Letters to the Editor

The War on Drugs is a war on people of color

Jun 6, 2012 at 12:00 am

The War on Drugs: A war against people of color

Re: Larry Gabriel's May 30 Higher Ground column entitled "How would city vote?" — marijuana law reform is no longer a third rail issue. In the 2008 elections, more Massachusetts residents voted in favor of a ballot initiative decriminalizing marijuana than voted for candidate Barack Obama. Would Obama be president if he had been arrested for pot possession in his youth? African-Americans bear the brunt of drug law enforcement. As a majority African-American city, Detroit has good reason to support marijuana law reform.

The drug war has been waged in a racist manner since its inception. The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 was preceded by a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. Opium was identified with Chinese laborers, marijuana with Mexicans and cocaine with African-Americans. Minorities and whites have similar rates of drug use. Support for the drug war would end overnight if whites were incarcerated for drugs at the same rate as minorities. 

The drug war is a cultural inquisition, not a public health campaign. Criminal records are inappropriate as health interventions and ineffective as deterrents. Thanks to public education efforts, addictive tobacco use has declined considerably, without any need to criminalize tobacco smokers. Mandatory minimum sentences, random drug testing and racial profiling are not the most cost-effective means of discouraging unhealthy choices. —Robert Sharpe, policy analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Washington, D.C.