Pubdate: Sat,  1 Dec 2001
Source: Reason Magazine (US)
Copyright: 2001 The Reason Foundation
Author: Robert Sharpe
Bookmark: (Racial Issues)


Gene Callahan and William Anderson's otherwise excellent article, "The Roots
of Racial Profiling" (August/September), failed to expose the role of race
in America's first drug laws. Drug war apologists typically describe the
disproportionate impact on minorities as "unintended consequences.'' That's
not entirely true. The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 was preceded by a wave
of anti-immigrant sentiment. Opium was identified with Chinese laborers,
marijuana with
Mexicans, and cocaine with African-Americans.

There is a strong case to be made for the argument that America's drug laws
were once intended as a means of disenfranchising minorities.

A review of the testimony that led to the passage of early drug laws like
the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 reveals a racist intent on the part of many
politicians. Keep in mind that Jim Crow was very much alive in the early
20th century. Racial profiling was both expected and encouraged by the white

Granted, modern day drug warriors are (hopefully) not out to incarcerate as
many minorities as possible. Nonetheless, the racist intent on the part of
early drug warriors is very much relevant to today's outcomes.

The drug war has evolved into an intergenerational culture war. Members of
the '6os counterculture are all grown up, and now youth rave culture is the
latest target. It's not health outcomes that determine America's Draconian
drug laws, but rather cultural norms.

Robert Sharpe, The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation

Washington, DC
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