Talking Drug War

The world has just celebrated 420. The unofficial, international day on which THC-aficionados get together to show their favourite drug some love. But what about other days? And other drugs? Who uses them, deals them and who gets locked up for it?

Weed has without a doubt received its fair share of love in recent years – even being legalised in Uruguay and various US states. At last, socially acceptable, a multitude of joints were passed around happily in London’s Hyde Park on April the 4th.

London is one of the cocaine capitals of the world. The white powder is ubiquitous in Brixton’s nightclubs, Shoreditch’ bars as much as in South Kensington’s living rooms and the Square Miles high performing businesses.

Home and birthplace of electronic dance music, drum and bass and field raves, also the use of ecstasy is very wide spread ; especially in it’s pure form of MDMA powder.

Making drugs illegal did not help to prevent all people from taking them. But it did create generations of criminals. The consequences from breaking the drug law vary. They vary on the substance one takes and on how much of it one possesses and the vary on the colour of skin a drug-consumer has.

Release, an international campaigners-network for progressive drug reforms, published concerning statistics last year: 56 percent of white people in possession of cocaine get away with a warning by law enforcement. 44 percent are charged. Not even half of their black counterparts are as lucky: 78 percent of black people in possession of cocaine are charged. Only 22 percent get away with a warning. Institutionalised racism is reflected in the war on drugs as tangible as almost nowhere else in modern, western society.

History of oppression

Various scholars go as far, as to say, the war on drugs was introduced as a tool for racial oppression. 1910 in the United States of America, drug prohibitionists warned of the weed-smoking black man. A danger to the white woman. These prohibitionists wanted to introduce and strengthen drug laws but foremost, to keep the black population at the edge of society.

The modern drug war was launched 1968 by President Nixon’s Administration for similar reasons: to silence the anti-war movement by associating it with marijuana and to weaken the black-right movement by associating it with heroin.

In 1994 John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s advisor, admitted: “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 criminalising 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.”

Mass Incarceration 

Michelle Alexander, author of the New Jim Crow, explains the hook of what she calls the current cast system of the United States: “The genius distinction of this system is that it appears voluntary. We are told that people choose to commit crimes and as a punishment they are locked out – so it appears. Logically, it seems that the system could be avoided through good behaviour. Yet there are people serving life-sentences for first time drug offenses.”

In her book, she draws the parallel between the Jim Crow Laws – the racial segregation laws of the Southern States from 1866 until 1965 – and the mass incarceration system. Both define the meaning of race in America. Such as Jim Crow defined people of colour as second class citizen, defines mass incarceration the meaning of blackness in America today: people of colour, especially men, are criminals.

Today’s America has the largest prison population of the world with 2,3 million people behind privatised prison bars. The Federal Bureau of Prisons numbers show that out of those 2,3 million prisoners, a stunning 46 percent are drug offenders. 37,8 percent of prison inmates are black. While only 12 percent of Americans are black. The Sentencing Project reports that “one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime”.

Decriminalisation and legalisation as solutions 

On the panel of a LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) event, author of Chasing the Scream Johann Hari, makes an essential observation: The war on drugs has failed. The United Kingdom must now decide if to keep copying systems which are obviously and in its entirety dysfunctional or to start looking for alternatives.

Systems like the ones in Portugal, where all drugs have been decriminalised and the use of injection drugs fell by 50 percent within a few years. Or the one in Switzerland, where safe injection rooms have been introduced which did not only help the majority of Swiss heroin addicts to return to a normal life, but also extinguished petty street crime and prostitution. It is time to realise, the far-reaching damage the war on drugs has caused and the positive effects its abolition would have.

If drugs were legal, police officers would have less reasons to stop and search people in the street. Police brutality would go down. Racial discrimination would be increasingly difficult to enforce. Mass incarceration would decrease dramatically. People with an addiction illness would be treated under the health care system, not the criminal justice system.

The countries who made the change, did so because of public pressure. It needs a bottom-up movement to apply pressure on politicians. And for this, awareness of the damaging effects of the current system needs to be raised.


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