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Race and Inequality in the War on Drugs

Posted: 10 Jan 2012  

Doris Provine

Arizona State University (ASU)

Date Written: December 2011


Drug use is pervasive, generally private, and of long standing. The social effects are sometimes problematic, but it is a large step to declare a war on drug use. This review considers how that approach came to be adopted in the United States and why it persists despite its evident shortcomings. This war could not be maintained without societal racism and the manipulation of racial stereotypes to make drugs something to be feared. Beneath society's adherence to a failed criminalization approach is a startling indifference to its racial impact, which includes a vast increase in the number and representation of poor minorities in the prison system, particularly young African American males. Tracing the war on drugs to its roots reveals a broader domain in which harsh legislation, prosecution, and incarceration combine to harm and stigmatize minority populations, while a pervasive ideology of color blindness discourages serious discussion of inherent racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Suggested Citation

Provine, Doris, Race and Inequality in the War on Drugs (December 2011). Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Vol. 7, pp. 41-60, 2011. Available at SSRN: or

Doris Provine (Contact Author)

Arizona State University (ASU) ( email )

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