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Calls reignited for non-violent drug offenders to be released, as research reveals ‘war on drugs’ fuels racism

by Bethany Rielly

News Reporter

THE war on drugs is fuelling racism, research revealed today, reigniting calls for all non-violent drug offenders to be released and their convictions erased.

In a new peer-reviewed research paper, more than 60 international experts, including bioethicists and psychologists, joined forces to demand an end to the “costly” and “ineffective” policy. 

They called for the personal use and possession of small amounts of all drugs to be decriminalised immediately in Britain and the United States, followed by legalisation, regulation and restrictions on age, advertising and licensing.

Analysing evidence from more than 150 studies and reports, the paper argues that drug enforcement unfairly affects black communities and feeds racism. 

The paper, Racial Justice Requires Ending the War on Drugs, highlights the case of Breonna Taylor, a US medical worker who was shot and killed in her home in March last year by police carrying out a drug-related search. 

Lead authors Brian D Earp, of Yale University and the University of Oxford, and Jonathan Lewis, of Dublin City University, said: “The ‘war on drugs’ has explicitly racist roots and continues to disproportionately target certain communities of colour.

“Drug prohibition and criminalisation have been costly and ineffective since their inception. It’s time for these failed policies to end.”

The authors found that prohibition creates conditions for people to commit offences such as burglaries to fund their habit.

In Britain, black people are almost nine times as likely as white people to be stopped and searched for drugs and are more likely to be arrested and prosecuted, the study says.

The authors recommended an approach to decriminalisation such as that taken in Portugal since 2001, after which drug-related deaths have fallen.

A spokesman from race-equality think tank the Runnymede Trust said that decriminalisation of all drugs would be a “clear step forward in confronting the issues of poor mental health and addiction present in society.”

“Furthermore, we see the topic of decriminalisation as a racial justice issue and that the war on drugs has been a racist endeavour since its inception,” he said. 

A government spokesman said there were no plans to decriminalise drug possession, and claimed that it would not eliminate crime caused by the trade or address the harms associated with it. 

The so-called war on drugs was instigated in the US in the 1970s by the Richard Nixon administration and has since been exported around the globe.

The International Drug Policy Consortium said that punitive drug policies have “always had a disproportionate and differentiated impact on racialised communities,” with rhetoric in the US at the time “hinged on the demonisation of people who use drugs.”

“These accounts were heavily influenced by racism and white supremacy,” a spokesman from the consortium said. 

Anti-racist and health campaigners have long called for an end to the war on drugs, including charity Frontline Aids, which argues that it has also “fuelled the HIV pandemic.” 

The charity’s harm reduction lead Ancella Voets said: “The war on drugs really is a war on people who use (produce, sell) drugs, that has opened the gates for corruption, extrajudicial killings, forced labour camps and prison slavery, police harassment, sexual abuse and many other wrongs.”


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