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Should Drugs Be Legalized in the United States ? 1


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Policymakers in the United States have chosen to define drug abuse as a legal problem rather than a public‐health problem. This choice puts the criminal justice system at the center of a massive war on drugs. The drug war is an expanding enterprise with deep roots in the political and social fabric of the U.S. society. It is an effort that involves law enforcement, courts, corrections, education, health care, and a multitude of political groups. Started by the Reagan administration and expanded by the Bush and Clinton administrations, the drug war depicts the U.S. as fighting a deadly enemy. The term drug war refers to a situation created when the government puts its power behind the drug laws, zealously enforces them, and imprisons large numbers of drug offenders as if they were enemies in a real war.
The main solutions to the drug problem focus on supply and demand. Supply‐side solutions include initiatives aimed at pressuring drug‐producing countries to halt the exporting of illegal drugs, intercepting drugs before smugglers can get them across American borders, passing tougher drug laws, cracking down on drug dealers, and sentencing drug manufacturers and dealers to long prison terms. Demand‐side solutions include drug education and drug treatment. A more radical approach suggests legalization (in other words, removal of drug offense from criminal codes) as the only viable solution.

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