The War on Drugs (WOD) transmogrified into a war on communities of color early in its history, and its impact has devastated communities of color first and foremost. People of color disproportionately suffer incarceration in the WOD even though people of color use illegal narcotics at substantially lower rates than white Americans. As a result, the WOD led to mass incarceration of people of color at many times the rate of white Americans. Indeed, as a stark illustration of the power of race in America, even after Illinois and Colorado legalized cannabis, over-policing in communities of color resulted in a substantial increase in arrests of people of color while white youth arrests declined. Thus, when police brutality against communities of color exploded into the consciousness of America in 2020, it vindicated many voices suggesting a close link to the WOD and its implicit targeting of people of color.
The WOD devolved into a literal decades-long military style offensive played out on the streets of urban and poor communities of color throughout the United States, replete with battering rams, tanks, helicopters, grenades, and SWAT tactical teams killing, maiming, and imprisoning primarily people of color. By 2020, when the durability of racial oppression exploded into the open in the United States with the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (among others), the costs of this particular mechanism of the replication of the nation’s racial hierarchy became vividly clear. This Article catalogues the costs of the WOD to communities of color across America. It then uses that reckoning to fashion a legal means for ending the WOD and repairing the human and economic carnage it has inflicted on our nation.
Across the political spectrum a range of voices now recognize that the WOD failed to achieve its goals and inflicted massive costs worldwide. In fact, mainstream economics now recognizes that “[i]t is time to end the ‘war on drugs’ . . . [which] has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage.” These enormous costs include: negative health outcomes from lack of treatment, mass incarceration of people of color in particular, failing to interdict supplies, corruption of police forces and the rule of law, fostering illicit markets with accompanying violence, human rights abuses, significant macroeconomic costs to the entire nation, trillions in wasted government expenditures, and failing to secure the supply of important medicines. Within each category of costs, injuries fall disproportionately upon communities of color, which necessarily suffer rom senseless destruction of human capital and productivity, to the great detriment of families and local economies. Ending the nightmare of drug prohibition and mass incarceration will require the diversion of resources now committed to the WOD to investments in those very same communities—and this Article shows the abundance of such resources.
André Douglas Pond Cummings & Steven A. Ramirez, Roadmap for Anti-Racism: First Unwind the War on Drugs Now, 96 Tul. L. Rev. 469 (2022).