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The Costs of the War on Drugs utilizes data and first-hand stories to focus on six areas in which drug policies continue to create negative consequences: education, employment, housing, child welfare, immigration, and public benefits. An exploration of each area includes a revealing look at assumptions that perpetuate harmful laws and a “snapshot” summary of how such flawed logic impacts people. There are also recommendations to help activists and legislators begin to enact changes at the local level.

“Ending the drug war in all its vestiges is critical to improving the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities,” said Kassandra Frederique, the Drug Policy Alliance executive director. “But this is not DPA’s fight alone, nor even that of the broader criminal justice reform movement – it is a collective and intersectional fight that must happen in partnership with allies both within these systems and outside of them. It will take all of us, because the drug war impacts us all.”

In the opening section on education, the site notes that 10 million kids attend public schools with cops on campus but no social workers. “Underlying this criminalization are assumptions propagated by the drug war that students who possess drugs or commit other policy violations cannot be good students; do not deserve an education or support; and must be removed before they disrupt other students’ learning,” reads the Education Snapshot. The unfortunate results of such attitudes have been “increased unemployment, income inequality, costly health problems, and incarceration.”

For employment, the site points out that 18 states allow employers to drug test for any job, and every state allows testing for some occupations. Yet keeping anyone who has used an illicit substance out of work only causes bigger problems. “Ensuring access to employment is a crucial way to reduce poverty. Not being employed can lead to negative health effects and is strongly associated with increased rates of substance use and substance use disorders,” according to the Employment Snapshot.

The section on housing highlights how federal “One Strike” laws recommend that tenants be evicted even for suspicion of “drug-related criminal activity” and that, after eviction, they be restricted from public housing for three years. Like other draconian policies, the laws regarding housing have been shown to have knock-on effects resulting in higher rates of substance abuse.

Child welfare focuses on the tragedy of families being split up solely due to a parent failing a drug test. There is no evidence backing the notion that drug use equates to an inability to take care of one’s children, yet taking kids away from their parents has been shown to push children toward a life of poverty and other problems.

Immigration has been a target of drug laws since 1875 when San Francisco banned opium dens in hopes that the prohibition would stymie the growing Chinese population of the city. A similarly xenophobic policy fueled federal marijuana laws in the 1930s aimed at slowing Mexican immigration. The reality is that demand in the U.S. drives the illegal importation of drugs, which has no connection to immigration.

The final system covered by the website is public benefits. More than 25% of states require drug screening before qualifying for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits. Under 1% of people in those states ended up testing positive, and over a million dollars was spent on the tests that otherwise could have been used to help people in need. Programs like TANF, SNAP, and Medicaid were designed to aid people struggling with economic issues, yet drug policies continue to thwart such programs and push individuals into a cycle of poverty. 


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