As indicated in part one of this two-part series, all drug users are not created equal in the eyes of the law. The statistics unequivocally demonstrate that African-Americans are disproportionately burdened by the war on drugs paradigm while the paradigm continues to elude the upper echelons of society. According to a March 2009 study conducted by the Beckley Foundation, a charitable trust that promotes health orientated, cost effective, drug policy reform, of the 253,300 state prisoners serving sentences for drug offenses, 113,500 were black. The study also revealed that while African-Americans represent 14% of marijuana users in the general population, they represent 30% of all arrests.
In another stark example of how the war on drugs paradigm falsely targets minorities, blacks in Illinois were nearly five times more likely to be sentenced to prison for low-level drug crimes than whites, according to a state study released in January of 2011. “Minorities aren’t necessarily more likely to use drugs than whites, but from the data that’s available and from the study, it’s evident that they’re much more likely to be apprehended,” opined David Olson, chairman of Loyola University Chicago’s Criminal Justice Department.
A key point of controversy in the war on drugs paradigm is that of mandatory sentencing for offenses involving crack and cocaine powder. Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, the sale of five grams of crack brings a mandatory five-year sentence. Yet, as Human Rights Watch told the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1996, “It takes 100 times more powder cocaine than crack to trigger the same mandatory minimum sentence.” There is no cogent reason for the 100-to-1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine, and the result is an unjustified racial inequality in our penal system as African-Americans are excessively charged with crack distribution than with distribution of powder cocaine.
The high proportion of minorities in prison for drug offenses means their families suffer more from the costs that result from incarceration. For example, a 2002 study revealed an estimated 124,000 children in New York have had at least one parent imprisoned on a drug charge since 1980, leading to disruptive family life and a significant increase in social security costs due to the removal of a family breadwinner.
If the government continues to spend more than they save on misguided laws like the welfare law in Florida or the mandatory minimums that amount to a war on minorities–the government must revisit the war on drugs paradigm. The government should drug test anyone that receives a government salary, or is married or related to any officeholder. I’m talking to you, Ms. McCain. We’ll save money by firing all those government workers who test positive. What’s more, since the war on drugs paradigm is such an important issue to conservative ideology, all those millionaires lobbying for their tax cuts would be happy to pay their fair share to put all drug offenders behind bars, even if some of them are the very people they have bankrolled into office. Now is the time to Edward Scissorhand the war on drugs paradigm.