Endless U.S. Drug War Debate: A Big Business

To present their findings on the “Endless Drug War Debate,” the students within Dr. Bey’s class were asked to research, from six perspectives, which societal beliefs have an influence on the U.S. war on drugs: the consumers’, street dealers’, peasant farmers’, money launderers’, the U.S. government’s, and the profit system’s.

After completing their research, each group was “summoned to court” within the classroom. The students were challenged to present a debate as to why they weren’t the reason for the drug war as they represented the six various groups of influencers.

Each group was confronted with their responsibility for the war on drugs and were asked how they would plead. The following are the testimonies for each perspective listed.


Consumer Advocate – Social Worker – Script

I am a member of the National Association of Social Workers. I have spent many years of my life working with individuals with drug addiction. I feel that “given the general acceptance of drug abuse as a diagnosable and treatable condition, it is not unreasonable to advocate for a public health response to illicit drug use”(NASW, 2013) According to records from the Federal Bureau of Investigation more than 853,000 people were arrested for just marijuana-related violations in 2010, most of which were for possession, not intent to sell. I strongly feel that this is a public health issue. The arrest and subsequent incarceration of these individuals is not the right method. It is not the way to solve the issue of drug use in this country. These individuals need treatment, not criminal records. Research has shown that states with higher drug treatment admission rates, have on average 100 fewer people per 100,000 in prison than states with lower than national average drug treatment admissions. I believe that drug treatment programs not only improve life outcomes for individuals suffering from substance abuse by decreasing the likelihood that a drug-involved person will be admitted to the criminal justice system but they also aid in increasing public safety as a whole. (Can discuss vicious cycle, harder to find employment more likely to keep using drugs, or sell drugs to make money) “[S]cientists and physicians overwhelmingly agree that while use and even abuse of drugs such as alcohol and cocaine is a behavior over which the individual exerts control, addiction to these substances is something different” (Moyers, 1998). Therefore we must treat addicts and offenders not incarcerate them.

Other stats that support this view:

According to the 2011 FBI Uniform Crime Report, two-thirds of those arrested for drug violations in that period were white and 33 percent were black, although blacks made up 12.8 percent of the population. Also, most of the arrests were for possession of drugs, rather than for their sale or distribution. Furthermore, 32.2 percent of African American boys born in 2001 will serve at least one year in prison during their lives (Uniform Crime Data of 2011; see www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications).

 Consumer – User & Victim – Script

Hi. My name is Jeanny and I am here to tell my story and explain why users of illicit drugs are not fully responsible for all the crimes and deaths attributed to the illegal drug trade. First let us get a couple things straight, “there has never been a recorded death from marijuana.” Also, a person is 1,000 times more likely to die from tobacco or alcohol abuse than from using cocaine or heroin (Livingston, 1996, 251).

• Former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Alan Leshner stated, “One of the major predictors of becoming addicted is the level of stress a person is trying to cope with” (Moyers, 1998).

• The majority of illegal drug users are white, (Livingston, 1996).  I am also a white middle-class teen, living in a rural neighborhood, dealing with more than her share of home-life stress.

• My parents never really got along.

• Even though I had a little sister, neither of my parents was home a lot.

• By the time I was in my junior year of HS, my parents had divorced. My father was never there for me, and because in fact he continually mocked how large my breasts had become, I left home and moved in with my 26-year-old drug-dealing boyfriend. That’s when I first tried marijuana.

• My mother tried to rescue me from the abusive relationship I was in by sending me to live with my grandmother in North Carolina to finish my high school degree. While there I was gang raped by five male students.

• Regardless, I got my high school diploma and went on to get my hairdressers license.

• I then travelled around the country on the back of various men’s motorcycles while competing in wet T-shirt contests and other female competitions. Along these long trips, I tried cocaine, habitually used marijuana and became dependent on alcohol to ease my nerves. I never feel safe.

• I finally found myself in Oregon. I’ve always had a job, never stolen anything, and my only crime was using drugs to take away emotional pain. Although I never became addicted to cocaine, I would use it on and off for 15 years.

•I could never sleep alone or without a noise machine. My boyfriends were usually older and helped me feel safe. During and after Katrina I helped my last boyfriend protect his auto shop from looting. Then he dumped me. I felt out of control, I once again turned to cocaine to numb the pain. The dealer I met was constantly pressuring me for sex, I always said no, and I guess he had waited long enough because one night he gave me heroin and coke. He waited in my apartment for me to snort it and then I overdosed. He then proceeded to rape my lifeless body. He never called 911. I was found days later by a neighbor. I was only 37.

• Dealers are the ones to blame for the crime and deaths related to illegal drug trade; users need therapy, love, compassion and help (Jeanny, 2009).


Boesler, M. & Lutz, A. (2012). 32 reasons why we need to end the war on drugs. Business

Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/32-reasons-why-we-need-to-end-the-war-on-drugs-2012-7?op=1

Moyers, B. (1998). Close to Home: Moyers on Addiction. Retrieved from http://www.thirteen.org/closetohome/home.html

Jeanny. (2009). Personal Communication.

Livingston, M. (1996). Endless U.S. drug war: A big business. Connection to the Americas 13, 2.

National Association of Social Workers. (2013). A Social work perspective on drug policy reform: Public health approach. Retrieved from http://www.naswdc.org/advocacy/DrugReformWP.pdf

 Street Dealers

We blame the drug users, the U.S government, and our society in general for playing a larger role on the drug war.  It is our belief that people make a conscious decision to use drugs and continue to do so even though they know it is wrong.  If people stopped using, we would be out of a job.

On a larger scale, the government has a lot of work to do in helping those that have been caught up in drug use—specifically, helping those that have been incarcerated for drug abuse.  There needs to be a change to the vicious cycle of drug abuse. People caught for drug abuse are put in jail and then offered no rehab or help getting back on their feet once they are released back in the real world.  Why then would we be surprised when they turn back to the only thing they know and are used to, drugs.

The government also needs to do a more thorough job educating our youth on the serious repercussions of doing/dealing or even being around drugs.  Students are often told not to do it because “it is bad and can harm you,” but they could benefit from seeing real effects of family loss, overdose, and homelessness that often results from involvement with drugs.

In the grand scheme of things, we (small time drug dealers) are not to blame, nor are we truly supporting or enabling the entire industry.  Most dealers are simply trying to make enough money to cover the expense of our lives.  The only way we are going to make a difference in the drug war is to start looking at the bigger organizations (cartel, money laundering, and the U.S. government).


“How to Sell Drugs.” June 22, 2012, www.vice.com/Fringes/how-to-sell-drugs

Winkler, Jeff. “Drug Dealer Explains Economics of Seeling Part-Time.” August 14, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/14/drug-dealer-economics-part-time_n_1775811.html

Bailey, Ronald. “Former Drug Dealer Explains Black Market Pricing to NPR.”  May 5, 2011, www.reason.com/blog/2011/05/05/former-drug-dealer-explains-bl

Bulmberg, Alex. “A Former Crack Kingpin On The Economics of Illegal Drugs.” May 4, 2011, http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/05/05/135991890/a-former-crack-kingpin-on-the-economics-of-illegal-drugs

Holmes, Linda. “Documentary Explains ‘How to Make Money Selling Drugs’.” September 9, 2012, www.npr.com/blogs/monkeysee/2012/09/09/160828846/tiff-a-new-documentary-explains-how-to-make-money-selling-drugs

 Peasant Farmers

We the peasant farmers plead innocent; the international drug rings are the ones who profit from opium production. We the farmers may make enough to get by, but we live in fear and are branded as criminals. Furthermore, we are innocent for the following reasons:

  •  Peasant farmers are at the bottom of the drug industry in Latin America.  They can make more money growing coca than other crops.  They are not profiting by making a lot of money but they are making enough to survive.
  • The demand for cocaine in the United States and other countries has changed the economic and social relations in countries such as Bolivia and Colombia, making the growing of the coca leaf much more profitable than other crops that can be grown in those climates.
  • Problems of inflation and unemployment in Latin American countries make the growing and harvesting of coca crops much more attractive to the peasant farmers.
  • Poverty leads us (peasant farmers) to grow the crops with the highest revenue; coca and poppies result in higher profits than coffee, bananas, or wheat (opium is $4,500 per hectare versus $266 for wheat).
  • Drugs are easy to transport, fruit and vegetables rot quickly which leads to higher transportation costs.
  • Start up for coca and poppy plants are relatively cheap, whereas fruit trees require significant investment money that may not be seen in profits.
  • Many farmers are forced into growing coca and poppy plants by oppressive governments. They have been forced off their fertile land onto land that cannot grow many crops besides these drugs
  • Many farmers have moral qualms about growing drugs; it its against the Quran to use drugs. However as farmers we are not using these drugs and only trying to provide for our families. In many situations refusing to grow these crops could result in being killed or starvation.
  • Oppressive governments leave citizens fearful and in poverty. Farmers are not to blame for striving to provide for their families and refusing to abide by orders.
  • According to the UN, opium production in Afghanistan increased by 1400% between 1972 and 1998 – mainly during the Soviet occupation. It was grown as a cash crop to fund anti-Soviet forces. Prior to 1972 poppies were grown, to a small extent, for medicinal and seasoning purposes. In the 1970s Afghanistan had a thriving agricultural economy based on fruit exports; with support, this could be developed again.
  • Between the 2001 coalition invasion and 2007, production increased 300%. With the deposing of the Taliban regime their current role as insurgents has driven the resurgence of opium production.
  • The Taliban receives nearly 70 percent of its income from opium sales and the protection money it rakes in from drug lords and traffickers. They also levy taxes on the farmers.
  • Efforts to eradicate opium crops by the UN and other agencies often add recruits to the Taliban insurgents. Removing a farmer’s livelihood and threatening their family’s welfare often drives them to insurgency.
  • Peasant farmers often mortgage or borrow from drug traffickers against future harvests. While this guarantees food for their families, it makes it even more difficult for them to grow an alternate crop.
  • In countries such as Afghanistan the poppy crops used for heroin have also taken on the same type of economic power for the poor farmers. In these countries, the drug trade is also being used to help support terrorist activities and groups making it an attractive crop even though they have strong feelings against drug use in these countries.
  • Coca grows well on poor soil and has fewer problems with pests and blight also making it an attractive crop for the peasant farmers.
  • Peasant farmers can become enmeshed with the drug traffickers through mortgages and loans and end up in a cycle of providing crops to them in order to survive financially and also to avoid possible violence against their families.
  • Another problem for the peasant farmers who become coca growers is a growing independence on purchased foods that become more expensive because of the relative shortage of these crops.
  • The ecosystem in these countries is suffering from the dumping of chemicals used in the production of coca paste. This negatively affects the livestock and other agriculture as well as the water supply for the peasants themselves.
  • The peasants use their feet to stomp the coca leaves creating health problems for the farmers.
  • Other illegal activities that go along with the drug trade are becoming more common among the peasant farmers including prostitution. There are more guns to protect the drugs, which leads to more violence against innocent farmers. Local government officials can become caught up in the drug trade so corruption has increased in the government of these countries also.

Alternative Crops:

  • There has been some effort to help the peasant farmers with alternate crops that they can profit from including plantains, yucca and papaya.
  • Other crops instead of poppies include asparagus and coffee.
  • Saffron, cumin, and other spices provide a high value for a low volume, but require investment in infrastructure.
  • Alternative crops require the implementation of a new economic basis in the areas affected. Marketing, storage, irrigation, roads, and many other factors need to be developed in order to support the new economy.


Synovitz, R. “Afghanistan: Saffron Could Help Wean Farmers Off Opium Poppies.” June 2, 2006, http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1068856.html

Hays, J. “Cocaine, Coca Cultivation, Trade and Anti-drug Efforts.” March 2011, http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat54/sub348/item1214.html

“If We Destroy Opium Poppy Fields, Farmers Will Join the Taliban.” December 9, 2010, http://rt.com/politics/afghan-drugs-war-osmani/

Kraul, C. (2013). “Coca farming in Colombia dropped 25% last year, U.N. says.”  Los Angeles Times – California, National and World News Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-colombia-coca-20130808,0,2354772.story

LaCouture, Michael. Narco-terrorism in Afghanistan: Counternarcotics and counterinsurgency International Affairs Review (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.iar-gwu.org/node/39

Siddique, Abubakar  and Salih Muhammad Salih. Afghanistan: Poor Helmand farmers find themselves in eye of drug storm (n.d.). Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. Retrieved  from http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1078915.html

Smith, P. (n.d.), book review of Drugs in Afghanistan: Opium, Outlaws, and Scorpion Tales by David Macdonald.” StoptheDrugWar.org | raising awareness of the consequences of prohibition. Retrieved  from http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/2007/sep/14/drug_war_chronicle_book_review_d

UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem. (n.d.). Welcome to the United Nations: It’s Your World. Retrieved  from http://www.un.org/ga/20special/fea

UNODC UN Office on Drugs and Crime.  Colombia: From illicit drugs to sustainable livelihoods. (n.d.).  Retrieved from https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/2011/September/colombia_-from-illicit-drugs-to-sustainable-livelihoods.html

Wikipedia. Opium production in Afghanistan (n.d.).  Retrieved  from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_production_in_Afghanistan

 Money Launderers

In the case of the Money Launderers we thought it would be best to show how some are threatened by drug cartels to begin working with them.  All money launderers involved with drug cartels know what they are getting into—that it is a crime.  There still is a percentage of them that make the choice to be involved to protect their family.

A person commits money laundering when a financial transaction is performed, knowing that the money or property involved came from an illegal act.  Many blame the government for the continuing drug problem because if an individual is charged and found guilty of laundering money, the penalties are not harsh.  Some pay fines up to the monetary values involved and then complete probation. Others could spend up to twenty years in prison.  Most do not because they are released on good behavior.  Most money launderers are not criminals or violent, although they are associated with violent criminals.

However we saw that many launderers become greedy.  They begin to involve innocent people’s investments leading to fraud on top of laundering money for the drug cartels.  Greed takes hold of them and they cannot seem to get out – it is almost as if the money becomes their addiction.

It was difficult to defend a group who know very well what they are doing is illegal.  They are supporting illegal acts and in turn making lots of money themselves.


Andelman, D. A. (1994). The drug money maze. Foreign Affairs, 23, 94-108.

Dokopupil, T. (2009).  My father the dope dealer.  Newsweek, 154, 30-37

Thornbourgh, R. (1990)Money laundering. Vital Speeches of the Day 56: 578-182.

Western, B. (2010). Decriminalizing poverty. Nation 291: 12-14.

The U.S. Government

We, the U.S. Government, do not take responsibility for the current war on drugs. Our testimony is as follows:

  • Legalizing or decriminalizing illegal recreational drugs sends the wrong message to children.  How can we tell our children that it’s wrong to use drugs if we turn around and legitimize them through law?
  • Also, it’s true that people still use these drugs, but it is possible that even more people would use them if they were legalized or decriminalized. Look at what happened to alcohol and cigarettes by viewing the following article: http://www.humanevents.com/2007/01/25/in-defense-of-the-drug-war/.
  • The war on drugs is not confined to American borders. Part of the effort in the American War on Drugs extends into other countries, where organized crime, financed by American drug users and by drug lords, has wreaked havoc.  It is therefore an American responsibility to aid our neighbors in this effort.  Those criminals should not be allowed to run rampant, terrorizing innocent people, and influencing governments by intimidation. Other countries have asked America for help on this. America should not turn a deaf ear to these pleas from its neighbors.
  • For example, as many have read…

In September 2006, gunmen opened the doors of the Sol y Sombra discotheque in Uruapan, in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, and threw five human heads onto the dance floor. As frightened partygoers looked on, the gang left a scrawled message at the scene, announcing the arrival of a new, breakaway drug cartel called La Familia Michoacana, and walked out as coolly as they had entered. For many, it represented a shocking new degree of brutality by the country’s drug traffickers. It made headlines around the world (Grant 2012).

(To further outline the “deepening drug-war” in Mexico please refer to Ken Ellingwood, “Why Mexico is not the new Colombia when it comes to drug cartels.” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 25, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/ 2010/sep/25/world/la-fg- mexico-colombia-20100926)


  • The war on drugs is expensive and difficult.  However, just because an effort is costly and difficult does not mean it should not be made.  Are we supposed to limit ourselves only to goals that are easily attainable?  If we were to operate with such unambitious limitations, humans would still be living in caves, and the war on drugs would be fought with rocks and wooden clubs.

Furthermore, as stated by Sterling (1999) “the cost of engaging in a “drug war” is, in dollars and cents, a tremendous economic burden and, as a tool of public policy, of doubtful effect. That does not mean that because a government effort directed at solving a social evil is both costly and of little effect that it should be abandoned, but it does (or should) force us to conduct a very critical cost-benefit analysis as part of our decision-making process.” (Sterling, 1999)


Grant, Will. Mexico Violence: Fear and Intimidation. BBC News: Latin America and Caribbean (14 May 2011), http://m.bbc.co. uk/news/world-latin-america- 18063328

Sterling, J.A. “America’s War on Drugs.” 1999, www.lawandliberty.org/ drugwar.htm

Hawkins, J. “In Defense of the Drug War.” January 25, 2007, http://www.humanevents.com/2007/01/25/in-defense-of-the-drug-war/

Ellingwood, K. “Why Mexico is not the new Colombia when it comes to drug cartels.” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 25, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/ 2010/sep/25/world/la-fg- mexico-colombia-20100926

The System of Profit

The following plea represents the system profit’s stance toward the U.S. drug war. The students have taken on the multiple perspectives the system profit holds. From the prison sector, the importance of drug testing, and the role of rehabilitation centers in the United States:

We plead not guilty for the charges brought against us. It is not our fault that the U.S. government has a hidden agenda in the War on Drugs to control the wealth of other countries, such as Colombia, Ecuador, Afghanistan, and Iran. The U.S wants to control the natural resources like gold, silver, copper, and oil. The control of these areas and its politicians with the presumed “war on drugs” is merely a business strategy. We the system of profit also blame the government for failing to put money towards drug use prevention; only 5% of government money is spent on the war on drugs.

The system of profit includes the privatization of American prisons, the drug testing industry, and addiction recovery industry centers. The two largest private prison companies in the U.S are the GEO Group (formerly known as Wackenhut or Premier) and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). These two privatized private prison management corporations hold 75% of the American prison population. The CCA alone houses 92,000 immigrant and drug offenders.

We offer the availability to house offenders and minimize overcrowding in public prisons giving relief to the state budget. The privatization of prisons has aided in the reduction of costs, and helped build new state of the art prisons quickly. The prisons also create jobs. There are entire communities that live off the prison system.

These jobs fall under the following categories (but are not limited to) security, prison construction, uniform makers, health care, and food preparation. In some states, such as California, a prison guard can have a larger annual income than a doctor. Local farmers benefit from the prisons because they can take seasonal work, or stay if their crops don’t grow.

Private prisons also have the budget and means to provide services to prisoners, and we help them acquire labor skills, which in turn can help them when they have completed their sentences. We aid in the removal of drug dealers off the streets by supporting strict sentences on repeat offenders. We are helping bring down the use and sale of illegal drugs by setting a precedent: if you commit the crime we have the means to punish you.

A lot of scrutiny comes down on the system of profit for creating a society that values property and money over the lives of people. We however stand by the claim that America is founded on the concept of individualism. We are each responsible for ourselves, and our minor children, to make moral choices. This puts the blame on the users, dealers, and money launderers who choose to be part of the problem.

The drug testing industry helps encourage drug-free workplace programs, which benefit the labor force, employers, families, and their communities. We save the federal, state, and local government money by testing welfare recipients and parolees. Mandatory drug testing may keep some potential users from buying and taking drugs because of fear of being passed over for jobs, fired, denied financial assistance, or sent back to prison. We help to keep state funding out of the wrong hands and do our part to end the war on drugs.

Partnerships between prisons, drug testing companies, and the addiction recovery industry, such as rehabilitation centers, often help to keep people out of jail by focusing on sobriety and healthy life choices. The goal of these partnerships is to get those who are addicted off the streets and turn them into productive citizens who can contribute to the economy and culture of our nation.

Every dollar spent on drug treatment in the community returns an estimated $18.50 in benefits to society. We, the rehab centers, help to decrease the number of deaths caused by accidental overdose, approximately 30,000 per year, by helping those who are addicted to drugs become sober. Rehabilitation centers help users realize that their addiction is a disease to be taken seriously and must be treated to offer a successful recovery. It is our hope that patients don’t return to using drugs; however, we continue to treat repeat patients in our facilities. While addiction recovery centers are scrutinized for making a profit off of insurance companies, and wealthier addicts, we insist that our main objective is helping the people of our communities get off drugs.


Riggs, Mike. “4 Industries Getting Rich Off the Drug War.” Aprill 22, 2012,             http://reason.com/archives/2012/04/22/4-industries-getting-rich-off-the-drug-w

McVay, Douglas. “Get The Facts.” (n.d.), http://www.drugwarfacts.org

Garcis-Barrio, Constance. “U.S. War On Drugs In Columbia Ravaging Farmers and Land.” (n.d.), http://rense.com/general9/uswardrugs.htm

Vasquez, Ian. “Cato Handbook for Congress.” (2003), http://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/cato-handbook-policymakers/2003/9/hb108-56.pdf

Alexander, Michelle. “The New Jim Crow: How the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent

American Undercaste.” March 8, 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelle-alexander/the-new-jim-crow-how-the_b_490386.html

Palast, Gregory. “US: Wackenhut’s Free Market in Human Misery.” September 26, 1999, http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=868

Miller, David. “The Drain of Publich Prison Systems and the Role of Privatization: A Case Study of

State Correctional Systems.” February, 2010, http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/prisons/review.php

Livergod, Norman. “Privatized Prisons and the Capitalist Drug Syndicate.” (n.d.), http://www.hermes-press.com/prisons_drugs.htm

Hodai, Beau. “Corrections Corporation of America Used in Drug Sweeps of Public School Students.”

November 27, 2012, http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/11/11876/corrections-corporation-america-used-drug-sweeps-public-school-students

Diaz, Von. “A Unique Alternative to a Prison Economy.” September 23, 2013,



In summary, Dr. Aziza Bey’s class discovered through research, exploration, and discussion that no “one” perspective was totally responsible for the war on drugs. Although, after much deliberation the class did agree that the system of profit had the largest share of influence on the endless drug war within the U.S. In the end, the student’s voiced their change in perspective towards each group presented within the debate and found this experience to be extremely eye opening.

Published in: on December 2, 2013 at 9:40 am  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “No one died from marijuana”?? The British Medical Journal found that 30,000 people a year could die from cannabis (www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-179264/Cannabis-kills-30-000-year.html).
    That’s not counting the people who, whether cannabis made them schizophrenic or not, murdered other people while they were on cannabis as it made them forget their meds. How many people murdered by cannabis users?

  2. Thank you for your comment to my graduate learners who conducted a debate in class on this important topic. Most of them had no idea of what drives this social issue and their research really opened their eyes to going on. They all had to research the issue from the 6 categories given to them and present their case in court to support why they weren’t responsible for the US Drug War.

    To say the least they were really shocked to find out the many perspectives and who the major players were in this social issue. I will share your comments with them, thank you.

    Dr. Aziza Braithwaite Bey Associate Professor Graduate School of Education Lesley University 29 Everett St. Cambridge, MA 02138 617-349-8291 https://critpedagogy.wordpress.com/


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