The year 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of the so-called War on Drugs. As states across the country decriminalize and commercialize legal cannabis, some have declared drugs the winner of the Drug War. There is some truth to this assessment. Two-thirds of Americans currently support decriminalizing marijuana, now referred to by its less racialized, scientific name, cannabis. However, most scholars and activists agree, the Drug War is far from over.
The War on Drugs officially began during the Nixon administration with the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. A top Nixon aid notoriously admitted the War on Drugs served primarily to eliminate leftist political opposition by criminalizing anti-war activist groups and grassroots members of the Civil Rights Movement. Communities of color became targets for militarized policing and disproportionate enforcement of prohibition policy. The War on Drugs began a new kind of structural racism, in the form of mass incarceration, deepening cyclical poverty, and the erosion of civil liberties in favor of empowering law enforcement.
The Drug War led to a series of Supreme Court cases that eroded Americans’ Fourth Amendment right to be free of unlawful search and seizure.[i] Possession of a controlled substance became a strict