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Anti-Drug Abuse Act Research Papers

In 1986, President and Mrs. Reagan addressed the nation over their perceived threat of the current drug epidemic. The continuing War on Drugs led Congress to pass, in the wake of President Reagan’s address, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which largely changed the nature of the federal supervised release program, an alternative to incarceration, from one of rehabilitation into one of punishment. Additionally, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 imposed mandatory sentences for drug possession.

Anti-Drug Abuse ActThe specific target of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was crack cocaine, which imposed stiffer penalties than much larger amounts of powder cocaine. Critics charged that the vast majority of offenders with crack cocaine were African American, while possessors of powder cocaine were overwhelmingly white. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was amended two years later, under the aptly-named Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which set the policy goals of the following:

  1. A “drug-free America”
  2. The establishment the Office of National Drug Control Policy, led by the so-called “Drug Czar.”

Both of these laws were part of the ramped-up War on Drugs undertaken by the Reagan Administration in the 1980s. Much of the effort was led by Mrs. Reagan and her “Just Say No” campaign that sought to reach school children across the nation. Others believe that the entire effort has led to overwhelming incarceration rates in the United States.


It has been acknowledged that the implementation of American drug policies and the subsequent growth in the number of incarcerations for drug offenders has elicited increasing demands on the criminal justice and corrections systems in the last decade. These demands have been defined by the increasing expenditures in government funding, construction of correction facilities and inmate maintenance.  It is not unexpected therefore that an appropriate response should include proposals for reducing the strain that drug related offenses effect on the system.

Ethan Nadelmann:

Our prohibitionist approach to drug control is responsible for most of the ills commonly associated with America's "drug problem". And some measure of legal availability and regulation is essential if we are to reduce significantly the negative consequences of both drug use and our drug-control policies.

Changes in the National Drug Control Strategy of 1999 have addressed the inordinate cost of implementing current policies and have offered a number of strategic recommendations. Its primary objective is to expose the major costs of requiring law enforcement to focus on arresting drug offenders in possession of small amounts of drugs as opposed to significant drug traffickers.  According to the NDCS, this practice has resulted in the number of drug arrests computing almost as high as the totals for arrests for murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery combined.  The NDCS recommends decriminalizing low-level drug offenses; utilizing drug treatment programs; and imploring local governments to develop alternatives to incarceration in these cases.

Clearly, drug policy reform can play a significant role in addressing the increasing costs that have been demonstrated however, emphasizing the importance of reducing the costs associated with America’s war on drugs may be a prime example of putting the cart before the horse.

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