I think most people sit in one of two camps when it comes to April 20th: either you absolutely hate it or you love it. On one hand, some people are extremely obnoxious about it. On the other, the jokes and pot references are adamantly funny on a very crude and childish level. However, unlike the lighthearted and humorous nature of this holiday, the reality of America’s current drug war is anything but a laughing matter. To this day, the United States’ federal drug policy continues to incarcerate Americans for the simple act of possessing a substance considered illegal. Beyond this horrific reality, however, exists multiple other impacts that are intrinsically connected to the war on drugs, and further serve as all the more justification to end it. Faced with all of these facts, I put forth the proposition we change 4/20 to ‘Abolish the War on Drugs Day.’
The most visible consequence of the war on drugs has been its influence on incarceration rates in the United States which have sky rocketed since the creation of the US’ current drug policies. Despite being a democracy, the US officially has the highest incarceration rate in the world, beating despotic regimes like China, Russia, and North Korea by all measures. Studies also suggest that almost one in four prisoners in the US are nonviolent drug offenders, meaning almost 25% of all current prisoners were incarcerated for a crime with no tangible victim, unlike those convicted for for murder, rape, or robbery (here’s an excellent article with more statistics if you are interested).
Beyond the massive human impacts of the war on drugs, there are other perverse impacts from current federal drug policy. While police brutality has always been a problem, the issue of police militarization is strongly connected with the escalation of the war on drugs. As I have previously noted, the war on drugs has served as the justification for police departments to arm themselves with military grade weapons and equipment. While the wars in the Middle East have created the military surplus, it was the War on Drugs that provided the underlying motive to purchase and use this equipment. As a result, America now has police departments that closer resemble para-military groups than they do actual police departments.
Beyond militarization and incarceration, civil rights activists are also now connecting increased government surveillance with the war on drugs. For years, the DEA has used questionable methods to collect evidence for drug busts, but recent evidence shows that the department has utilized massive surveillance programs. Furthering the argument comes the fact that 87% of all wiretap requests in the US go through the DEA, dwarfing all other justifications (such as burglary, homicide, etc). Combined with militarization, police departments have also begun to use Stingrays, equipment that fools your cell phone into believe its communicating with a cell tower. Instead, the police are able to intercept all information that is going through your phone. This type of equipment has already been repeatedly deployed at public protests, and the Baltimore Police are already claiming over 25,000 instances of communication interception.
Where April 20th may be funny, the war on drugs is not. If anything, today’s celebration serves as a cold reminder of the serious and authoritarian nature behind the war on drugs. People celebrate April 20th both as a joke and as a small form of protest because for over 30 years the war on drugs has failed to stop people from using marijuana and other banned substances. I think it is time we turn this small rebellion into something bigger: a holiday to abolish the war on drugs.