Dealing with Drugs: A Nuanced Perspective

The forgotten driving forces behind drug dealing

Illustrator: Stevie Lacher

People have been using drugs recreationally, religiously, and medically for thousands of years worldwide. Drugs have been used to connect the disconnected, to commune with God, and to cure disease. Furthermore, drugs have been used to cultivate new inventions, to calculate brilliant equations, and to canvass beautiful pieces of artwork.

Over the years, however, drugs have become a symbol of youthful rebellion, political defiance, and social unrest—ultimately leading to President Ronald Reagan’s devastating executive order of 1982, officially declaring a “War on Drugs.”

Following Reagan’s declaration, Americans were taught that drugs were fatal, and that those who sold drugs were mindless and murderous monsters. What many didn’t realize then, and perhaps don’t realize now, is that drug dealing is not always a choice. In fact, for many, it is anything but.

Drug dealing carries with it a number of inherent risks. These could be assault, arrest, or even murder. The drug game is ruthless, and many of its players bet their lives with poker faces and prayers each and every day. Typically, the rich and the powerful win, while the poor and the vulnerable lose. In other words, white America goes unpunished while minorities are not only punished, but also targeted.

According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. This is incredibly unfortunate because the idea that minorities violate drug laws at a greater rate than whites, leading to mass incarceration, is incredibly racist. The U.S. Public Health Service Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that 76 percent of drug users in the United States were white, 14 percent were African American, and 8 percent were Hispanic in 1992.

The drug game is ruthless, and many of its players bet their lives with poker faces and prayers each and every day.

In light of these numbers, one could argue that the reason some drugs are legal and others are not has nothing to do with science, health, or even the law but everything to do with who is perceived to use them. This is an inherent flaw in our justice system because it calls for a toxic cycle.

Once someone receives a drug offense, even if it is as minuscule as a petty misdemeanor, it is incredibly hard for them to find another job. If they do find another job, it often pays minimum wage, which has been proven time and time again to be too low to survive on. As a result of this, many turn back to the drug game where they are able to make a decent living. And thus, the cycle continues.

Many believe that legalization would break this cycle for all people as well as reduce cartels, corruption, and cash spent on fighting drugs. After all, this is an unnecessary battle with seemingly endless consequences.

Our true battle as a nation is to learn how to live with drugs so they can cause the most positive gain and the lowest possible loss. Perhaps it is time that America embraces new drug policies in favor of health, compassion, and human rights. In achieving this, we can finally end the War on Drugs.