Racial Inequalities in the War on Drugs

As we delve deeper into the legalization of marijuana, it is important to study the history of drug prohibition in the United States.  In 1917, the war on drugs officially started with the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Act.  Although it was legally a law in the US, not much was done with it until decades later.   Interest was sparked in the act in the 1960’s as middle-class white youth began to pick up an interest in drugs.  This caused President Nixon to refer to drugs as “public enemy number one” in 1971.  This led to a period in which the American government spent billions of dollars in an effort to prosecute drug users.  However, drug users of different racial backgrounds were not prosecuted at equal rates.  It is reported by the Human Rights Watch that in the 1980’s, African-American citizens were five times more likely to be arrested for their drug offenses than white citizens.  An additional study conducted in 1998 reported that of all American drug users, 72% were Caucasian, while only 15% were African-American.   Even with these statistics, black citizens continued to be jailed for their offenses at a higher rate. 

                It is argued that there is only one solution to this unfairness in the United States justice system, and that is to legalize drugs.  Professors Walter E. Block and Violet Obioha make this point in their journal, War on Black Men: Arguments for the Legalization of Drugs.  However, Block and Obioha make the distinction that drug legalization must be gradual.  They explain that marijuana must first be legalized, followed by ‘harder’ drugs such as cocaine and heroin.  The authors backed up their argument with other benefits of drug legalization, such as the health related issues that come from laced marijuana and other substances. 

                The journal makes a valid point as it discusses what may be the only solution to a justice system that treats members of a specific race with unfairness.


Nicole Lyons



Posted in Uncategorized

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