The War on Drugs
I think that US drug policy is extraordinarily misguided; the phrase
"self-inflicted wounds" comes readily to mind. However, I think that
our drug policy also raises issues of social justice.
Drug use, and abuse, is distributed more or less uniformly throughout
society. Rich and poor, black and white, male and female, young and
old: it doesn't respect any boundaries.
However, middle-class America has decided that it doesn't want to see
its drug problem on its own streets, partly because it is an eyesore,
and partly because it doesn't want to admit that it has a drug problem
in the first place.
So we've made drugs illegal. This has several immediate and inevitable
The effect on poor and minority communities is devastating. The
violence takes lives and scares away legitimate business. And the
money flowing from the drug trade makes personal development seem
futile. It is the drug dealers who have the money, the women, the cars,
the jewelry, and—of course—the drugs. The wages of honest labor are
- Because the drug business is illegal, it migrates towards those in
our society with the least to lose and the most to gain: the poor, the
disadvantaged, the minorities.
- Because the drug business is illegal, it is run by violence rather
than law: it is run by organized crime.
Search & Destroy
It would be bad enough if the middle class merely pushed its drug
problem onto the poor and left them to cope with it. But it is worse
than than. Frightened by images of violence in the media, harboring
racist ideas that drugs are a problem of minorities, and possessed of a
religious belief that Drugs are Bad, we have declared a War on Drugs.
Of course, you don't wage war against chemicals, you wage war against
people. And the people we are waging it against are—you guessed
it—the poor, the disadvantaged, the minorities. First we push our
drug problem onto the poor, then we send the police in to hunt them
down and throw them in prison. And this isn't a metaphorical war:
there are deaths on both sides, and a good deal of collateral damage.
Felons generally can't vote; the ACLU estimates that in some minority
communities, the war on drugs has disenfranchised as much as 30% of
the population. Seen this way, the war on drugs is an instrument of
systematic, institutionalized racism, designed to exclude minorities
from the political process.
We're doing pretty much the same thing at a foreign policy level; the
only difference is that the stakes are higher. Entire
countries in Central and South America are being torn apart by
our war on drugs. Currently, President Clinton proposes to send $1B of
weapons to Columbia so that his party can look "tough on drugs" in the
November elections. This would be comical in its transparency and
cynicism if it weren't for the carnage that it will cause.
If elections in the United States are won with the blood of innocent
people, then we are no better than any of the other murderous regimes
scattered around the planet that kill to stay in
power. The fact that the president has found a way to export these
deaths to a foreign country does not seem to me to be of great moral
I'd like to see us take a stand on this as a matter of social justice.
George W. Bush had access to cocaine? Wow, I wish my old man ran the
Steven W. McDougall /
2000 March 21