We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities….We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
John Ehrlichman , Nixon’s former domestic policy chief
(a famous 80’s anti drug commercial)
Don’t do drugs! Say no to drugs! These are all phrases most of us have heard from either a parent or a teacher or an adult when we were younger. While these messages are important, the origin of them stems from a bigger issue: the war on drugs.
I am personally interested in this topic after watching the 13th in history class. I was fascinated by the difference of punishment for crack and cocaine and how that affected people of color. I have always been interested in racial issues in society and wondered what caused racial tension in society to be the way it is. After watching the documentary I realized that the war on drugs heavily impacted the way our society views people of color and how the media influenced society into changing their perspectives which led to racial profiling. Interested by how the federal acts altered severity of punishment targeted certain races but gave leiway to others, I decided this would be the perfect topic for me.
What is the War on Drugs?
The war on drugs was declared by President Nixon in 1968. Despite Nixon claiming that America’s public enemy number one was drug abuse, one source claims that the United States’ drug use during 1960’s was fairly rare despite the decade’s infamous reputation of heavy drug use (Robinson). The question is, then why did Nixon declare the war on drugs, and what was the motivation behind that? According to Nixon’s former domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman, the nixon campaign had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people (LoBianco). The war on drugs was continued by President Reagan and President Clinton.
Reagan was key in the war on drugs. Reagan passed the Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986 which was monumental for the war on drugs because it changed the system from a rehabilitative one to a punitive one (Friedersdorf).
The most important part of this law altered the punishment for crack cocaine and cocaine, so this punished 1 mg of crack the same as 100mg of cocaine. Therefore, someone caught with a small amount of crack was punished very severely. This law targeted a certain demographic: black people. Crack cocaine is stereotypically tied black people and those from inner cities while cocaine was tied to white people (Cocaine History and Statistics). In another source, it is said that black people are “3.5 times more likely than whites to be regular crack users, but black people are 21.2 times more likely than white people to go to federal prison on a crack charge” (Who Uses Crack Cocaine, and Why?). Also, 83% of crack traffickers are black, so making it more illicit majorly impacts black people more than the other races (Palmer). Additionally, Nancy Reagan launched the “Just Say No” campaign which taught children and those alike to just say no to drugs. Moving forward, the war on drugs progressed with the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 passed by Bill Clinton. These acts “increased drug treatment programs”, gave more money to prisons, created harsher sentences like the three-strikes law (John). However, the heavier sentencing and stricter laws did not stop the trafficking and using of drugs. According to a recent study by the PDFA, the use of methamphetamines by high school students more than doubled between 1990 and 1996 (Robinson).
As result, the prison population increased tremendously and so did the black market for drugs. One of the biggest problems regarding the war on drugs that the United States faces today is the illegal sale and importation of drugs. Some of the most trafficked drugs is methamphetamines, powder cocaine, crack, and marijuana (Drug Trafficking By the Numbers).
Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits. Fanatics will never learn that, though it be written in letters of gold across the sky. It is the prohibition that makes anything precious.
We’ve Seen This Before…
The war on drugs is a very complicated topic with no clear solution. However, this problem is not brand new. We saw the same issue arise with prohibition in the early 20th century, and due to outlawing of alcohol many severe consequences followed. One of the most important impacts was that it created a black market for alcohol and it was still being sold despite it being illegal. People were willing to go to jail for the huge profit due to the large demand for alcohol. When the demand is high and the supply is low and hard to access, the profit sky rockets. This can cause the production and sale of alcohol to become very dangerous as it did with the American Mafia. The Mafia was a very powerful gang that rose to their height through their sale of liquor during prohibition. The government was able to take the money out of alcohol and make it safer by heavily regulating it and making it easily accessible. We can see many parallels today with the sale of drugs. For example, there is a huge black market for drugs that comes from domestic and foreign production of drugs. The selling of drugs through the black market creates a very big profit, but is also a very dangerous business. The only way to get rid of the black market is to take the money and violence out of it is to legalize and regulate almost all drugs and make them as accessible as alcohol. It should be controlled the same way prescription drugs are.
The goal is to make it safer for users. At the end of the day, drug dealers and users still use and sell drugs despite it being illegal and legalizing drugs might not decrease drug use but will decrease the selling of drugs. However, there are areas that need to be altered. For starters the system should be changed back to a rehabilitative one with rehabilitation centers for those who become addicted to the drugs and need to be eased off of it. There needs to be rehabilitation centers and they need to be looked after seriously. The goal of the rehabilitation centers is to help people get off of the drugs there are addicted to and hopefully get them to never use that drug again. The rehabilitation centers need employees, and those who are in prison for a possession of marijuana and no violent crime should be released from prison and they can work for those centers to educate youth and help others. Similarly, the education on drugs has to be more higher due to it being legal. Inner cities and those of lower income need to have mandatory drug abuse education so they are aware of the effects of drugs (not just marijuana, cocaine, tobacco, and alcohol). Furthermore, the all drugs have to regulated differently depending on their strengths and side effects similar to prescription drugs. The idea is a mix between pharmaceuticals and marijuana dispensaries.
At the end of the day, people are still using drugs despite it being very illicit, so the goal is try to make it safer and decrease drug use through education and awareness on the topic of drug abuse.
What YOU Can Do!
There is not an abundance of things you can do considering it has to do with legislation; however, you can go out and vote! You can call your state representatives and tell them how you feel about the war on drugs and a possible solution. You can hold a rally, protest, or just spread the word through social media. The goal is to reach as many people as possible to create change! Be vocal, be brave, be resilient, and be kind because together we can build a better and safer tomorrow.
Now that you understand that topic and what my proposed solution is, it would be greatly appreciated if you could fill out this Google Survey or leave a comment to give feedback on my solution.
“Cocaine History and Statistics.” DrugAbuse.com, DrugAbuse.com, 26 Oct. 2017,
“Drug Trafficking by the Numbers.” The Recovery Village,
DuVernay, Ava, director. 13Th. Netflix, Kandoo Films, 2016,
Friedersdorf, Conor. “The War on Drugs Turns 40.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 15
June 2011, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/
John, Arit. “A Timeline of the Rise and Fall of ‘Tough on Crime’ Drug Sentencing.” The Atlantic,
Atlantic Media Company, 22 Apr. 2014,
LoBianco, Tom. “Report: Nixon’s War on Drugs Targeted Black People.” CNN, Cable News
Network, 24 Mar. 2016,
Robinson, Jennifer. “Decades of Drug Use: Data From the ’60s and ’70s.” Gallup.com, Gallup Inc,
“Who Uses Crack Cocaine, and Why?” Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, CRIMINAL
JUSTICE POLICY FOUNDATION, www.cjpf.org/who-uses-crack-cocaine-and-why/.