The War On Drugs

For the purpose of my term paper I have chosen to look at the war on drugs, which was a prominent issues in the 1970s in the United States. This era was ushered in very closely after the civil rights movement in which people were given equal rights, and efforts to subsidize class differences were successful. Under the guise of the war on drugs, a large portion of government spending was allocated to combat this ever-present problem. In addition a plethora of laws were passed which allowed the government to detain and convict people who were suspected of using or selling drugs. Although this movement was directed towards all levels of society, the reality is that the people who suffered the most were the lower class and the middle class. Under these new laws they faced lengthy terms for possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. This is very evident when looking at the amount of people who were incarcerated during that period. Furthermore these new laws allowed for prison demographics to change drastically, which is a contributing reason for why a large portion of inmates are of minority ethnicities.  To support my ideas I have decided to look at the Marxist theory and critical race theory, to help explain how racial and status marginalization was achieved through the war on drugs.

The Marxist theory has often been criticized for its very harsh and pessimistic views of society and governing authorities, and it is often been tied with encouraging rebellion and the demise of the government. Although these views are very harsh and unrealistic, the theory makes an excellent point in noting that the law is simply a tool for the ruling class to exercise control over society. This notion fits in very well with the changes that occurred after government officials declared the war on drugs. For example laws were drastically changed and the very famous “three strikes” rule was implemented. Furthermore the length of sentences received by people was also increased which was very detrimental to individuals who were being incarcerated for petty offences. The government also set aside a large sum of money for these programs and increased funding for new departments such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has often been criticized for the large scope of powers it received.

In addition to the social class differences, which are exemplified by the war on drugs, race was a prominent indicator of the people who were effected most by the war on drugs. A conspicuous example of this is the amount of African Americans and Hispanic individuals who were incarcerated after the new laws were implemented. Although these individuals were the only groups of individuals who consumed or produced drugs, they were the ones who received lengthier sentences and were most commonly targeted by law enforcement. Furthermore the propaganda that was associated with the war on drugs, presented drug use as something that ruined homes, families, bred violence and most importantly was deemed to go against the American dream. People often associated drug use and production as a normal occurrence in lower class communities which were predominantly composed of ethnic minorities who has either recently immigrated to the country, or had previously been neglected by the government. These new laws only perpetuated the stereotypes and created an unprecedented divide in social class and race, which is still present in the United States.

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One response to “The War On Drugs

  1. Good initial description. A few notes:

    First, it is important to note that the 1971 declaration of a ‘War on Drugs’ by Nixon was a rhetorical action that accompanied an intensification of existing prohibitionist policies. The use of the criminal legal system as a first resort for dealing with drugs was already a long-standing policy.

    Second, it is important to note that the War on Drugs is not an exclusively American phenomenon. From the US perspective, the War on Drugs has involved both prohibitionist domestic policies and international interventions (including paramilitary interventions). Other states have adopted the US model – including Canada. Our current national drug strategy reflects a prohibition / criminalization framework.

    Regarding your use of Marxist theory, you will need to (1) explain the economic basis of drug prohibition, (2) explain how the War on Drugs reflects particular class interests, and (3) engage with the concept of ideology, which – as Pavlich notes, is central to understanding the function of the legal system from a Marxian perspective.

    Regarding your engagement with CLS, things look good so far. I would recommend engaging with Michelle Alexander’s book ‘The New Jim Crow’ – http://www.newjimcrow.com/