Final Advocacy Project

THE WAR ON DRUGS ft. the American Nightmare 


Research Article:

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.

Work Cited:

  1. “911 Good Samaritan Fatal Overdose Prevention Law.” Drug Policy Alliance. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.
  2. “Supervised Injection Facilities.” Drug Policy Alliance. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.
  3. “Drug Overdose.” Drug Policy Alliance. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.
  4. Abuse, National Institute on Drug. “Nationwide Trends.” NIDA. N.p., June 2015. Web. 04 May 2017.
  5. Alexander, Michelle. New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Place of Publication Not Identified: New, 2016. Print.
  6. Rosenbaum, Marsha, PhD. Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs. Publication. USA: Drug Policy Alliance, 2014. Print.
  7. “State and Federal Prisoners and Prison Facilities.” Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). N.p., 14 Apr. 2017. Web. 04 May 2017.
  8. 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).
  9. Justice Policy Institute, “Substance Abuse Treatment and Public Safety,” (Washington, DC: January 2008), p. 1.
  10. “Marijuana Arrests by the Numbers.” American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.
  11. Moore, Antonio. “Slavery’s Shadow: Reparations and the Cost to Build a Nation.” The Huffington Post., 20 June 2014. Web. 04 May 2017.

Advocacy Video:

Work Cited:

Swat Statistics

Straight Out Of Compton – Movie

Swat Raid 1

Swat Raid 2

Empire – TV Show

Neighbors – Movie

Turn Down For What – Song

War Song

Project X – Movie

Let’s Be Cops – Movie

Omaha House Raid


High Price – Low Outcome

Carl Heart’s memoir, High Price, gives an alternative view on the War on Drugs by providing a personal perspective through his life story. Growing up in poverty, amid alcohol abuse, violence, a bad school system Carl Heart beat the odds that most of his friends and family faced, which was prison, death, and addiction.

Heart’s memoir explains to us how the War on Drugs distracts from the real root causes of drug use, and does so by sharing personal stories from in his own life in his African American community. He displays how drug use is the result of pain and the lack of a better economic alternative. Through his personal experience, Heart exposes the bad school systems in the African American communities and the impoverished inner-cities. Readers come to understand the extreme unlikeliness for those students to graduate and go onto college, let alone leave the community.

Carl Heart was one of the few who managed to leave, as he joins the military. The military allows him to take college class, which inspires him to eventually continue onto graduate school. He conducts some amazing research as a neuroscientist that helps expose major flaws in the War on Drugs. However, to his disappointment, he finds that even when using scientific data to prove there is no actually structural difference between crack and powder cocaine, the government dismisses his evidence and continues to charge high sentences. The government chose to see the drug as incredibly dangerous to society, as something that makes all users violent and unpredictable, even though real life evidence proved the contrary.

Carl Heart, having used and sold drugs himself explains that 20 million Americans use illegal drugs. However, it is the minority groups who are targeted as criminals. He also points out that more than 75% of drug users do not have an addiction problem, and in reality drugs only impact 10-25% of those who try stigmatized drugs, like heroin and crack, by causing a form of dependency. Heart’s experiments with both rats and human methamphetamine and crack-cocaine addicts prove that “alternative reinforces” such as cash are more desirable than drugs to these addicts. Therefore, he provides evidence against the common belief: addicts will do anything to get their next dose of drugs and drugs are irresistible to them.

Carl Heart’s memoir provides both scientific research and personal experience to account for the failure of the War on Drugs. The combination of his profession and personal perspectives gives his opinions a unique credibility on addressing the issue.

Trustworthy Sources and Organizations

News Sources:
Organizations on I follow on Criminal Justice and the War on Drugs:
Individuals I admire:
Kamala Harris
Dianne Feinstein
Bryon Stevenson
Hillary Clinton
High Price by Carl Heart
Just Mercy by Bryon Stevenson
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Trail of Blood…leading to…Drug Raids

The New York Times launched their own investigation on no-knock warranted SWAT raids after noticing a trend in unnecessary deaths, injuries, and costly legal settlements. They collected videos, stories, and research on forcible-entry raids across the United States, and shared their findings in an article, titled “Door-Bsusting Drug Rids Leave a trail of Blood”.

Between 2010 and 2016 they found that found that “at least 81 civilians and 13 officers died in such raids”.

The Supreme Court rulings dismiss the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches. Since the War On Drugs was declared, the use of raids has increased tremendously, and mostly in low-income neighborhoods. The article also points out that at all levels of government these law enforcement raids do not require any form of reporting, which prevents any verifiable record of the number of raids or the injuries and deaths involved.

Critics of these drug raids often state that drug crimes are not capital
offenses, and therefore, the vast amount of drug raids occurring across the country is unjustified. Even if a raid does correctly convict a criminal, the offender is often severely injured or killed before his or her fair trial. The New York Times also emphasizes the shocking track record for injuries and deaths of innocent bystanders who happened to be in harms way. The article goes on to highlight some of the major mistakes that can happen during forcible-entry raids including: raiding wrong addresses, failing to knock, and failing to monitor the raid through body cameras. Furthermore, a majority of these cases have authorized warrants to find up to minimal amounts of drugs and money. For example, one costly raid only found “22 ounces of marijuana, about 20 grams of methamphetamine, a gram of cocaine, 34 prescription pills and $38.42 found in a Nesquik jar, according to a crime lab report”. The overall report provides a call to action to STOP the dangerous, inadequate use of drug raids across the country and to prevent U.S. citizens from being thrown in harms way.

The article provides photos of some of the tragic consequences. For example, after an officer peered quickly into a dark room he tossed an armed explosive inside a home, and it landed in a child’s playpen. 

The article verifies its credibility by stating how it gathered its evidence. They “relied on dozens of open-record requests and thousands of pages from police and court files”. They back up their evidence with live videos and photographs throughout the article. In addition, they added a link that summarizes their investigation, explaining their use of “news reports, interviews, search engines, federal court dockets and data provided by the American Civil Liberties Union from its 2014 survey of police departments in 20 cities”. They also interviewed a diverse range of sources, including law enforcement officials and SWAT veterans, thus avoiding potential biases. Understanding the scope of the issue, The New York Times also opened up and invited readers to submit pull requests on these raids. 

DEA Drug Conviction Desperation leads to Improper Drug Informant Use

The “Audit of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Management and Oversight of its Confidential Source Program” summarizes the DEA’s use of drug informants and the allocation of funds used for the program. The report highlights the misuse of government spending on informants and the danger that the government puts citizens in to run this program. The purpose of the Congress hearing held on Monday, November 28, 2016 was to provide oversight on the DEA’s management of its Confidential Source program, the changes it has made to the program, and its response to the Department of Justice’s recommendations. Some of the key findings includes that between October of 2010 and September of 2015, the DEA had over 18,000 confidential sources amongst its domestic offices, and over 9,000 of them were receiving approximately $237 million in payments. It was also found that the DEA carelessly uses these informants to gain information, as in one case, a confidential source, who previously provided false testimony in trials and depositions, was reactivated as a source. The Department of Justice was extremely critical, especially when finding that the DEA may have paid about $9.4 million to more than 800 deactivated sources between fiscal years 2011 and 2015. The gross expenditures given to these sources called for attention, as Intelligence Division paid more than $30 million to sources who provided narcotics-related information and contributed to law enforcement operations. $25 million of that $30 million went to just 9 individuals. Additionally, cash payments of more than $400,000 were given to a source over a 30-year time span, totaling $30 million. The Audit summarizes the Department of Justice’s findings on the DEA’s failure to comply with the Attorney General guidelines of informants. 

The Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Justice is a highly reputable source for information, given that its responsibility and purpose is to uphold the laws and institutions within the American government. It investigates and conducts audits, inspections, and reviews of the Department of Justice to find misconduct and fraudulent activity. In this audit, the Office of Inspector General performs its job in uncovering the inefficacy and abuse of the DEA’s Confidential Source program.


Disappearing Cash & Citizens: How the War on Drugs Divides the Nation



Eliminating Discrimination with Evidence

Drug Policy Alliance is an organization dedicated to drug policy reform, founded in 2000 after merging with Ethan Nadelmann’s, The Lindesmith Center (TLC) that was established in 1994. DPA’s legislative reform is “grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights”, challenging the conventional thinking around drug use and addiction. Rather than punishing drug users and attempting to increase harm reduction through the criminal justice system, DPA seeks solutions that prioritize safety and sovereignty over one’s mind and bodies.

DPA’s report “The Drug War, Mass Incarceration and Race”, published in February 2016, uses data and statistics from federal reports and international investigations to show the discriminatory effects of the failed War on Drugs in America.

posession-v-salesDPA highlights how drug possession is the major cause for arrests; therefore a critical issue of mass incarceration. A growing majority of America’s prison population remains behind bars for non-violent crimes. The report also displays the increase in arrests for possession, as in 2014, 80% of the drug arrests were only for possession rather than sale.

This report also analyzes statistics gathered on race in America’s criminal justice system, and how specific laws enable biased drug sentencing against minority groups. For example, “nearly 80% of people in federal prison and almost 60% of people in state prison for drug offenses are black or Latino.


black-and-latinoFurther underlying the consequences of the Drug War, DPA’s report explains how mass incarceration is tearing apart families in the U.S. More specifically, high incarceration rates are hurting minority families, with 1/9 black children having an incarcerated parent, compared to 1/57 white children.

To conclude, DPA suggests potential policy reforms. They include: the decriminalization of drug possession, the elimination of policies that deny those with conviction or arrest records the right to vote, employment, housing, financial aid, etc., and repeal of harsh and discriminatory sentencing and police practices.male

The Drug War Misperception: Criminalizing Our Citizens

President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a phone call from the Oval Office

Monday, June 8, 2009

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Original source:


What if











The original photo of Obama proposes a professional shot of the President of the United States working hard for his country. Although he appears laid back, with his feet propped up on his desk in the Oval Office, his face is serious and the mood of the photo still feels sophisticated. I manipulated the photo to incorporate the true fact about Obama’s prior use of marijuana. I photo shopped a joint into his right hand, and added smoke in the background, so it looks like Obama is currently smoking a joint in the Oval Office. The purpose of this change was to point out the miscued misperception of drug use in the U.S. There is a stigma that all drug users are dangerous addicts who often engage in criminal activity to supply their habits.

The American Civil Liberties Union found in a 2013 report that, between 2001 and 2010, 88 percent of marijuana arrests were for possession, as opposed to intent to distribute. These arrests accounted for 46 percent of all drug arrests in the United States at that time. A 3,500% increase in spending on fighting drugs between 1970 and 2011 had no affect on daily use of marijuana, heroin, or any type of cocaine. The war on drugs imprisons many non-violent American citizens who pose no threat to society. The purpose of this photo manipulation was to invoke the question: what if Obama had been arrested like the other ¾ black men in D.C. or 31 million since the Drug War began? I photoshopped prison bars over the photo as well, and their transparency is supposed to represent the hypothetical bars that could have locked up our former President of the United States.




Exposing America’s Injustice System


The initial chapter of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander outlines the history of the War on Drugs. Michelle Alexander draws an analogy between the Jim Crow Era in and segregation laws to today’s mass incarnation and discriminatory laws. The Jim Crow laws, state and local laws enforcing racial segregation in the Southern United States, were enacted after the Reconstruction period, and persisted until 1965. When these laws were eliminated, the South had a vacuum of racism and unrest waiting to be filled, and the candidate Richard Nixon, during the presidential campaign in 1971, saw an opportunity to gain support from the South by exploiting white fears and hatreds of African Americans. Hiding racial slurs and rhetoric, Richard Nixon redefined the words “crime”, “drugs”, and “urban” to mean “black”; therefore, enabling his Southern Strategy policies to appear colorblind.

This chapter explains how the War on Drugs was actually a racial targeting of minority groups in the US, and to this day these discriminatory, inequitable laws suppress minority communities and imprison them. The War on Drugs was launched when drug use and crimes were on the decline, and Alexander goes on to show that even though drugs are used and sold races at equal rates, or in many locations more by whites, drug laws explicitly target minority groups. African Americans are locked up, and after being labeled a felon, they are excluded from basic societal participation.

America now has the biggest prison population in the world.

Roughly 65 million people have criminal records, including tens of millions of Americans who have been arrested but never convicted of any offense, or convicted only for misdemeanors.



Alexander explains how the War on Drugs has been an extreme failure. Incarceration not only locks people out of the legal mainstream economy, reinforcing the illegal economy of sale of drugs, but it is also a major cause of poverty, chronic unemployment, broken families, and crime today. The New Jim Crow reminds its readers that institutionalized racism persists today and creates a discriminated racial caste through racial profiling, biased sentencing policies, political disenfranchisement, and legalized employment discrimination. When someone is labeled a felon they lose all of these rights and essentially become a second-class citizen.


Michelle Alexander asserts her credibility with defined, researched facts that are followed up with cited sources and dates. The analogies she draws out for her readers are always backed with current or past legislative policies as well as historical evidence and consistent data. She spent years in the field uncovering her research, and has personal experience as well. While her motivations are clearly to call out politicians and law enforcement in order to persuade her readers that mass incarceration and drug laws are discriminatory, she does so with an unbiased, informative tone and hard evidence.