September Monthly Mosaic: Privilege and the Drug War

September Monthly Mosaic: Privilege and the Drug War

Privilege and the Drug War

The Monthly Mosaic is a new resource brought to you by Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s Diversity Awareness, Reflection and Education Committee (DARE).

With a name reminiscent of the many different life experiences and viewpoints that intersect in drug policy, the Monthly Mosaic aims to expand your awareness of the variety and intersectionality of issues related to the War on Drugs and the drug policy reform movement. We strive for a community that fosters personal and intellectual growth by bringing together students, activists, leaders, and educators from different backgrounds and with different perspectives to engage in a mutual exchange of ideas and experiences.

Each month, we will highlight a different theme or topic in drug policy, provide you with resources for learning more about the issue, and suggest ways in which you and your chapter can take action. We hope that upon becoming aware of and reflecting upon these issues, you will take what you’ve learned to educate others!

What is privilege and why should my chapter care?

Drug policy frequently most harms those who are most marginalized by society. Though SSDPers come from all walks of life, as college students we are often in much more privileged positions than the communities who are most impacted by the War on Drugs. In our fight for better drug policies, we must always be mindful of how our privilege shapes the way we view the world, and remember that policy will affect people with different levels of privilege differently.

Not only are people with the least amount of privilege hurt the most by drug policies, but those with the most privilege may even benefit from punitive drug policies and their current evolution.

This (imperfect) graph helps illustrate the disproportionate impact of policy on blacks vs. whites, one of the biggest reasons activists fight for drug policy reform. The vertical axis represents the relative benefit or harm that people can experience due to drug laws, while the horizontal axis represents privilege, with privilege increasing as the axis extends right.  The two blue lines represent two different drug policies, medical marijuana and federal prohibition.


Under federal prohibition, drug possession is considered a criminal offense. Although blacks and whites use drugs at relatively similar rates, blacks are more likely to be incarcerated. In addition, people with less socioeconomic privilege are less likely to seek out or be able to pay for treatment. Prohibition tears families apart in communities that are the most highly monitored and policed, creating a cycle of poverty and violence.

New laws allowing for medical marijuana access represent improvements in drug policy aimed at a safer and more just future. However, they have in many ways failed to address the fallout from decades of harmful prohibitionist policies, and often reinforce the social stratification created by the Drug War. For example, many people who were arrested for selling drugs before the passage of medical marijuana laws remain in jail or prison, while the cannabis industry is primarily populated by white males of higher socioeconomic status.

Keep in mind that this visual is imperfect, and represents an attempt to simplify this concept. The benefits and harms are not mutually exclusive – a person can experience benefits while also experiencing harms. Additionally, the amount of privilege a person has is based on an aggregate of their identities – some aspects of identity can put people in a higher position of privilege (ex. being white) while other aspects of the same person’s identity may put them in a position of less privilege (ex. being of a lower socioeconomic status).

 Learn More About Privilege and the Drug War.

Take Action (10 points).

Interested in taking on the SSDP DARE? Your chapter can receive 10 points on the SSDP CAT

(Chapter Activity Tracker) for completing one of the following DAREs! Talk to your chapter leader if you are interested in participating.

You must send a picture of your activity to your Outreach Coordinator in order to receive points.

  • This Buzzfeed video uses a simple interactive activity to powerfully illustrate what  privilege really means. After watching the video, make a list of statements or questions that might be appealing to your campus, and conduct the activity within your own chapter. Partner with other groups and do the activity together.

  • Check out the ‘Power Walk’ exercise on page fourteen of this guide from Harm Reduction International. Designed to help people understand the intersections of discrimination, it could be used as is or tweaked to better suit your chapter. Examples of identity cards can be found here.

 Get Involved.