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Since launching the War on Drugs in the 1970s, America has flooded police into Black and brown neighborhoods, enacting laws that result in harsh sentencing for drug crimes. Drug war policies were racist from the start, leading to an explosion of Black and Latinx individuals in America’s prisons. Under President Obama, some of the harshest disparities in drug sentencing were being reversed. Now the Trump Administration is going in the opposite direction— ramping up drug war policies like mandatory minimum sentences and instructing prosecutors to seek the harshest penalties for drug possession. This sort of draconian drug enforcement devastates communities of color, but does absolutely nothing to reduce rates of drug use or sales.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called for prosecutors to return to mandatory minimums, which mandate years or even life in prison for possession of minute drug quantities. This means that under federal law you can be sentenced to five years for possessing any amount of marijuana for a first nonviolent offense, and ten years for a second. A first conviction for trafficking a small amount of drugs such as cocaine or heroine can land you with a 40 year sentence, and a second offense can mean life in prison. Trump's proposed budget increases funding for the Drug Enforcement Agency by $150 million while cutting financing for substance abuse services by $109 million.
Incarceration rates have skyrocketed over the past four decades since the drug war began. Today, the US houses more prisoners per capita than any country in the world: America makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s total population, but holds nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. It has been repeatedly established that white and Black Americans use and sell drugs at the same rates; yet African Americans make up nearly half of those convicted of drug crimes, despite being just 13 percent of the general population. In New York City, around 90 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession are people of color, and just 8 percent are white.
Stories of those who have had their lives ripped apart by America’s punitive approach to drug enforcement reveal what is at stake as Trump unleashes a new drug war.