Last updated on: 10/5/2007 | Author:

Do Current Drug Laws and Policies Discriminate Against Minorities and Women?

PRO (yes)


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote in a Mar. 22, 2005 report titled “Caught in The Net: The Impact of Drug Policies on Women And Families,” co-authored with Break the Chains: Communities of Color And The War on Drugs and The Brennan Center at NYU School of Law:

“Federal and state drug laws and policies over the past twenty years have had specific, devastating, and disparate effects on women, and particularly women of color and low income women…

Between 1986 and 1999, the number of women incarcerated in state facilities for drug related offenses increased by 888%, surpassing the rate of growth in the number of men imprisoned for similar crimes…

Even when they have minimal or no involvement whatsoever in the drug trade, women are increasingly caught in the ever widening net cast by current drug laws through provisions such as conspiracy, accomplice liability and constructive possession, that expand criminal liability to reach partners, relatives, and bystanders…

Moreover, existing sentencing policies, particularly mandatory minimum laws, often subject women to the same, or in some cases, harsher sentences than the principals in the drug trade who are ostensibly the target of those policies… Communities targeted by current drug laws and policies lose mothers, caregivers and workers as a result of women’s incarceration, leading to serious effects on the well-being of children and families.”

Mar. 22, 2005


Graham Boyd, JD, founder and director of the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project, in the transcript of a 2002 symposium titled “New Voices on The War on Drugs: Collateral Damage in The War on Drugs,” published by the Villanova University Law Review, stated:

“African-Americans do not use drugs more than white people. In fact, Whites and Blacks use drugs at almost exactly the same rates. Because there are five times as many Whites as Blacks in the United States, it follows that the overwhelming majority of drug users are white. Nevertheless, African-Americans are admitted to state prison at a rate that is 13.4 times greater than Whites, a disparity driven largely by the gross racial targeting of drug laws. In some states, even those outside the Old Confederacy, Blacks make up 90% of drug prisoners and are up to fifty-seven times more likely than Whites to be incarcerated for drug crimes.

The war on drugs offers surprising continuity with the most shameful episodes of our past… Assuming the average rate of imprisonment for the last decade continues, only fifteen years remain before the Black male inmate population will catch up with the number of male slaves on the eve of the Civil War.”



Hubert Williams, JD, Police Chief and President of Police Foundation, on Mar. 25, 1999, made a statement about H.R. 939, the Crack-Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act of 1999:

“Not only is current drug policy targeting minority citizens in numbers disproportionate to their numbers in the general population and the drug-using population, but these policies are driving differential enforcement practices in many communities… Although they constitute only 13 percent of the drug-using population, African Americans are arrested at a rate five times greater than white Americans. Simply put, drug arrests are easier to make in inner-city neighborhoods where drug markets operate more openly than in middle- class areas. Police enforcement strategies that target inner-city neighborhoods as the primary method for addressing the drug problem will produce attractive statistics from a quantitative perspective, but qualitatively the results will be skewed towards small-time users and dealers. The big fish who finance and supply the drug markets will go unscathed, but the prisons will be filled with the poor and underprivileged members who live in these neighborhoods.”

Mar. 25, 1999


Barbara Owen, PhD, Professor of Criminology at California State University Fresno, wrote in her article titled “Women in Prison,” posted on the Drug Policy Alliance website (accessed Jan. 12, 2006):

“The problem of women in prison is directly tied to current US drug policy. For the past ten years, researchers have argued that the war on drugs has become a war on women… The Bureau of Prisons reports that almost 80% of their female population is incarcerated for drug-related offenses…

Compared to white women, women of color are also more likely to be arrested, convicted and incarcerated at rates higher than their representation in the free world population.”

Jan. 12, 2006

CON (no)


The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) reported in its Nov. 2004 report titled “Fifteen Years of Guidelines Sentencing – An Assessment of How Well the Federal Criminal Justice System Is Achieving the Goals of Sentencing Reform,” that:

“The typical male drug offender has twice the odds of going to prison as a similar female offender…

Women have been shown in previous research to receive sentences at the bottom of the applicable guideline more frequently than men… and to receive proportionately larger reductions when granted a downward departure… Analyses of data and case law have suggested that judges’ paternalistic attitudes toward women might hold women to be more vulnerable and sympathetic and less responsible than men…

Judges may seek to mitigate the effects of strict application of the guidelines rules based on female offenders sometimes being dominated by more culpable male accomplices. There is also reason for judges to believe that women are more instrumental in raising their children than their male counterparts… and may suffer more from imprisonment than do men due to greater separation from their families caused by the relative scarcity of prisons for women.”

Nov. 2004


Heather Mac Donald, JD, Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote in her Spring 2001 article titled “The Myth of Racial Profiling” for the City Journal that:

“According to the racial profiling crowd, the war on drugs immediately became a war on minorities…

Between 1976 and 1994, 64 percent of the homicide victims in drug turf wars were black, according to a Heritage Foundation analysis of FBI data. Sixty-seven percent of known perpetrators were also black. Likewise, some 60 percent of victims and perpetrators in drug-induced fatal brawls are black. These figures match the roughly 60 percent of drug offenders in state prison who are black. Unless you believe that white traffickers are less violent than black traffickers, the arrest, conviction, and imprisonment rate for blacks on drug charges appears consistent with the level of drug activity in the black population…

The notion that there are lots of heavy-duty white dealers sneaking by undetected contradicts the street experience of just about every narcotics cop you will ever talk to—though such anecdotal evidence, of course, would fail to convince the ACLU, convinced as it is of the blinding racism that afflicts most officers… The cops go where the deals are. When white club owners, along with Israelis and Russians, still dominated the Ecstasy trade, that’s whom the cops were arresting. Recently, however, big shipments have been going to minority neighborhoods; subsequent arrests will reflect crime intelligence, not racism.”



John Derbyshire, columnist, in his Feb. 19, 2001 column for the National Review titled “In Defense of Racial Profiling: Where Is Our Common Sense,” wrote that:

“Law-enforcement officials are simply employing the same stereotypes as you [and] me… They do this for reasons of simple efficiency. A policeman who concentrates a disproportionate amount of his limited time and resources on young black men is going to uncover far more crimes-and therefore be far more successful in his career-than one who biases his attention toward, say, middle-aged Asian women…

A racial-profiling ban, under which police officers were required to stop and question suspects in precise proportion to their demographic representation (in what? the precinct population? the state population? the national population?), would lead to massive inefficiencies in police work. Which is to say, massive declines in the apprehension of criminals.”

Feb. 19, 2001