On June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one in the United States.” To eradicate this enemy, he called for “a new, all-out offensive.” But 40 years of get-tough policies haven’t ended substance abuse. Instead, as “The New Jim Crow” author Michelle Alexander recently told a crowd of 1,000 at Harlem’s Riverside Church, “The enemy in this war has been racially defined. The drug war, not by accident, has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color.”
At the estimated cost of $1 trillion, the War on Drugs has triggered the mass incarceration, mostly of black and brown people through harsh penalties for non-violent drug violations like simple possession. It has encouraged racial profiling in the name of enforcement. In addition, people with drug convictions (and their families) have been evicted from public housing, deemed ineligible for food stamps and college financial aid, and denied employment. This failed war has destroyed mothers, fathers, children, grandparents – whole communities.
One thing it hasn’t done: End the use and sale of drugs.