“America’s War on Drugs Was a War Against its People.”
09.21.21 - 4 min read
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About the Author:
Born September 30, 1975, Quawntay “Bosco” Adams, the only son of one of the original Compton Crips, spent 28 of his 45 years of life confined to the cells of juvenile, county, state, and federal detention facilities. He’s rewriting his story now, though, and looking to inspire change and hope.
This blog is sponsored by Green Thumb Industries. Any opinions expressed are those of Quawntay.
I often wonder whether Americans truly understand the ramifications of the War on Drugs, especially as it relates to cannabis. I like to believe that they don’t, for any other belief would make me question humanity. Let me explain.
My name is Quawntay Adams. On January 23, 2004—three weeks after the conception of my only child—I was arrested for attempting to possess marijuana and sentenced to 420 months in federal prison. I went on to serve 16 and a half years of that 420-month sentence before being released. Every single day I served of my 420-month sentence, I questioned the logic behind the War on Drugs, and the hearts of those who supported it. What type of human heart has the capacity to subject another human to 420 months in a cage for merely attempting to possess a natural leaf that, ironically, took on the moniker 420? What caliber of human beings could actually sit in a jury and find guilt in behavior that doesn’t contradict moral law? How could decent people pay taxes that are used to fund what amounts to a war against freedom and humanity? And what type of legislation creates laws that separate parents from their children? My questioning of the hearts of Americans was endless. And I realized that there was only one answer.
These Americans don’t truly understand the ramifications of the War on Drugs.
Many Americans who lack firsthand experience believe the War on Drugs impacts only drug dealers. They think in terms of bad guys poisoning kids and being sent to prison for it, and addicts being saved from their habits. Society—as a whole—saved. But that generalization misses the real evils, which have created an unjust caste system of ordinary people and destroyed communities—especially communities of color.
Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign succeeded in convincing America that the War on Drugs was necessary in order to prevent its people from morphing into zombies who’d waste manpower, time, and creativity by munching on junk food and laughing at corny television shows all day. And when our local police forces were militarized beyond Hitler’s wildest imagination to take on 16-year-old crack dealers, it all appeared to be in the interest of national security. But those of us who experienced firsthand the consequences of America’s war against its own people see it differently.
As a child growing up in South Los Angeles, I saw two types of men in my community: gang members and drug dealers. When the War on Drugs escalated, the latter, who were often nonviolent, quickly began to disappear. They were being sent to prison for decades. Their absence was quickly filled by younger kids compelled to meet the ongoing demand of consumers. When the replacements’ turn for imprisonment came, there were few men remaining, but enough to continue the chain of supply. My community was robbed of all its financially oriented Black men. By the year 2000, many people in the Black community—some of whom had actually supported the War on Drugs—were asking “Where are all the good Black men?” They were in prison, and the fatherless children in dire need of financial assistance and paternal love were left to fill their shoes. I was one of those children.
If you are not from such communities, it can be difficult to understand how the War devastated the people. I experienced the devastation and still didn’t truly understand it until I found myself in a federal prison cell shedding tears over my role in perpetuating a common cycle of absent fathers. It took my own experience of having a child and being imprisoned for dealing drugs to really understand how my father’s absence and incarceration inadvertently led to my drug dealing. I too had become one of those absent good men, and my daughter, born eight months after my arrest, was paying the price. She was on track to becoming another one of those inadvertently abandoned children. Every month she would ask when I was coming home. As the years passed, she began to believe I never would. She was in pain, traumatized not by the act I committed before her birth, but the puzzling questions and thoughts running through her mind. Why did she have to be fatherless because the guy who impregnated her mother had attempted to possess a leaf that was criminalized by the federal government (all while many local governments began decriminalizing it)?
The point I am trying to make is that the War on Drugs doesn’t just put people in prison. It destroys families and communities—perhaps even more so than drugs themselves. My community suffered because this war criminally stigmatizes consumers (many of whom sought to fill a void created by the absence of imprisoned fathers) for indulging a habit or recreational vice. This stigma separates families by way of shame. That shame spurs abuse. That stigmatization and criminalization of a leaf created a lucrative black market that made the leaf expensive; this influenced consumers to rob, steal, and, sometimes, kill, to obtain it. That lucrative black market enticed young men to abandon school and employment for the sake of a faster and more accessible income. It took mothers and fathers away from children via the streets and prisons. And despite all the harm caused, the war hasn’t decreased the consumption of drugs at all.
So why does this war continue? It isn’t because Americans are a bunch of evil people who lack empathy for those communities ravished by the War on Drugs. The old lady sitting on the jury doesn’t knowingly seek to decimate the community of young Black men. The taxpayers in smalltown America don’t wish to use their money to separate fathers from daughters. I like to believe that the American people aren’t as vicious as some of us might see them. The American people just do not truly understand the ramifications of the War on Drugs. For that, I, through RISE’s platform, am sharing my story and experience to enlighten you.
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