MAKING A PARADIGM SHIFT –
June 9, 2021 – “A different reality—one where we treat people who use drugs with dignity and respect, and one where drugs are no longer an excuse for law enforcement to surveil, harass, assault and even kill Black, Latinx and Indigenous people—is 100 percent possible, and these results clearly prove that,” Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the DPA, told Filter. “Fifty years later, it is no secret the devastation the drug war has caused to our communities, and yet drug possession still remains the most arrested offense in the United States. And so, it should come as no surprise that Americans are ready for a drastically different approach, one where drugs are no longer used as an excuse to hold us down.”
When Nixon began the “War on Drugs,” US political culture shifted toward rampant aggressive policing, mass incarceration and prohibitionist rhetoric. This only intensified in the early 1980s, as Nancy Reagan launched her “Just Say No” campaign, triggering the zero-tolerance policies that would come to dominate the next two decades. In particular, policymakers enforced racist and baseless prosecution of crack cocaine users, primarily Black people. The number of people in jail on nonviolent drug-related charges skyrocketed during the Reagan administration—from 50,000 in 1980 to more than 400,000 by 1997. Today, according to the NAACP, Black people comprise 5 percent of the country’s illicit drug users, but 33 percent of people incarcerated on drug charges.
To this day, the US remains an outlier among wealthy nations in terms of drug-policy enforcement. Of the 1.5 million drug arrests made in 2019, nearly 87 percent were for simple possession.