How the War on Drugs Has Impacted Communities

Here is the irony, the ‘War on Drugs’ which was meant to help communities deal with the scourge of illicit drugs has actually done the opposite.  Sure, crime is way down in most communities across the country, but many would argue that this is due to a combination of sociological and economic factors and not to the nearly five decades long crusade against drugs.

In fact, many drugs are more available today – and this does not include the spike in the abuse of prescription drugs.  As such, this article will take a deeper look at how the war on drugs has impacted communities throughout the country.

Another irony behind the War on Drugs is that it first came to prominence following the passage of groundbreaking civil rights legislation in the 1960’s.  In fact, the Republicans first made ‘Law and Order’ a cornerstone of their national platform at the 1968 convention in Miami.

Interestingly, this was shortly after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act become law – notwithstanding that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment had been promulgated nearly a century earlier.

Granted, realities of the melting pot have always been a bit of a minefield but never in our history has such a sustained social movement so disproportionally targeted the poor and minority groups.   A case in point is the recent release of a video showing Baltimore police planting drugs on a suspect.

Even when there is no video, those facing drug trafficking charges must deal with biases that essentially predetermine guilt.  Now, this is not to say that everyone charged in connection with drug trafficking and drug-related violence is innocent.  However, a recent survey conducted by Pew Research found that most Americans agree that the drug enforcement policies have targeted African American communities.

In fact, it is not just Pew.  John McWhorter in his work with the conservative leaning Cato Institute noted how ‘in poor and working-class black America, a man and a woman raising their children together is, of all things, an unusual sight.’  This is a sad commentary as it means that the War on Drugs is essentially destroying communities by waging war not on drugs but on families.

Another unintended consequence of the War on Drugs is that has not only made drugs more readily available, but it has also made them profitable.  All the while these sustained police effort has wasted billions of tax payer dollars on a solution which can never work.

To make matters worse, some research has found that the fixes are rather simple.  In fact, economic analysis of how drug gangs work has found that many of the front-line people earn less than the minimum wage.

As such, the War on Drugs is not only wasting tax payer dollars but it has created a false vision of economic opportunity.  This is largely because there is little incentive for leaders to create vibrant economies in at risk communities, which in turn helps to perpetuate the root causes which lead to rampant drug use.

After nearly 50 years what has worked?  For one thing, the billions of dollars spent on the War on Drugs has helped to spawn several industrial complexes which rely on tax payer money to exist.  This includes the for-profit prison industry which has benefited from record high incarceration rates.

Then there are the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by police forces around the country each year.  Much of this money comes in the form of government grants and subsidies and it does nothing more than to provide a lifeline to the weapons suppliers who provide police departments with the gear they need to execute the War on Drugs.

Another offshoot of the War on Drugs is the alarming rise in the level of civil forfeitures throughout the country.  If you are not aware of this trend, a civil forfeiture is basically a privilege given to police officers to confiscate private property with only the claim – not evidence – illegal activity.   As shocking, and unconstitutional, as this is, the Department of Justice has recently given their support to this blatant abuse of power.

Does America have a drug problem?  The undeniable answer is yes.  However, the past 50 years of the War on Drugs shows that the current tactics have done little to address the root causes.  As such, it is time to rethink our approach to focus on tactics which help to rebuild shattered communities rather than destroy them.

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