The Impact Of Drug Policy On Minority Communities

“Illegal drugs are a $60-billion-per-year industry patronized by at least 16 million Americans, 7 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12” (Caulkins et al, 2005). It cannot be overemphasized how the problem, in recent years, has grown considerably worse. According to a 2011 Report on the Global Commission of Drug Policy,

“the United States estimates annual drug consumption, 1998-2008, shows a 34.5% increase in opiate use, 27% increase in cocaine use, and 8.5% increase in the use of marijuana” (Jahangir et al, 2011).

These  are startling statistics; however, they do not reveal, nor help one understand the stories behind the numbers. Whether these people live on the street, in the ghettos, are incarcerated, or perhaps rich kids attempting to get their next fix, the statistics illuminate the failure of “The War on Drugs.”

Although full-scale drug epidemics, in the United States, can be traced back to the 19th century–with morphine abuse so prevalent in the aftermath of the Civil War–it is no stretch of the imagination to conclude that drug abuse has again become a major social welfare concern. The magnitude of the problem is substantial.

For example, Santa Ana, California, a city in Orange County with a predominately Latino population, has been negatively affected by U.S. drug control policy. The privacy of immigrants is often violated when they are under suspicion; homes are searched with a warrant or without a warrant (Rojo, personal communication, September 18th, 2012). These searches are due in part to the fact that much of the narcotics (heroin, cocaine, marijuana) in Southern California are smuggled in from Mexico. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), in tandem with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), is aware of the high murder-rate in Mexico, which is derived from the interior politics of the cartel system; those politics have  raised some red flags in the United States. The market of the Mexican-American narcotic business has led some lawmakers to advocate for systematic racial profiling. This is true not only of Santa Ana, but in other communities in southern California that have a high density of Latino, or Hispanic, population.

The war on drugs, in that regard, is a war against minorities and the poor. It directly affects African-Americans as well. According to Cole (2001),

studies consistently show that police officers disproportionately stop and search African-Americans and Hispanics. The consistency of this finding across multiple jurisdictions and officers suggests that profiling is not the work of a few rogue racist police officers, but the result of a broadly shared assumption that Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be carrying drugs or other contraband than whites.

The “War on Drugs” is supplanted by the belief in the systematic demonization of drug addicts who are portrayed as morally inferior, weak, and therefore expendable. In short, the drug addict is a cog in the drug-war-machine; a mere statistic. U.S. prisons are the most populated in the world, and the majority of prisoners are serving sentences for drug-related offences.

“from 1925 to 1975, the incarceration rate in the United States was virtually flat, at about 100 incarcerated prisoners per 100,000 residents.” That being said, “there was more than a 400 percent increase between the 1980s and the 1990s in the chances that a drug arrest would ultimately result in a prison sentence” (Bobo & Thompson, 2006).

Consequently, it is no wonder why the debate for legalization has come to the forefront  in  recent years : it is a short-cut point of view that allows a person to avoid having to address the demand/supply orientated approach to American drug control policy. In short, the owl’s position is that legalization is actually an example of Utopian thinking and what is really important is addressing the drug problem on all fronts with alternative strategies.  The United States has an obligation to address its own mental health problem, which not only includes its addiction to drugs, but an addiction to facilitating a “War on Drugs”. A better approach might begin with teaching children that a drug addict is not a criminal, but someone who is ill; then, and only then, can the problem be addressed appropriately.

*Written By Paul Rogov **

Originally published at

Paul Rogov studied Comparative Literature at the UC Berkeley and Social Work at USC. His literary work has been appeared in Danse Macabre, Jumping Blue Gods, Exterminating Angel Press, Yareah Magazine, and CORE, a journal published through the American University of Paris. “The Fallen Years,” his debut work of fiction—a novella about the Soviet-Afghan war—was released in October 2011. A deluxe edition of the same novella, which includes a rare interview with the literary journal Gloom Cupboard, was released in October 2012. He is also a social worker, a volunteer at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange, CA, and counsels the mentally ill and the homeless who are living on Skid Row. He emigrated to Southern California as a refugee from the former Soviet Union in 1979.

Paul’s blog can be found at


Information cited in the article can be found in the articles below:

Bobo, L.D., Thompson, V., (2006). Unfair by design: the war on drugs, race, and the
     legitimacy of the criminal justice system. Social Research, 73, 2, pp. 445-471.
Caulkins, J.P., Reuter P., Iguchi, M.Y., Chiesa, J., (2005). How goes the “war on
     drugs? An assessment of U.S. drug problems and policy.  Santa Monica: The Rand
     Corporation Drug Policy Research Center.

Cole, D.D., (2010). Formalism, realism, and the war on drugs. Suffolk University Law

     Review, 15, 2, pp. 241-250.
Jahangir, A., Fuetes C., Gaviria C., Zedillo E., Cardoso, F.H., Papandreou, G., Shultz,
      G.P., Solana, J, Whitehead, J., Annan, K., Arbour, L., Cattaui, M., Llosa, M..V,
      Caspers-Merk, M., Kazatchkine, M., Volcker P., Branson, R., Dreifuss, R.,
      Stoltenberg, T., (2011). Report of the global commission on drug policy. Rio Janeiro:


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