Since it was declared by Nixon in 1971, the War on Drugs has been destroying communities everywhere. But no communities have been hit harder than Black ones.
You name an illicit substance, and the United States has it. Federal and state crackdowns on these substances affect millions. But it has disproportionately affected Black people. This is due in large part to thoughtlessly crafted laws, like the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which created a sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine that primarily affected Black Americans. Instead of supporting evidence-based approaches, the U.S. has made decades of the same damaging legislative mistakes, perpetuating a slew of societal ills, including racial and social bias, and the influence of drug traffickers in America.
Today, Black communities are still disproportionately affected by incarceration, STDs, mental health problems, homicide rates, denial of the right to vote and harassment by law enforcement, despite past and recent legislative efforts.
It happens over and over again, every year. In 2018, the Trump administration passed a temporary class-wide scheduling of fentanyl related substances (FRS) resulting in severe mandatory sentencing for sellers and users alike — regardless of whether or not they are aware their drugs are combined with fentanyl. The majority of offenders arrested under this program are Black, street-level dealers at the end of the drug’s distribution chain. Very few incarcerations have mitigated the available supply of FRS. As of 2019, 75% of individuals prosecuted and sentenced for fentanyl offenses were people of color.
But the cherry on top of all of this? The Biden administration quietly extended the Schedule I fentanyl policy — twice — in 2021 and 2022, despite findings that many FRSs do not make users high and instead could be lifesaving treatments.
The 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment is clear: Illicit substances are primarily trafficked into the U.S. from foreign sources through heavily governmentally-surveyed points of entry, such as Mexico. What’s more, the production of illicit substances spans worldwide. Most illicit substances in the U.S. originate from South America, Africa, Afghanistan and China. Despite U.S. foreign policy, and regulations implemented by foreign nations, countries such as Afghanistan and China increasingly cooperate with Mexican cartels, exploiting existing weaknesses in U.S. points of entry.
Enterprising individuals can obtain and distribute illicit substances directly via the dark web, Facebook and labs via U.S. postal services through UPS, FedEx and DHL. The U.S. government doesn’t want to acknowledge it but prohibition-based policy has done about as much to curb drug use as abstinence-based sex education has to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STDs. This philosophy towards illicit substance abuse has been counterproductive and continues to exacerbate racial bias, drug overdoses, diseases, corruption, domestic and international violence, drug cartels, and stronger and deadlier drugs.
Better solutions exist. It’s time for the U.S. to take responsibility for the drug epidemic and support a combination of the following treatment and evidence-based approaches: