. For example, it found that the authorities should legalize the use of the substance under specific circumstances. However, the administration disregarded the recommendations.
The period between 1973 and 1977 saw eleven states in the country reverse the rules criminalizing the drug (Spillane, 2004). After taking power, President Jimmy Carter pushed for the legalization of the substance. Subsequently, the senate passed a motion that decriminalized possession of the drug for personal use. The move led to large scale production of the substance across the nation. The effects of its use were felt in many parts of the country, especially among the youth. Since handling the substance was no longer illegal, parents were charged with the responsibility of controlling its use among their children. Today, most states have legalized marijuana and other controlled substances under special conditions. For example, the medical use of the substance is allowed in some regions.
In the 1980s and 1990s, President Ronald Reagan launched nationwide anti-drug campaigns with the help of his wife. At the time, those found to be in possession of illegal substances faced incarcerations. Many people faced jail sentences owing to drug related cases (Spillane, 2004).
It is worth noting that the number of those incarcerated for committing nonviolent offences associated with controlled substances rose. The figure stood at approximately 50,000 in the 80s. However, the number rose to almost half a million by the end of 1997. The response by the government was as a result of increasing pressure from members of the public. The Americans were calling on the administration to deal effectively with the increased cases of addiction in the country.
The increased demands on the government were inspired by the media’s portrayal of addiction cases. The media especially focused on ‘smokable’ substances, such as cocaine. Some of the law enforcement officers at the time held radical views concerning the issue. A case in point is Daryl Gates. The officer served as the Chief of Police in Los Angeles at the time. He proposed that those found using controlled substances should be shot. Education programs were also initiated in the late 1980s (Buppert, 2009). Most of these policies focused on the youth. One such program was the DARE campaign. It was started by Daryl Gates. Soon, the plan was adopted all over the country. Access to syringes was also restricted to deal with the problem.
A poll conducted in 1989 illustrated the opinions held by majority of Americans regarding the issue of drugs in the country. For example, 64 percent of those interviewed regarded this to be the biggest problem affecting the country. However, there was a change in policy concerning the war against illegal drugs in 1992. The changes were brought about by Bill Clinton when he became the president. The new administration pushed for the treatment of drug users (Sapienza, 2006). It discouraged incarceration of these individuals.
The policy by Clinton was implemented for a few months. Critics argued that it was not effective in dealing with the menace. At the end of that year, the president reverted to the earlier control measures that involved incarceration. The government also disregarded a proposal to harmonize the sentences meted out on crack and powder cocaine users. In addition, the administration opposed the proposal to lift the ban on syringe access programs (Buppert, 2009).
The war against drugs was opposed by some people in the country, especially human rights and other activists. Parties against the campaigns by the government formed The Drug Policy Foundation. The name of the agency was later changed to The Drug Policy Alliance. The activists demanded the introduction of ‘sensible’ measures and sanctions to deal with illegal substances in America. They argued that the existing regulations were faulty (Buppert, 2009).
In spite of the countrywide clamor for reasonable drug policies, President George W. Bush introduced stiffer penalties than the already existing ones. After assuming office, the president allocated more funds to help in the fight against drugs. His main concern was marijuana. A student drug testing program was introduced in the country. The war against the menace was also militarized during his rule (Dasgupta & Schnoll, 2009).
By the end of Bush’s term in office, it was estimated that many raids were conducted to apprehend criminals. For example, more than 40,000 attacks were sanctioned by the administration annually. Most of these raids targeted nonviolent offenders. As a result, a number of federal drug reforms were stalled. In some instances, it appeared that the government was paying too much attention to the issue of substance abuse in the country.
Politicians across the US have adopted reforms at the state level. Today, states are drafting their own laws to regulate illegal drugs. For example, Texas has plans to legalize the use of marijuana. At the moment, the federal government treats the drug as an illegal substance (Texas Penal Code § 38.11). However, the passing into law of the proposal will see the decriminalization of its use in this jurisdiction (Dasgupta & Schnoll, 2009). A number of federal governments are also reforming their legal structures to come up with reasonable drug regulation frameworks. A number of prominent government officials have publicly admitted to having used illegal drugs in their youth. An example is President Obama. He confessed that he was a frequent user of cocaine and marijuana when he was young.
A change in administration does not guarantee an alteration in the laws related to illegal drugs. For instance, today’s government continues to use excessive force on persons suspected of breaking the laws touching on this area (Dasgupta & Schnoll, 2009). Today, a number of people are subjected to long jail terms for handling the substances. The current administration has delayed introducing a health-based approach to deal with the problem.
In spite of all these shortcomings, the Obama administration is credited for having introduced a number of progressive reforms to help in the war against drugs (Abadinsky, 2013). For example, the government has made major strides in efforts to reduce the gap between the punishments meted out on individuals found to have breached the law touching on the use of crack and powder cocaine.
The authorities have also granted federal governments to continue supporting the syringe access plans. Today, it is noted that federal administrations respect and support laws touching on medical use of marijuana. One should appreciate the fact that some states have legalized marijuana and other highly regulated substances. The reasons behind these legalizations vary from one state to the other. The Obama administration has put in place measures to deal with the issue of drugs. However, many young people continue to defy the rules regulating the use and sale of these substances (Dasgupta & Schnoll, 2009).
It is clear that the war against drugs cannot be won through the use of a single approach. However, the government should seek to use policies based on scientific findings. The administration should avoid acting on political hysteria (Spillane, 2004). Americans should also be patient with the authorities. Members of the public should give the government time to come up with lasting solutions to address the drugs problem. On its part, the administration should do more to alleviate the situation. The concerned parties should realize that drug use is a serious national matter in the United States of America. It affects the youth and other members of the society. In essence, it threatens the country’s future generation. As a result, it is important to address this issue with the weight it deserves.
The enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act has proved to be one of the most difficult undertakings by successive American government. The act is fairly modern. Past administrations used different laws to fight drugs in the country (Abadinsky, 2013). Critics are of the opinion that most of the legislations were based on political emotions. In most cases, scientific findings were totally disregarded. As such, different administrations have come up with unique policies. As a result, a large number of Americans have continued to oppose the policies put in place to deal with drugs. Most of these people cite the lack of scientific justifications.
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Spillane, J. (2004). Debating the Controlled Substances Act. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 76(1), 17-29.
Texas Penal Code § 38.11.