President Trump Signs Executive Order Ramping Up The War On Drugs

By Britni de la Cretaz 02/13/17

The Trump administration is reverting to the “tough on drug crime” stance that's been deemed a policy failure on multiple levels.

Donald Trump

On Thursday morning, President Trump signed three new executive orders, including the Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking. This executive order addresses multiple kinds of trafficking, including human and drug trafficking.

According to CNN, this EO is “aimed at combating transnational drug cartels, prescrib[ing] steps for various federal agencies to ‘increase intelligence’ sharing among law enforcement partners.” The order established an inter-agency task force to compile a report detailing "the progress made in combating criminal organizations" along with "recommended actions for dismantling them."

In essence, this EO makes good on President Trump’s campaign promises to combat rising drug addiction and overdose deaths in the United States through law enforcement and border patrol. He is echoing “tough on crime” language that originated with President Richard Nixon in the 1970s and continued through the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.

The “War on Drugs” that Richard Nixon initiated has been deemed a policy failure on all levels by the United Nations. A 2013 study in the British Medical Journal found that “despite efforts to limit the supply of these drugs, since 1990 prices have fallen while the purity of the drugs has increased,” the Guardian reported.

The president’s EO claims that drug cartels “are drivers of crime, corruption, violence, and misery.” It goes on to say “the trafficking by cartels of controlled substances has triggered a resurgence in deadly drug abuse and a corresponding rise in violent crime related to drugs.” However, to say that international drug trafficking is to blame for the rise in drug abuse, addiction, and crime is a stretch, at best.

Particularly when much of the current addiction epidemic in the U.S. can be tied to Big Pharma and the overprescription of certain drugs by doctors. Not only that, in communities where decriminalization has been prioritized—like the police-run Angel Program in Gloucester, Massachusetts—helping people struggling with addiction to get treatment instead of arresting them for drug use or drug possession has resulted in a reduction of ancillary crimes associated with drug use.

The one area that these drug war policies have been effective is in the mass incarceration and destruction of communities of color in the United States—the black community in particular. Nixon’s former domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman later admitted that the “War on Drugs” was designed to target black people, saying in an interview, “We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”

The result, which intensified after Bill Clinton signed the 1994 Crime Bill, has been the incarceration of black folks on an incredibly large scale. According to a 2016 report by the Drug Policy Alliance, while black people comprise 13% of the U.S. population and are consistently documented by the U.S. government to use drugs at similar rates to people of other races, they make up 31% of those arrested for drug law violations, and nearly 40% of people incarcerated in state or federal prison for drug law violations.

Ramping up the drug war mindset is bad news for those touched by addiction. It took nearly half a century to realize that "fighting" drugs with aggressive law enforcement is more harmful than effective—at a huge cost, in terms of lives lost and billions of tax dollars wasted.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.