This is the reality of the decades long war on drugs:
- The U.S. prison system is overflowing with people serving extreme sentences for drug-related crimes.
- Fear of judicial punishments leads to tragic and preventable deaths.
- In 2015, more people were arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana than violent crimes.
While the recent study regarding the effects of our ongoing war on drugs focused primarily on marijuana charges, the findings are still significant: there were nearly 69,000 more arrests for pot than for violent crimes like assault, rape, and murder.
Yes, murder- that crime that involves taking someone’s life.
According to the study, which was released by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, arrests for violent crimes have dropped 36 percent over the last two decades; arrests for all drug possessions have increased 13 percent.
Another bias was also revealed during the study: black adults were over four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white adults in 39 states included in the study. This finding does not reflect an assumption that black adults are using more illicit substances- in fact, while they were arrested 2.5 times more often for possession of any illicit drug, white adults were consistently more likely to use such substances.
“It’s selective enforcement,” director of the Justice Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, Inimai M. Chettiar said, “the example I like to use is that you have all sorts of drug use inside elite college dorms, but you don’t see the police busting through doors.”
What does that mean for the reality of two often stereotyped and stigmatized populations? Injustice, distrust of the system, and a skewed concept of the future. When faced with what seems like impossible odds, the prospect that one could improve themselves and their quality of life seems like a fantasy.
But beyond that, the implications of this study are horrendous: our legal system has become so geared toward vilifying substance abuse and drug peddling that you can literally rape or murder someone and leave our prison system before the man who sold weed in 1974.
While it is absolutely necessary to enforce laws which protect our communities, when they begin to destroy the lives of those they are intended to protect, it’s time for reformation. Some action has been taken in recent years to reconsider the drug laws and mandatory sentencing in certain states, but until we see change across the country, this is yet another obstacle faced by those truly fighting to end substance abuse and addiction.