By Dr Kojo Koram / Common Wealth
The idea of certain drugs as bad, dangerous and requiring prohibition by law it is a relatively recent social phenomenon, with the first international laws prohibiting drugs only appearing at the start of the twentieth century. Since then, the so-called War on Drugs has become a huge driver for the worlds ever-growing prison population, with more than 1 in 8 of all prisoners currently incarcerated in British prisons serving their sentences for drug offences.
The War on Drugs has also been shown to have a shocking bias regarding racial disproportionality. Black people are recorded as being so over-represented in cannabis prosecutions, making up a quarter of those convicted of cannabis possession, even though they comprise less than 4 percent of the UK’s total population. The picture is even worst in the United States, with black men having been admitted to prison on drugs charges at rates of 20 to 50 times that of white men, despite the fact that there is no discernible discrepancy regarding the use, supply or production of prohibited substances amongst different racialised groups.
Decades of prohibition’s failure to reduce the drug trade – combined with the increasingly negative impacts of growing incarceration, violence and addiction – has led to many finally breaking with the War on Drugs consensus and openly calling for, and eventually implementing, different approaches to the question of hitherto illegal drugs, with major developments in countries such as Uruguay, Canada, Luxembourg, and some states in the US.