Eradication of illegal drugs has been a prominent issue in America’s political and social discussions for many years. One of the major concerns involves the argument that the drug war is not waged against inanimate objects known as drugs but against specific social groups (Benavie 24). Fighting drugs has turned into the pervasive use of force and violence against certain communities with the aim of achieving specific political outcomes (Benavie 25). In the war against drugs, the race has appeared prominently as a motivating factor for heightened police control, surveillance, and exploitation of certain communities. The greatest set of problems with the drug war comprises ineffective and discriminatory anti-drug policies as well as punitive drug laws. These problems are troublesome because they enhance racial injustice, infringe on the constitutional rights of innocent citizens, cause disproportionate arrests, and encourage over-policing of African American communities (Benavie 29).
American drug policy
The U.S. has an ineffective drug policy that promotes injustice based on race. One would expect that with stringent drug policy, drug-related issues and crimes would be non-existent. However, that assumption is far from the truth. The government is more focused on incarcerating and imprisoning drug offenders that it pays little attention to helping addicts get back on their feet through treatment. The rehabilitation of addicts is one of the most important components of the drug war that the government has ignored completely. This has resulted in high numbers of drug addicts living in federal and state prisons instead of rehabilitation centers. Imprisoning addicts is a wrong step toward attaining success in fighting drugs.
The goals of the Federal Drug Policy include educating young people about the dangers of illegal drugs, enhancing the safety of Americans by reducing cases of drug-related crime, lowering the health and social costs of illegal drug consumption, protecting the U.S. from the drug menace, and dismantling domestic and foreign drug sources (Benavie 33). These goals have not been achieved despite annual allocations of huge budgets and involvement of Defense, Education, Justice, and State departments. Drug laws and policies are more focused on prohibiting drugs than helping addicts reform. American society has been socialized to tolerate ineffective laws, policies, and institutions that have done little to address the drug epidemic (Benavie 35). For example, the Rockefeller drug laws introduced a mandatory sentence for drug crimes. Instead of addressing the problem, they increased the population of prisoners in correctional facilities.
Consequences of ineffective drug policy and laws
The war on drugs has been unsuccessful because instead of achieving worthwhile goals, it focuses on imprisoning drug offenders. As a result, many people are suffering from addictions that have ruined their lives and those of their families. High costs of imprisonment, discriminatory implementation of anti-drug laws and policies, and widespread police corruption are some of the issues that have emerged from the war (Benavie 38). The fight against drugs has been highly criticized because it mainly targets specific communities.
Many African Americans have been imprisoned for drug-related crimes, others have been denied justice by the criminal justice system, and cases of violations of human rights have increased significantly (Benavie 40). The current drug policy mainly focuses on eradicating low-level street drug dealers instead of targeting major drug suppliers. It is important for the government to identify the root cause of addiction in order to address the problem effectively. According to Granfield and Reinarman (8), addiction is caused by a maladaptation in the brain that is difficult to overcome. It mostly results from the use of drugs to the numb physical and emotional pain that originates from life events such as trauma, depression, poverty, and abuse (Granfield and Reinarman 8).
Mass and selective incarceration
Examples of outcomes from the drug war on African Americans include mass incarceration and disproportionate arrests. The high numbers of incarcerations are not reflective of the overall state of the drug problem. African Americans comprise approximately 12% of the American population. However, they make up approximately 46% of prisoners in correctional facilities (Benavie 43). This fraction is indicative of discriminatory arrests and incarcerations. Several studies have established a trend of racial disparity in drug arrests made by police. 80% of arrests related to drug crimes involve African Americans even though the highest number of drug users comprises whites (Benavie 46). Many arrests are made due to possession, and since whites comprise the highest percentage of drug users, it would be expected that they would make up the largest percentage of drug-related arrests. Inconsistent enforcement of drug policies and laws is the major cause of injustice. African American communities are targeted as they are highly disorganized, and therefore, police are able to make arrests easily.
Crack cocaine sentencing laws
The federal cocaine-sentencing law outlines rules that should be followed by judges when punishing criminals accused of cocaine possession. In that regard, sentencing is different for individuals who possess cocaine in powder form and those who possess it in crack form. The use of crack cocaine is common in low-income neighborhoods because it is more intense than powder cocaine (Granfield, and Reinarman 9). Therefore, African Americans are more likely to use it than whites. This explains why law enforcers target African American communities more.
This law is discriminatory because African Americans are more likely to consume crack cocaine than powder cocaine. In contrast, whites are more likely to use powder cocaine than crack cocaine. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 introduced the crack/powder cocaine distinction, and since then, law enforcement agencies have targeted African Americans (Benavie 53). The disparity in incarcerations has been identified by the U.S. Sentencing Commission as a legal anomaly. However, nothing has been done to repeal the law and rectify the problem. Racial discrimination has been cited as one of the reasons for differences in sentencing. African Americans’ sentences are harsher and longer compared to those awarded to whites and other social groups.
Over-policing of African American communities
The discrepancy in the treatment of people of color by the criminal justice system has affected African American communities negatively. Several research studies have concluded that African Americans are arrested and interrogated by law enforcement officers more frequently than other racial groups (Benavie 56). Police officers give unwarranted attention to their neighborhoods because of the stereotypical perception that they are more likely to engage in crime than other groups. Intensified focus on them means that the numbers of arrests and incarcerations are high. The war on drugs has devastated many African American communities because it has led to the militarization of law enforcement agencies. Police officers use military-style tactics that are dangerous and destructive to property. African American communities have been on the receiving end because innocent citizens have been harmed on several occasions from the paramilitary activities of police as they wage war on drugs.
How to respond to these problems
The society can respond to these problems by increasing awareness regarding the dangers of possessing, selling, and using drugs. Governments should act more on one of the Federal Drug Policy’s goals of educating and empowering young people to reject drugs because they are destructive to personal and national welfare. Teachers, parents, health professionals, business and community leaders, and the clergy should strive to create awareness among young people as an alternative to the modification of ineffective and discriminatory drug laws and policies (Benavie 78). In addition, community initiatives and workshops that teach young people about the dangers of dealing with illegal drugs should be created and implemented especially in vulnerable communities.
Another strategy is to develop programs that encourage young people to engage in positive and healthy activities that draw them away from crime. Society should create coalitions and partnerships with the media, sports companies, and entrainment organizations to increase awareness and intensify the war on drugs (Benavie 78). According to Alexander (18), crack cocaine does not cause addiction. Instead, addiction is caused by societal dislocation. The media and politicians have worsened the drug war by popularizing the notion that crack cocaine is highly addictive (Alexander 18). Society needs to re-address addiction and embrace the reality that it has its origin in political, social, and economic factors.
Another strategy that can be used to address the problem is intensifying drug treatment for addicts through rehabilitation. Research has shown that enforcement of drug laws and policies has short-term benefits because its priorities are misplaced. Law enforcers focus more on low-level drug dealers instead of high-level drug suppliers. The United States sets aside a lot of money to fight the drug menace every year. However, the allocation of the money is skewed toward supply reduction activities rather than demand reduction activities.
Maybe it is time the American society changed its drug war strategy from supply reduction to demand reduction (Benavie 94). Rehabilitation of addicts is one of the most effective methods of reducing demand for drugs. As potent as it is, the strategy receives a small allocation of funds from the federal government. Drug addiction has been explored from a biological perspective, and as a result, ignored the role played by social factors. Drug users attach certain social meaning to drug use (Granfield and Reinarman 9). Therefore, society needs to study addiction from a social perspective and develop strategies that will help victims get rid of it from their lives.
The drug war in America has been unsuccessful because of ineffective laws, policies, and institutions that address the problem discriminatively. The greatest set of problems with the drug war includes ineffective and discriminatory anti-drug policies, mandatory sentencing requirements, corrupt law enforcement agencies, and punitive drug laws. Drug laws focus more on reducing the supply of drugs rather than reducing both supply and demand. On the other hand, drug policies are highly prohibitive and apply a narrow range of strategies to address the drug epidemic. These problems are troublesome because they promote injustice and discrimination, encourage disproportionate arrests and incarcerations, and infringe on the constitutional rights of innocent citizens. Society can address these problems by intensifying awareness and shifting focus from reducing supply to reducing demand through rehabilitation of drug addicts.
Alexander, Bruce. The Roots of Addiction in Free Market Society. New York: Routledge Press, 2015. Print.
Benavie, Arthur. Drugs: America’s Holy War. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.
Granfield, Robert, and Craig Reinarman. Expanding Addiction: Critical Essays. New York, Routledge Press, 2015. Print.