Let’s put it bluntly: all drugs should be legal

Illustration+by+Ryan+Yau

Photo: Ryan Yau

Illustration by Ryan Yau

By Meg Richards, Opinion Editor

It’s 4/20, a day for the predominately white students of Emerson College to ditch class and smoke in the Boston Common, without a care in the world and definitely without repercussions. The irony behind this is that nearly half of all drug arrests made in Massachusetts between 2003 and 2014 were for possession of drugs alone. While mommy and daddy pay $80k a year for you to smoke up and darty, take a minute to learn why others mere yards from you wouldn’t get away with doing the same thing and why the criminalization of drugs makes the problem far worse. 

When Portugal legalized all drugs in 2000—including Schedule I substances, there were reportedly lower rates of drug use and drug-related deaths. 

By allocating money and resources into rehabilitation efforts, harm reduction, and treatment, rather than prohibition, citizens suffering from addiction were able to recover, rather than be punished for their illness. 

Things are not the same in the U.S. Marijuana is still federally illegal. And while needle exchange programs in cities such as Baltimore and Boston allow drug users to safely exchange used needles for clean ones to prevent the spread of blood-transmitted infections, the same programs in Canada actually saw lower rates of drug-use as a result of these initiatives. In the U.S., these kinds of directives make it easier for people to enter treatment.  

When addiction is dealt with as a mental illness rather than a crime, the cycle is easier to break, and the chances of people relapsing are lower. However, when individuals are punished for their illness instead of being given the resources to recover and re-enter society, they are more likely to stay addicted—and in America, that means imprisoned. 

Other countries see lower rates of drug related disease when they work to support and rehabilitate their vulnerable citizens. In contrast, the U.S has only taken more punitive measures against addiction, thanks to the War on Drugs. 

If you’re wondering why the U.S hasn’t gotten their shit together and mirrored what other countries are doing, the answer is simple: racism.

The War on Drugs was a campaign initiative that began with Richard Nixon, the former Republican president best known for the Watergate scandal and profusely sweating on live TV—but before that, he planted illicit drugs in Black neighborhoods, criminalized them, and subsequently incarcerated them. 

In an interview, his former domestic police chief, John Ehrlichman, said the Nixon administration sought to make Black communities an enemy, but had no way to arrest them just for being Black. So he started the War on Drugs with the facade of being tough on crime and keeping our kids safe, all while targeting Black communities and leaving them impoverished, sick, and disparaged. 

To fill the racist vacuum post-Civil Rights movement, the government needed a subtler form of structural violence to further enforce a racial hierarchy. By planting drugs, over-policing, and incarcerating Black individuals at 13 times the rate of white men, this vacuum was filled. 

The prison sentence for crack, the “drug of choice” for poor Black people, is four times that of the sentence for cocaine—which is the most popular among the rich, white elite. They’re the same drug.  

All the literature says the same thing: drug criminalization is a way of upholding white supremacy. The War on Drugs has done nothing to lower drug rates, hinder addiction, or prevent drug-related deaths.

I’m saying all drugs should be legalized.

In her book “The New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander highlights the ways in which this hierarchical system bleeds into all aspects of society and further perpetuates white supremacy in several different arenas. Felons are prevented from applying for housing, voting, and more upon being released. While incarcerated, individuals are exploited for their labor with little to no pay due to a loophole in the 13th Amendment that allows for legal slavery, as long as it’s used as punishment for a crime. The presence of this loophole is why over-policing and high rates of incarceration of Black individuals was pushed after Jim Crow. The school to prison pipeline, and the increased presence of SRO’s, enables the grooming of Black children into this system. 

To white people, “stoner-ism” is an aesthetic—weed culture is hip and trendy. However, the narrative of Black stoners is criminalized. Marijuana is structural violence. Black exceptionalism builds on a drug-based precedent—the double standard maintains the status quo.

Drug criminalization doesn’t end with individuals receiving sentences disproportionate to their crime; mass incarceration is a multi-billion dollar industry that affects all aspects of government, school, politics, and society. Not only is the criminalization of crack, marijuana, and heroin ineffectual, it is racist. 

While it’d be great for Emerson students to possess marijuana without the fear of being busted by an RA and getting a slap on the wrist (realistically), that’s not the real reason drugs should be legal. If the government wanted to help its citizens, they would take measures to help them, not hurt them more with counterproductive laws, punishment, charges that will follow them for the rest of their lives.