Essay on Criminal Justice Policies on Drugs

Published: 2021/11/08
Number of words: 1964

In many areas of public policy, interventions developed to attain a specific goal can impact other goals. In other words, policy improvement can trigger intended and unintended consequences. Most of the unintended outcomes are desirable, while others are not. For instance, a policy that improves employees’ social protection by raising the national retirement age may increase unemployment rates in a country. Similarly, a policy that raises the minimum school age to improve productivity can also reduce crime because high-risk youth groups will likely be forced to spend most of their time in school, rather than on the streets. In like manner, an improvement in current criminal justice drug policies may trigger intended and unintended results. However, the difference regarding policy improvement is that the unforeseen negative consequences appear more profound than the intended outcomes. For example, strict marijuana laws tend to have little effect on marijuana use but significantly reduce employment prospects for users who end up being confined and later released for marijuana-related offenses (Keyes et al., 2016). It is also assumed that a policy of destroying a coca field in Colombia does little in decreasing the availability of cocaine in the United States but causes serious harm to the environment particularly in the areas affected by the destruction. This paper is critical as it looks at the intended and unintended outcomes drug policies; it examines how current drug policies will impact future drug policies and how the commercialization of drugs and corruption affect communities.

Current Drug Policies and Unintended consequences

The current drug policies in the United States and Mexico are failing after five decades of war on drugs. The supply of drugs has grown more than ever, creating a massive black market that contributes to violence, corruption, and conflict (Willrich, 2012). In many US jurisdictions, poorly implemented drug policies that outlaw drug users and other low-level actors have triggered social marginalization, health crises, and, more importantly, they have led to higher national incarceration rates. Many believe that the time is ripe for both the United States and Mexico to develop a new approach against drugs.

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Moreover, it is essential to note that the current drug policies have not just failed but have developed a new set of challenges. First, these policies have led to an increase in drug-related violence. Police and other law enforcement personnel often fall victim in most cases. In fact, it is estimated that over 34,000 people lost their lives to drug-related murder in Mexico in 2006 and 2010 (Maxouris & Gallón, 2020). Individuals in drug markets use violence as a means or as a way to maintain social order. Apart from triggering drug-related violence, some of these policies have led to the emergence of health epidemics. For instance, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked over 70,000 deaths in 2017 to cases of drug overdose (“America’s Drug Overdose Epidemic: Data to Action”, 2020).

Globally, one in ten people among the 12 million individuals injecting drugs is believed to have HIV (Scholl et al., 2018). Another 10 million people who inject themselves with drugs are believed to have chronic hepatitis C virus infection (Scholl et al., 2018). New infections can be avoided, and the patients in these cases can be treated. However, strict drug policies prevent access to life-saving services, including needle exchange and opioid substation therapy. More importantly, these policies push drug users away from help and treatment, which is very critical.

Another unintended consequence triggered by current drug policies in mass incarcerations. It agreed that the number of people imprisoned due to drug-related offenses in the United States increased from less than 50,000 to more than 400,000 in 2014 (Travis et al., 2014). At the state level, the incarceration rates in drug-related offenses increased ten times since 1980. One in every five people is imprisoned for drug-related crimes globally, and in most cases, they are incarcerated for mere personal possession. Current drug policies also trigger unnecessary economic costs. For instance, it is known that illicit drugs’ policies and interdiction cost the government over 100 billion dollars every year, which could be used to refine public health responses. This money could also help improve social services, and more significantly, it can help expand diversion programs.

How Current Drug Policies Will Affect Future Drug Policies

Current literature that focuses on the unintended results of drug policies is most written to criticize prohibitionist policies rather than evaluation. But scholars are optimistic about the future consequences of the current drug policies. It is believed that the current drug policies will trigger intended and unintended results (Babor et al., 2010). It is also essential to understand that the United States is currently at the crossroad in its drug policy. Since the 1950s, the United States has worked hard to step up its border security; the country has even increased arrests, lengthened sentences for drug traffickers, and, more importantly, it has stripped away various rights for drug offenders. Internationally, the United States has injected billions of dollars in anti-drug campaigns. The United States government has arrested over 40 million people, spent over a trillion-dollar, and created the world’s largest incarcerated population (Babor et al., 2010). In like manner, the United States has defoliated over a million-acre of land in countries that grow coca, including Colombia. However, and after all these efforts, the availability of drugs in the country has steadily advanced. Thousands are still trapped in addiction, and individuals who want treatment cannot access appropriate treatment.

Current drug policies, including the Controlled Substance Act, tend to influence the distribution and deter the abuse of depressant, stimulant, and hallucinogenic compounds. The Controlled Substances Act, in particular, assure that compounds that are intensely used in medicine are available to patients through a tightly controlled mechanism. Nevertheless, and despite these interventions, Americans spend over 100 billion dollars annually in the illegal purchase of controlled substances (Strang et al., 2012). In fact, most high school students report that illicit drugs and controlled substances are readily available. The availability of controlled substances in the United States is greater today than it was over three decades ago. This fact establishes that the availability of these drugs will increase even more with such policies in place. The Controlled Substance Act further enhances surveillance on controlled substances, which led to creating the lock-in program. The Lock-in program was developed to mitigate the unsafe use of controlled substances by requiring enrolled patients to seek controlled substance services from a single provider. It is believed that such policies will trigger more harm than good (Strang et al., 2012). Individuals who do not misuse opioids will increasingly be affected by such programs. Similarly, such policies will trigger threats for individuals who are already seeking treatment for opioid addiction. For instance, Buprenorphine, a drug common in treating opioid use disorder, is itself an opioid.

The current drug policies, particularly those that demand arrest and imprisonment for individuals with simple possessions have significantly increased the country’s overall prison population. The population of drug users or those arrested with simple possession is higher than those charged with the intent to distribute. The difference between the two creates a significant difference when it comes to comparing the prison population. More importantly, the increasing prison population is growing to become a significant problem in the United States. For instance, it is estimated that over 1000 inmates die each year due to outbreaks and other overcrowding issues (Strang et al., 2012). Likewise, the COVID-19 pandemic, which requires people to stay one meter apart, has developed infrastructural challenges for most prisons in the country. Although imprisonment forces drug users to remain sober, the fact that they are incarcerated worsens their mental health conditions. Studies show that individuals with substance use disorder attain better treatment outcomes while outside correctional facilities. In other words, this means that individuals incarcerated with drug abuse problems often experience a considerable disruption in their recovery process.

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Communities, Corruption and Commercialization of Drugs and Judicial System

Corruption is a prevalent concept throughout the illegal drug distribution chain and in most cases it involves different intermediaries, including the police, the military, customs agents, organized criminal groups, and in selected cases high ranking government officials (Morris, 2013). Corruption allows drug-related activities, including organized crimes and murders, to thrive. In the United States, the war on corruption and drugs affects the minority, particularly the black communities (Morris, 2013). This disproportionality is the main reason critics refer to the war on drugs racist. Even though most black people do not engage in drugs, they are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for drug offenses. This is why a significant population of the people incarcerated in the United States today comprises black individuals. In like manner, the commercialization of drugs, including marijuana, trigger negative impacts. For instance, a study found that one person died every 6.5 days, deaths caused by drivers who tested positive for marijuana (Hayes & Brown, 2014). Corruption and commercialization of drugs trigger negative impacts and consequences on a community.


Criminal justice policies on drugs help mitigate the use and marketing of illegal drugs. In often cases, these policies trigger intended and unintended outcomes. For instance, policies that demand arrests and incarceration of drug users, marketers, and traffickers have triggered the increase of the United States’ prison population. These policies have also led to increased drug-related crimes with police and other law enforcement agents falling victims to these crimes. Furthermore, it is expected that the current drug policies will trigger challenges for future drug policies. For instance, the contemporary Controlled Substance Act has led to the development of lock-in programs, which scholars agree will trigger significant future problems. Individuals who do not misuse opioids will increasingly be affected by such programs. The policies will trigger threats for individuals who are already seeking treatment for opioid addiction. The use of Buprenorphine in treating opioid use disorder will increase drug-related problems in the United States.


America’s Drug Overdose Epidemic: Data to Action. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Retrieved 9 September 2020, from

Babor, T. F., Caulkins, J. P., Edwards, G., Fischer, B., Foxcroft, D. R., Humphreys, K., … & Reuter, P. (2010). Drug policy and the public good. Oxford university press.

Hayes, M., & Brown, M. (2014). Legalization of medical marijuana and incidence of opioid mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine174(10), 1673.

Keyes, K., Wall, M., Cerdá, M., Schulenberg, J., O’Malley, P., & Galea, S. et al. (2016). How does state marijuana policy affect US youth? Medical marijuana laws, marijuana use and perceived harmfulness: 1991-2014. Addiction111(12), 2187-2195.

Maxouris, C., & Gallón, N. (2020). Mexico sets record with more than 33,000 homicides in 2018. CNN. Retrieved 9 September 2020, from

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Scholl, L., Seth, P., Kariisa, M., Wilson, N., & Baldwin, G. (2018). Drug and opioid-involved overdose deaths — united states, 2013–2017. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report67(5152).

Strang, J., Babor, T., Caulkins, J., Fischer, B., Foxcroft, D., & Humphreys, K. (2012). Drug policy and the public good: evidence for effective interventions. The Lancet379(9810), 71-83.

Travis, J., Western, B., & Redburn, S. (2014). The growth of incarceration in the United States: exploring causes and consequences. Choice Reviews Online52(05), 52-2841-52-2841.

Willrich, P. (2012). Collateral consequences of criminal convictions: employment in Arizona. SSRN Electronic Journal.

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