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.

NIMBY

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 consequences:

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 "chump change".

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.

Voting Wrongs

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.

Foreign Policy

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 significance.

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 CIA.
The Onion
Steven W. McDougall / resume / swmcd@world.std.com / 2000 March 21