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Debate 19  The Patriot Act   

Running head: DEBATE 18 WAR ON DRUGS 1


Waller’s Debate 18: War on Drugs

Devin Johnston


November 4, 2019

The War on Drugs


This week’s debate 18 is about the war on drugs. The two authors have different point of views. You have Dalrymple who advocates that the system must be fixed and the war must continue (Dalrymple, 2009). Then you have Jenson who argues that the war has failed and must be abandoned (Jenson, 2009). The debate is important to all Americans and the criminal justice system of the United States because scholars continue to question the role of America’s criminal justice system in the racialized war on drugs that majorly targets the African American minorities. Prison populations have exploded with a majority of the inmates being the people of color ever since this war was started. The sad reality is that the people of color are targeted for minor drug law infractions while the whites continue to enjoy the while privileges that insulate them against arbitrary incarceration (Simmons, 2017). The other reason why the war on drugs is an important topic is that the law enforcement agencies are redirected away from handling other types of crime in the United States to concentrate on the fighting drug war. This opens several loopholes of criminal activities since many efforts are redirected elsewhere. This paper presents different views of different authors on the topic and a summary of the findings.

Against the War on Drugs

The war on drugs is simply a racial conspiracy to lock up as many African American youths as possible and cut them off from mainstream society offenses (Stern, 2017). Since the war began in the 1970s and 80s, the prison population has continued to swell with many African Americans getting locked up for very low levels of drug offenses. Stern (2017) argues that the prison population is predominantly black and this leads to massive racial disparity in the United States criminal justice system. He further states that the war on drugs is a racial conspiracy to ruthlessly suppress the rights of Africans. This is because the war began soon after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act as a ploy to suppress the huge gains that the Act had granted the African Americans. Lopez borrows many ideas from Michelle Alexander to equally argue that the war on drugs is the New Jim Crow where racial caste has not been ended but redesigned to push African Americans to the lowest caste system in the country.

Against the War on Drugs

Zedillo (2016) argues that it is about time for both the United States and Mexico to rethink the war on drugs and find a better strategy. This is because the anti-smuggling tactics employed make every consignment more profitable. This is why America’s long-standing war on drugs is not yielding any fruits. Zedillo (2016) argues that America’s drug policy has remained unchanged for more than forty years since it was introduced by President Richard Nixon. He further argues that the validity of the policy was doubted by experts even before it was enacted. The rationale behind drug policy has largely been dominated by the desire to reduce crime and condemn disruptive behaviors. However, very little space has been left for health strategies and no attention has been paid on the knock-on effects of drugs. Zedillo (2016) makes a strong case that restricting the use of drugs cannot eliminate the drug market. Instead, it drives drugs underground and puts more money in the hands of criminals. He, therefore, proposes moving away from the status quo to address the consequences of the black market.

For War on Drugs

Lopez (2017) makes a strong case that the war on drugs is not the cause of mass incarceration. He refutes claims made by Michelle Alexander that the war on drugs is a racial conspiracy against African Americans. He further argues that the criminal justice system of the United States is not used by racist lawmakers to exert control on African Americans. According to his argument, the federal government did not launch the war on drugs to lock up people of color for low levels of drug offenses and drive prison populations high. Lopez (2017) further argues that the swelling prison population is attributed to the enormous powers of prosecutors and not the war on drugs as it is alleged. The United States prosecutors are given much discretion to prosecute whichever way they like. For example, they can bring charges that trigger lengthy mandatory minimum sentencing. Additionally, the author argues that prosecutors are causing mass incarceration because they charge more people with low levels of felonies.

For War on Drugs

Lopez (2015) makes a strong case for war on drugs by asserting that the bulk of mass incarceration has been blamed on the war on drugs. He asserts that most people in state prisons that make up the largest proportion of America’s prison are violent offenders. Lopez (2015) states that the increase in mass incarceration is a product of increased sentencing for all crimes in response to high violent crime rates. Therefore, shedding off this blame requires the criminal justice system to reform the punishment for violent offenders at some point. Lopez (2015) argues that most people in state prisons are violent offenders and not drug offenders. 86% of the prison population is comprised of violent offenders while the remaining 16% account for drug offenders. Therefore, a blanket condemnation of war on drugs as the cause of the swelling prison population is misinformed.


It is worth appreciating that the war on drugs is a complete policy failure. This is because it is has been racialized and used by law enforcement agents to push African American youths in prisons and cut them off from mainstream society. The war on drugs has been used to scapegoat African Americans. Its result has been the mass incarceration of African Americans and not all races in Americans. The people of color face the highest risk of being arrested in the name of fighting drugs even in states where laws have been changed to reflect advancements made by society (Sherman, 2016). Furthermore, those who are imprisoned and released are faced with legalized discrimination that denies them job opportunities and difficulties in finding school loans that cause a loss of opportunities thus locking out those affected from the mainstream society and leave them to commit more crimes.


Dalrymple, T. (2009). The war on illegal drugs must continue. In B. N. Waller (Ed.) You decide! Current debates in criminal justice (1st ed., pp. 344-366). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Jensen, E. L., Gerber, J., & Mosher, C. (2009). The war on drugs in counterproductive. In B. N. Waller (Ed.) You decide! Current debates in criminal justice (1st ed., pp. 344-366). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Lopez, G. (2015). Mass incarceration is about way more than the war on drugs. Retrieved from

Lopez, G. (2017). Why you can’t blame mass incarceration on war on drugs. Retrieved from

Sherman, E. (2016). Nixon’s drug war, an excuse to lock up blacks and protesters, continues. Retrieved from

Simmons, T. R. (2017). The effects of the war on drugs on black women: From early legislation to incarceration. Am. UJ Gender Soc. Pol’y & L.26, 719.

Stern, J., D. (2017). The war on drugs and Jim Crow’s the most wanted: A social and historical look at mass incarceration. Ramapo College of New Jersey. Retrieved from

Zedillo, E. (2016). Rethinking the war on drugs: Insight from US and Mexico. Retrieved from

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