America’s Journey from the War on Drugs

By Staff Writer

It’s hard to fathom just how far the United States has come with cannabis reformations. Just a decade ago, most experts would have never believed the industry would have progressed to where it is today.

Once an illicit and taboo substance, it is now possible to get cannabis legally for a growing list of qualified conditions in states all across the U.S. So far, these cannabis-friendly regions seem to be benefiting wildly from the legislation reform.

Many concerns over how society would react to the wide availability of cannabis seem to have been completely disproven. While we will have to wait a handful of years before we can see the long-term impact cannabis might have on health and wellness, market behaviors are something analysts can easily track during the immediate years following a policy change.

In 2017, the recreational cannabis market reached a size of about $9 billion (Mace, Patel, & Seegert, 2020). These sales contributed to adding more jobs, stimulating the economy, and earning money that could be channeled back into the state. Tax data reported by Colorado’s Department of Revenue estimated that by January 2020, the marijuana tax revenue surpassed $25 million.

This is a revenue source that doesn’t impose a fee on the everyday taxpayer— most states charge a small fee on the cannabis sales transaction itself.

The result is millions of dollars that the state can put towards things like improving roads, creating jobs, or contributing to their state education system. Every state can stand to benefit from legal cannabis tax revenue.

Not only that, but it is also helping keep wrongful arrest candidates out of prison, saving taxpayer dollars and lives. There is an argument to be made about the Dutch approach to dealing with drug-related crimes.

Both American and Dutch approaches try to manage drug problems within their country. The main difference is the perspective lawmakers take on the matter.

In the Netherlands, it’s the drug traffickers who are seen as the real criminals. Drug use among civilians isn’t legal, but it is dealt with as a “health” problem rather than a criminal affair. Their aim is more to help create a system where users are not persecuted, and public safety is prioritized.

Essentially, they aimed to find a solid middle-ground between legalization and a “War on Drugs,” a normalization as many have argued (Engelsman, 1989). It is seen as a stark difference to the American approach from a few decades ago.

Back in the early 1970s, America had declared an official “War on Drugs.” While the intentions were good, the execution and results were heavily criticized.

Many argue that the War on Drugs has been more of an attack on drug users or more specifically, minorities (Nunn, 2002) rather than the illegal drug trafficking industry itself. Instead of working on rehabilitation strategies, resources are focused on prevention, prohibition, and punishment (Buchanan, Julian, & Young, 2000).

This misdirected focus has not only resulted in sending hundreds of thousands of people to prison, but it failed to stop recreational drug use (Maris, 1999). The ramifications have continued to ripple throughout society.

The War on Drugs has cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars— in addition to creating tense relations between citizens and law enforcement (McNamara, 2011). That is billions wasted on an inefficient strategy, which is why the “War on Drugs” is deemed an utter failure with collateral damage.

The failure of this campaign is seen as both motivation and evidence that the nation needs a different path.

Many Americans admit to trying the plant at least once in their lives, so when it comes to those who use the substance medicinally, does it really make sense to waste time and resources locking every cannabis user behind bars?

Most people understand that the idea of giving strict punishments is very counter-productive, yet this doesn’t reduce more conservative perspectives from persisting in some regions of the U.S.

Just because these ideals persist, though, doesn’t mean they can’t be changed. As more states begin to adopt a more lenient take on cannabis, change is imminent.

Take a look at the state of Georgia for reference. Although they still remain one of the stricter states, the number of Georgians holding state-administered cards that permit medical cannabis nearly doubled in the last year from approximately 8,400 to 14,500.

Medical cannabis in Georgia isn’t new, either, as the official allowance of low-THC cannabis oil was announced back in 2015 with the signing of the Haleigh’s Hope Act. Unfortunately, Georgia just made things more complicated.

While cardholders were allowed to use cannabis, they were forbidden from transporting it from out of the state or from growing it themselves.

It wasn’t until 2017 that the average cardholder had a real, legal way to get to obtain the low THC state-approved CBD oil. Even then, it is only just recently that cultivators will be allowed to set up their establishments in-state.

Although this isn’t the kind of speed we saw with other radical legislations in more progressive states, it is movement towards more rational legislation nonetheless. The progress that will change the lives of these thousands of cardholders.

These individuals suffered from a variety of ailments, including pain, cancer, seizures, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, and peripheral neuropathy. Just a few years ago, it would have been impossible for Georgia residents to receive permission to use cannabis for any circumstance.

It’s a slow burn, but we as people are moving forward. From an aggressive “War on Drugs” to legal cannabis products in conservative states— America is making progress.


  1. The War on Drugs
  2. British Journal of Addiction
  3. Marijuana Taxation and Imperfect Competition
  4. The disasters of war
  5. Journal of Private Enterprise
  6. Race, crime and the pool of surplus criminality