For nearly a century, the federal government of the United States has engaged in a variety of activities to stem the production, distribution, and sale of illicit substances, known collectively as the “war on drugs.” This article chronicles the war on drugs in the United States, from its inception at the federal level, with the passage of the Harrison Act in 1914, through the major laws and policies that have been enacted since the Nixon Administration, the first White House to declare a “war on drugs.” This paper also examines the failings of the country’s drug policies and recommends a public health approach to addiction that shifts the bulk of resources from supply-side to demand-side initiatives, such as drug treatment programs, which have proven to lower drug use and to be more cost effective than criminal justice responses to America’s drug problem.

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