THE WAR ON DRUGS ft. the American Nightmare
The War on Drugs in the United States has been a massive policy and human rights failure. This extent of this social justice issue needs to be made aware to the American public and addressed further by policy makers. Government leaders, the media, social activists, and the American people need to come together to recognize the colossal issues within our criminal justice system. The wellbeing of our nation depends on it.
The criminal justice system easily sweeps a population under the carpet, slowly left to become invisible and forgotten by the rest of the community. Labeled as felons and criminals, these men, women, and children lose their precedence and status as dignified citizens. It is easy to forget about criminals when we look at human rights and social justice issues, because they violated the law, and therefore shouldn’t be prioritized over “good” citizens who respected the law and are also in need. However, not all criminals are bad people. We all make mistakes, and many of us violate state and federal laws at throughout our lives, whether we drink alcohol before the age of 21 or fail to halt all the way at a Stop Sign. In fact, when looking at American drug violations in 2013, approximately 24.6 million Americans over 11 years old used an illicit drug in the past month in (NSDUH). According the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 44% of U.S. teens will have tried marijuana at least once by the time they graduate high school. The majority of users are the average day American citizen, with more than 75% of drug users abstaining from an addiction problem. Imagine if law enforcement “enforced” drug laws on every American, or even on every student. Society would fall through the cracks with half of our citizens locked behind bars.
Since the declaration of the War on Drugs, more than 31 million people have been arrested. Today, more than 2 million people
reside in America’s prisons and jails, and in addition to this, approximately 65 million have criminal records. This includes tens of millions of Americans who have been arrested but never convicted of any offense, but still obtain a record that makes them susceptible to government and employment discrimination.
“All that imprisoning millions of people for nonviolent drug offenses has done is bankrupt us financially and morally, turning people with debilitating addictions into people with debilitating convictions”
– Drug Policy Alliance
In each year from 2000 to 2014, there were approximately 893,911 convictions for drug felonies each year. In 2014 U.S. state prisons populated 1,316,409 people, of whom 15.7% were servicing a sentence under a drug charge and 46,000 were only for drug possession. In 2015 the Federal Bureau of Prisons recorded that 46.4% of their prisons were filled with drug offenders. Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the U.S. and is also the least harmful drug, because one cannot overdose from inhaling or digesting marijuana. Politicians have inaccurately heightened the “danger” of marijuana, labeling it as a gateway drug. In the year 2010, 52% of all drug arrests for were marijuana. Rather than focusing on busting citizens for small amounts of marijuana, law enforcement should focus on dangerous and violent crime in their communities. However, cops busted citizens for marijuana every 37 seconds in 2010, and states spend $3,613,969,972 annually to enforce marijuana laws, exemplifying how the Drug War continues to waste law enforcement resources and time.
The War on Drugs transformed into a mechanism to justify institutionalized racism. This statement may seem like a drastic claim; however, if one were to look closely at the history of the War on Drugs and current drug sentencing policies, anyone can see that the War on Drugs disproportionately targets poor people and people of color, while also failing to actually reduce drug addiction and prevent health impairment and death. President Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” in 1971 won over the Southern Republicans by exploiting their hatred and fear of blacks. And thus, the War on Drugs was adopted through government policies to once again segregate people of color from the rest of society. President Reagan’s administration furthered the racist war by working with the media to enhance a miscued drug user stigma. To Ronald Reagan’s fortune, in 1895 the crack epidemic erupted in poor black communities, providing the media with “horror stories” of black crack users in the ghetto. Today, law enforcement policies still justify using racist practices to round up people of color in the criminal justice system, such as with stop-and-frisk practices.
It is statistically proven that all races use illicit drugs around the same rates, and yet convictions disproportionately target African Americans and Latinos. In fact a majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white, but 3/4 of all people imprisoned for these crimes are black or Latino. Following slavery and then the Jim Crow Era, the racist War on Drugs has now created another discriminated racial caste through legalized racial profiling, biased sentencing policies, political disenfranchisement, and legalized employment discrimination.
The ideal outcome of ending the War on Drugs would be decriminalizing drug use and distribution. Decriminalization becomes a median between legalizing drugs and criminalizing citizens for using drugs. This solution would impose punishments for using illegal drugs, such as infractions and citations given for a traffic violation. This would preclude the unfair consequences that criminals with convictions suffer, including discrimination for public housing, student loans, government benefits, and employment. Another solution would be the legalization of all drugs, as seen with tobacco and alcohol for certain ages, which allows the government to collect taxes and regulate use and sale of these substances.
In addition, the government should promote harm reduction by establishing government facilities, such as injection facilities and safe houses to prevent unwarranted overdoses. An estimated 6.8 million Americans struggle with drug abuse or dependence. Overdoses are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S. for people between 25 and 64 years old. Currently, the government invests in prisons and choses to incarcerate drug dependent citizens rather than providing rehabilitation centers and medical resources for those in need. The government should adopt a federal 911 Good Samaritan Law and distribute naloxone, an overdose reversal medication. Although 20 states and D.C. have adopted laws such as the Good Samaritan 911 law, the rest of the nation needs to develop similar policies to prioritize American’s health and lives. Good Samaritan’s laws promise immunity for those who call 911 while experiencing an overdose and have saved countless lives. The U.S. government could also fund supervised injection facilities. There are 100 Safe Injection Facilities (SIF) operating in nine countries around the world; however, the United States is yet to open such a facility. The benefits of SIFs include providing sterile equipment, supervision from medical specialists, access to counseling and other medical services, and promoting drug treatment.
The Drug War resulted in three major consequences: a misguided stigma of drug users, created by the government and media; a massive prison population filled with nonviolent citizens; and finally a second class group of citizens discriminated against, disenfranchised, and excluded from public housing, loans, and government benefits. The Drug War has been going on for almost 50 years and has lead to no decrease in drug use and distribution. Instead our prison population has erupted and hurt our nation’s minority groups. The War on Drugs needs to be replaced with new policies, promoting harm reduction and reality-based drug education.
- “911 Good Samaritan Fatal Overdose Prevention Law.” Drug Policy Alliance. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.
- “Supervised Injection Facilities.” Drug Policy Alliance. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.
- “Drug Overdose.” Drug Policy Alliance. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.
- Abuse, National Institute on Drug. “Nationwide Trends.” NIDA. N.p., June 2015. Web. 04 May 2017.
- Alexander, Michelle. New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Place of Publication Not Identified: New, 2016. Print.
- Rosenbaum, Marsha, PhD. Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs. Publication. USA: Drug Policy Alliance, 2014. Print.
- “State and Federal Prisoners and Prison Facilities.” Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). N.p., 14 Apr. 2017. Web. 04 May 2017.
- Ann Carson, PhD, and Elizabeth Anderson. Prisoners In 2015. Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Dec. 2016, NCJ250229, p. 14 (state) and p. 15 (federal).
- Justice Policy Institute, “Substance Abuse Treatment and Public Safety,” (Washington, DC: January 2008), p. 1.
- “Marijuana Arrests by the Numbers.” American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.
- Moore, Antonio. “Slavery’s Shadow: Reparations and the Cost to Build a Nation.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 June 2014. Web. 04 May 2017.
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