Sept. 20, 2022 – Facing an unprecedented public health crisis, law enforcement is under enormous pressure to demonstrate to the public that its efforts are making a difference. That’s where flashy press conferences showing off piles of cash, drugs, and guns come into play: a P.R. strategy for America’s drug war amplified by eager news outlets. The drug trade’s complexity is flattened, and law enforcement’s thinking—that drug seizures will prevent overdose deaths—goes unchallenged.

Drug weights are the building blocks of the drug war at both the state and federal level. As the drug war ramped up during the 1970s and 1980s, drug quantity and weight were conceived as an objective indicator of a person’s involvement in the drug trade. Larger quantities resulted in stiffer penalties. In New York state, for example, criminal statutes for drug sales and possession are largely defined by the weights of drugs like ketamine, LSD, and cocaine. The current focus on fentanyl weights repeats this foundational mistake. “When they pile more dope and arrests on the table, it is proof positive that they are losing,” The Wire creator David Simon tweeted in 2020. “What they can seize or lock up is always a clean ratio of how much product and how many players are saturating the market. End the f*cking drug war. The drugs have won.”


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