Federal drug policy of the United States
Drug use has increased in all categories since the beginning of prohibition on January 17, 1920, with the exception of opium; its use is at a fraction of its peak level. A major decline in the use of opium started after the Harrison Act of 1914 was initiated. Use of heroin peaked between 1969 and 1971, marijuana between 1978 and 1979, and cocaine between 1987 and 1989.
Between 1972 and 1988, the use of cocaine increased more than fivefold. The usage patterns of the current two most culturally popular drugs: amphetamines and ecstasy, have shown similar gains.
An overarching effort to impose mandatory penalties for federal drug crimes took place in the 1980s. This caused many drug crimes that were common at the time to carry mandatory minimum sentences of 5 to 10 years in a federal prison.
Secretly, many senior officials of the Reagan administration illegally trained and armed the Nicaraguan Contras, who were funded by the shipment of large quantities of cocaine into the United States using U.S. government aircraft and U.S. military facilities. Funding for the Contras was also obtained through the illegal sale of weaponry to Iran. When this practice was discovered and condemned in the media, it was referred to as the Iran–Contra affair.
In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, legalizing the growing and use of marijuana for medical purposes. This created significant legal and enforcement conflict between federal and state government laws. Courts have since decided that a state law in conflict with a federal law concerning cannabis is not valid. Cannabis is restricted by federal law (see Gonzales v. Raich). In 2010 California Proposition 19 (also known as the Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act) was defeated with 53.5% 'No' votes, and 46.5% 'Yes' votes.
Pursuant to regulations (34 C.F.R. 86) required by the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act Amendments of 1989 (codified at 20 U.S.C. § 1011i), as a condition of receiving funds or any other form of financial assistance under any Federal program, an institution of higher education must certify that it has adopted and implemented a drug prevention program which adheres to regulations in 34 C.F.R. 86.100. It has recently gained renewed attention due to Colorado Amendment 64.
Drug Policy beginning to relax in new Millennia
A review of failed drug policies at the turn of the century has given way to more relaxed US Drug Policies. The Reagan, and Nixon administration's "War on Drugs" policy has proved to be a disaster. US prisons are packed with drug users from laws that were implemented in the 1980s. The US has more inmates serving time than any other nation. At this writing, the number is about to reach 2.5 million inmates, of which half are incarcerated on drug related offenses.
Many States looking for a solution to this issue, are considering 'Rehabilitation' as opposed to 'Incarceration' for drug users. As of January 2015, 23 States and the District of Columbia have made the use of Marijuana legal for medical use. Seven more States are close to adopting the same policies, and Colorado has legalized Marijuana completely. Other drugs will come up against much stronger opposition to legalize, however, many Americans believe that all drugs should be legalized, and also believe that eventually it will happen. The money that is now being spent to incarcerate drug users would be redirected to rehabilitation, and drug education.