Way back in 1971, President Nixon declared a “War on Drugs.” The federal drug control agencies were dramatically beefed-up, the DEA was created (1973). Quaint as it seems now, much of the effort was directed at marijuana. Back in those innocent days, marijuana was considered a major drug problem. By the 1980s the use of cocaine and its cousin, crack, became a major problem in this country. Cocaine usage increased by 700% just in the years 1978-1984. Many believed that marijuana was a gateway drug to these harder substances.
By the early 80’s, President Reagan, initiated get tough laws on drugs. “Zero tolerance” initiatives were the trend. It was during the 1980’s that this country’s prison began to fill with drug users. From 1980 to 1997, the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offense increased eight-fold! The DARE program, an off-shoot of the War of Drugs was initiated in the 1980’s by Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, who was actually quoted as saying that casual drug users should be shot. (I’m sure he didn’t mean that literally but it sure did fit in with the “war” theme.)
By the 1990’s Presidents Bush and Clinton continued to escalate the so-called War on Drugs. The prison population continued to explode in great part because of the increasingly hysterical War on Drugs. Three-strikes laws became a thing and many who found themselves in prison for life under three-strikes laws were there because at least one of the strikes was a drug offense. I am not talking about cartel-type drug dealers, these were often drug users and addicts and no more.