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Drug Laws - The War On Drugs

federal trade escobar captured

By the time crack appeared on the scene, the federal government had long been engaged in a massive "War on Drugs." The cause came increasingly to public attention during the 1980s, when First Lady Nancy Reagan took it up, and promoted it with the slogan "Just Say No." The latter injunction was geared mostly toward children, who were often vulnerable not only to peer pressure, but to the persuasion of dealers eager to gain more customers. The "Just Say No" campaign did not, however, address another and perhaps equally insidious inducement, the lure of the drug trade itself, which offered instant wealth to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who saw little or no hope of attaining comparable rewards by legal means.

At the law enforcement level, the War on Drugs--which had actually begun in the mid-1960s, when recreational drug use began to increase dramatically--involved enormous efforts on the part of numerous federal and local agencies. Most notable among these was the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), whose energies were primarily directed toward intercepting drug shipments to the United States. Federal officials had identified south Florida as a principal gateway for cocaine and marijuana from the South American nation of Colombia, which was virtually dominated by drug lords such as Pablo Escobar. In the 1980s and 1990s, millions of kilos of illegal drugs were intercepted and destroyed, and thousands of persons involved in the drug trade were captured and incarcerated. These included Escobar himself, reputed to be the richest man in the world; Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, captured in a raid directed by President Bush in 1989; and other prominent figures such as Colombian narcotics kingpin Carlos Lehder.

Despite these successes, critics of U.S. policy pointed out that for every kilo that the DEA captured, many more made it in via plane or boat, or by some other means. Likewise they noted that for every Escobar, there were hundreds of "mules," far less culpable figures drawn into the drug trade by poverty, who paid for their transgressions with life sentences. By the early 1990s, the War on Drugs more or less came to an end: though the government remained committed to stopping the importation, sale, or use of illegal drugs, the days of fervent crusading were over. After the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton, who claimed he had smoked marijuana in college but "didn't inhale," there was little further suggestion that the federal government intended to "win" a war against the drug trade.

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