If you think the ‘war on drugs’ doesn’t impact you, think again. It touches every aspect of society, because it diverts limited federal and state resources towards the nation’s sprawling and ever-expanding criminal justice system, which includes paying billions of dollars annually to keep our neighbors locked up.
A new interactive report, Uprooting the Drug War, released by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), tries to connect these dots for policy makers and the public alike by showing the true cost of this perpetual war on substances people like and use regularly.
For instance, millions of Americans can’t get housing support because of medicinal or recreational marijuana use. Eighteen states still allow employers to drug test their workforce, which keeps millions of medicinal marijuana users locked out of many job sectors. Ten million students in America don’t have social workers in their schools; instead, they have police officers checking students for drug use.
“Part of this initiative is to really bring others in,” Matt Sutton, the director of media relations at DPA, told The News Station.
We need others that are working within these systems to also help fight this fight. Together we can do it, but alone we can’tMatt Sutton
Sutton said when it comes down to it, money and lobbying are great resources, but everyday citizens are the ones really needed to uproot the drug war from society.
A Pew research poll published in 2018 found that upwards of 85% of Americans in rural and suburban areas see drug addiction as a major problem in their communities.
And yet with all the concern, overdose deaths are only rising, and it seems no amount of money that our government puts into the issue is bringing about any significant change.
Part of the reason the war on drugs has been so inefficient is that there are actors that claim to be helping people but are working for their own self interests. The ‘prison industrial complex’ and the militarization of local police forces are two powerful forces that seem to dominate the debate. Even if alarming, it’s nothing new.
“There’s always going to be money to be made off of criminalizing people,” Sutton said. “We’ve seen this with the prison industrial complex, we’ve seen this with people that supply drug-testing resources, and we’ve seen this more and more with for-profit treatment providers that are getting as big as the prison industrial complex.”
The drug war seems no longer to be a war against drugs but rather a war that uses drugs as a weapon to either lock up or deport specific groups of individuals. Take the last administration’s family separation policies, which decided even small amounts of marijuana were a reason to deport an immigrant, even if that meant separating the family.
“The same things that the drug war is supposedly trying to prevent it is actually creating,” Sutton said.
DPA and other advocates are hoping this new Congress and the Biden administration will finally take steps to unwind parts of the ‘war on drugs,’ which will start with decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.
“It’s pretty clear where the American public stands on this issue. I think it’s more an issue of legislators getting on,” Sutton said.