Moral Panic and the War on Drugs

20 U.N.H. Law Review 407 (2022)

26 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2021 Last revised: 14 Jun 2022

See all articles by Phil Lord

Phil Lord

Université de Moncton - Faculty of Law; McGill University - Faculty of Law; York University - Osgoode Hall Law School

Date Written: October 19, 2021

Abstract

This Article analyzes the War on Drugs as a social phenomenon. It argues that such an analysis, which rejects the assumption that collective, institutionalized behavior is generally rational, can help us understand key aspects of why we continue to marginalize disadvantaged individuals. If the War on Drugs is a war and wars are won or lost, there is no question we lost. Whatever drug-related evil that war sought to eradicate, whether drug consumption, trafficking, or addiction, the data clearly shows that “drugs won.” Along the way, we nonetheless persisted – and largely still do. We filled prisons, lost lives, and shattered hopes and dreams. Those we hurt the most were already marginalized. To state that we lost is unhelpful and insufficient. Of course, we did. And we can draw obvious lessons that medicine and psychology work better than carceral institutions and that no one benefits from marginalizing already marginalized and often sick individuals. If the War on Drugs never worked, more salient questions are to be asked about why we fought it. This Article posits that the War on Drugs is not about drugs, crime, or addiction: it is about us. It is about why we cede to fear, anxiety, and irrationality. It is about why we stigmatize and hurt the most vulnerable. Like other irrational and counterproductive policies, the War on Drugs is not an anomaly. It bears close resemblance to other wars we fought (and fight) against the disempowered: witches, gays, Muslims, and others.

Suggested Citation

Lord, Phil, Moral Panic and the War on Drugs (October 19, 2021). 20 U.N.H. Law Review 407 (2022), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3945957 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3945957

Phil Lord (Contact Author)

Université de Moncton - Faculty of Law ( email )

18 Antonine-Maillet Ave
Moncton, NB E1A 3E9
Canada

HOME PAGE: http://www.mylawyer.ca

McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal, QC H3A 1W9
Canada

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, ON M3J 1P3
Canada

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