American Imperialism and Its Impact on Drug Policy: A Historical Analysis

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Drug abuse in America started around the 1890s and has evolved greatly since then. The first signs of drug abuse date back to the 1890s when cocaine was sold in a Sears catalog in a small needle. Drug abuse started to take a toll in the 1800s when opium and morphine were heavily used and starting addictions.

Imperialistic Roots of Drug Abuse and Policy Evolution

By 1890, the first congressional act was made to tax the drugs. In 1909, using and possessing opium was illegal, but it was still allowed to be used medically. By the time Prohibition came around, all liquor was illegal, along with cocaine and the production of opioids. The Cannabis Act of 1937 did not ban cannabis but taxed it heavily, and if taxes weren’t paid, you could spend up to 5 years in jail. When Richard Nixon took office in the 1970s, he had enough of drug abuse. He passed the Controlled Substance Act, which regulated laws on certain drugs and substances. He then created drug schedules that tell how highly addictive it is and how dangerous it is. Drug abuse in America went on for decades, which created many laws and acts to be passed.

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Impact of Imperialistic Ventures on Drug Trade

In 1971, Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs, stating that “they are public enemy number one.” The rise in the use of recreational drugs in the ’60s is most likely what led to Nixon declaring War. Part of the War’s actions was to create additional funding for federal drug agencies and create mandatory prison sentences and consequences for those who committed crimes involving drugs. During the War on Drugs, Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which is still in effect today. They are responsible for taking on drug smuggling and drug use in the United States. Originally, the DEA only consisted of 1,470 members and a 75 million dollar budget, but today, they have over 5,000 members and a 2.03 billion dollar budget. The War on Drugs is still in effect today and has had its good and bad impacts on society.

Globalization, Imperialism, and Modern Drug Trade

In the 1980’s President Ronald Reagan started the “Just Say No” campaign. Its intentions were to educate children on drugs and the effects of drug abuse. In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which set minimum sentences for drug offenses. The law was considered “racist” because many African Americans used crack cocaine, which led to them being sentenced to prison, while white Americans who used powder cocaine were sentenced to a shorter sentence. Critics also claimed that blacks were being racially profiled because many of them were sent to prison for drug suspicion.

By the 21st century, the War on Drugs is an unknown thing. Most people consider it to have created a racial divide in the country. However, there is a slim amount of people who still share support. One of the most recent acts that have degraded the War on Drugs is the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the sentences on crack cocaine and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. Also, the recent legalization of the recreational use of marijuana has taken its toll on the War. The “Just Say No” campaign is a thing of the past, along with the War on Drugs, as they are fought with less intensity.


The schedules of drugs are based on how they are used medically, how addictive they are, and the laws on the drug in other countries. Schedule I drugs are known to be highly addictive and provide no medical use. Drugs in Schedule One consist of things like ecstasy and heroin. While schedule two are still highly addictive and provide minimal medical use, they consist of drugs like morphine and methamphetamine. Schedule three, however, is not that addictive and widely used in the medical field.

Drugs in the schedule consist of ketamine and testosterone. ScheduleSchedule four drugs have a low abuse rate and are widely used in the medical field and widely accepted. Last of all, the schedules are in number five. The drugs in this schedule have little to no abuse and are accepted into the medical field; some of these drugs are Robitussin and Lyrica. The schedules of drugs helped declare how addictive they are and their purpose of them.


  1. Belenko, S. (2017). America’s War on Drugs: Policy and Implementation. In J. F. Donohue III & J. P. Pfaff (Eds.), Controversies in Criminal Law: Philosophical Essays on Responsibility and Procedure (pp. 229-248). Oxford University Press.
  2. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). (n.d.). About DEA.
  3. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). (n.d.). Drug Scheduling.

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American Imperialism and Its Impact on Drug Policy: A Historical Analysis. (2023, Aug 27). Retrieved from

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