Drug abuse existed long before the Nixon administration declared a "war on drugs" in the 1970s. More than thirty years later this "war" continues with no end in sight.
Drug arrests increased from 580,900 in 1980 to 1.7 million in 2003; in 1984 they represented 6.1% of all arrests, while in 2003 they were 12.3% (Crime in the United States, 2003, Washington, DC: FBI).
- In 2003, 20% of state prisoners were held for drug offenses, up from 6.5% in 1980, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- Annual expenditures to fight the war just at the federal level have exceeded $10 billion a year every year since 2000, and now exceed $12 billion, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Judicial dockets have become crowded and prisons are operating above capacity.
- Heroin in the 1970s came primarily from Asia; now it comes from Mexico and Colombia in the western hemisphere. Synthetic drugs have multiplied, and one of the most potent, methamphetamine, is produced in every state.
- The population using drugs has been growing in recent years in every age group rather than declining.
Not surprisingly, the war on drugs, and/or the national policy under which it has been fought by administrations of both major parties, have many critics. One major alternative to the "war" is legalization. The issue, however, is inherently complex and controversial, in part because, as will be shown, a preponderant majority of the public opposes even the mildest form of legalization, the legalization of marijuana.