Moral panic and the war on drugs
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This Article analyzes the War on Drugs as a social phenomenon. It argues that such an analysis, which rejects the assumption that collective, institutionalized behavior is generally rational, can help us understand key aspects of why we continue to marginalize disadvantaged individuals. If the War on Drugs is a war and wars are won or lost, there is no question we lost. Whatever drug-related evil that war sought to eradicate, whether drug consumption, trafficking, or addiction, the data clearly shows that “drugs won.” Along the way, we nonetheless persisted – and largely still do. We filled prisons, lost lives, and shattered hopes and dreams. Those we hurt the most were already marginalized. To state that we lost is unhelpful and insufficient. Of course, we did. And we can draw obvious lessons that medicine and psychology work better than carceral institutions and that no one benefits from marginalizing already marginalized and often sick individuals. If the War on Drugs never worked, more salient questions are to be asked about why we fought it. This Article posits that the War on Drugs is not about drugs, crime, or addiction: it is about us. It is about why we cede to fear, anxiety, and irrationality. It is about why we stigmatize and hurt the most vulnerable. Like other irrational and counterproductive policies, the War on Drugs is not an anomaly. It bears close resemblance to other wars we fought (and fight) against the disempowered: witches, gays, Muslims, and others.
- Faculty of Law