green back ground with black marajuana leaf in the middle with drawings of people on the left, middle, and right

The Color of Drugs

By Jernice Kelley
Web Content Contributor

Drugs can have a major impact on any community or individual; however, when it comes to drug policy in America, it is typically aimed at minority groups. With the current social climate, it brings into question how we can move forward as a country.

This question brought me back to thinking about how important it is to look into the laws and practices of this country, starting with our drug policy and the treatment of people of color who suffer from addiction.

Introducing drug policy was a way for the government to mass incarcerate people of color. Black people have been portrayed in an intensely negative light and are often the face of drug policies.

If you look at the number of people who are in jail for drug-related offenses, specifically black males, the majority of those offenses are non-violent, yet they are spending extensive time in jail for possession.

 Unfortunately, 3 out of 4 young black men can expect to be incarcerated. They are more likely to be tried and convicted than their white counterparts.

When looking at US anti-drug laws, it is clear that many are not based on scientific research. When you look at the drugs that are illegal, such as marijuana or cocaine, the policies that surround them stem from racial circumstances and mindsets.

The first round of anti-drug laws, such as the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, which banned the sale and use of opium and coca products, was created and supported because it was believed that cocaine made black men insusceptible to bullets and dangerous criminals.

These statements are not based on nor backed by science, yet it was still published by The New York Times in the early 1900s.

 There were dozens of articles published that fueled white fear of the “Negro cocaine-fiend” by correlating atrocious crimes with black people and their use of cocaine.

Many anti-marijuana policies stem from racial prejudices as well.

Certain policies also trickle over into treatment for people of color who were formally incarcerated and suffer from an addiction or mental health issues. Race and ethnicity will greatly affect the outcome of treatment.

 Ethnic glossing is lumping someone of any race or ethnicity into one group and assumes that addiction and treatment will be the same for each person. Different races are more inclined to seek different drugs based on their culture, price and accessibility.

It is important to take into account the kind of drug being abused, the ethnicity of the abuser and then match that to an appropriate treatment that will have the most favorable outcome for that individual.

It is presumed that minorities are less likely to finish any kind of rehab treatment, therefore their accessibility to great care is altered.

Several policies were racially charged to punish black and brown bodies instead of providing help to decrease the number of those who are affected by drug addiction.

Prisons have been built to punish, not rehabilitate. Decriminalizing certain drugs, such as marijuana, would greatly affect people of color and lessen the overcrowding in our prisons.

Those who struggle with a drug addiction should not be put in jail, but be helped. If the jail is the only option, addicts are more likely to return to their drug of choice once released.

For many black men in this country, they face an unforeseeable amount of disparity and race-based trauma all because of the way leaders and policymakers of this country integrate racist ideology into the foundation of American society and culture.

Featured image by Jernice Kelley via Canva.

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