Thursday, July 29, 2010

How the War on Drugs victimises minorities

A major study conducted by the UK Drug Policy Commission has found that gay men may be three or four times as likely than straight men to use drugs.

This will come as no surprise to people who know inner city life and culture, and backs up data in Australia's Household Drug Surveys which show young men use recreational drugs more than other demographics.

But what it quantifies for the first time is that the War on Drugs is inflicted more heavily on minority groups than the general population.

Prohibitionists might respond that this is unavoidable simply because certain groups use more drugs than others, and this is by definition bad and therefore interdiction is for their own good.

The argument fails, though, when the objective facts about different drugs are taken into account. Alcohol, the drug accepted by majority culture, is in fact far more harmful than cannabis or MDMA ecstasy, so targeting users of those drugs while tolerating alcohol is not for their own good.

This amounts to discrimination, and its effects can be seen starkly in Sydney where police with sniffer dogs disproportionately target gay venues, precincts and parties. The cultural decline and 'alcoholisation' of Oxford Street must be at least in part caused by this relentless selective policing.

It only adds to the cultural discrimination that breath-testing for alcohol is random but detection of other drugs is not.

Different cultures -- both within Australia and internationally -- use different mind-altering substances. For example look at the dominance of Khat in north African countries, another drug now banned here for no good reason.

So if cultural minorities are being targeted more often by police because they use or prefer drugs that are less harmful than alcohol, it throws up an ugly fact about the War on Drugs -- that it has always had a back-story of targeting minorities.

That's why the NAACP in California supports proposals to legalise, regulate and tax cannabis. Research clearly shows that Blacks and Hispanics in the US are arrested for cannabis in far greater proportion that whites, even though a higher proportion of whites use cannabis.

Similarly in Australia, a huge percentage of our Indigenous imprisonment rate can be linked to prohibition, which partly explains our failure to reduce the imprisonment rate.

It may be co-incidental that the strongest proponents of prohibition are conservative white Christians, but it should give pause to people who casually support prohibition. Ironically, the conservatives are also the strongest proponents of "Choice" in matters like public vs private education and health. Their "Choice" mantra, however, fails when it comes to the choices of cultural minorities.

I doubt many would be surprised at this hypocrisy.

The full study, which also looks at drug use patterns of ethnic and disabled minority groups, can be found here, just a click away.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

awesome blog, do you have twitter or facebook? i will bookmark this page thanks. jasmin holzbauer