The Relationship Between Drug Policy and Peer Education

The Relationship Between Drug Policy and Peer Education

Karen Walker, Peer Education Intern

Written by Karen Walker, Peer Education Intern

In order to fully grasp the current condition of the drug war, reformers must look back to learn why and how prohibition policies were initially enacted. Understanding the history of prohibition and how the drug war has been able to gain the momentum seen today will enlighten others to the truth behind the reform movement.
While drugs can be dangerous to users and society, causing health, criminal, and economic concerns, this rationale was a shallow guise to gain support for prohibition. Although awareness of addiction and problematic drug use existed for years prior to prohibition, it was not until drugs became associated with specific racial and socioeconomic groups that legislation was enacted to punish and criminalize possession and distribution of drugs.
Fear tactics have always been used to build support for legislation. Unfounded fears of Chinese immigrants seducing white women in opium dens was one of the first racially motivated campaigns for criminalizing opium. Sensationalized and falsified news stories began describing violent behavior from Mexican immigrants under the influence of marijuana, though no research or evidence suggests that marijuana causes aggression or violent behavior. Publications ran stories about attacks on white women by black men during cocaine-induced rages. Throughout that time, rates of drug use were highest among whites yet drug use was associated only with minority groups and immigrants. Today, fear tactics and exceedingly harsh sentences have drastically shifted society’s view on drugs to create extreme levels of stigmatization and silenced voices. Despite equal rates of drug use across racial groups, these blatant racial disparities persist.
Drug use and policy is hardly discussed on social, educational, and political levels. Once one dissects the drug war, one will find the significant intersectionality between issues of racial and economic inequality, public health, mass incarceration, immigration, human rights and drug policy. Yet because we have punished drug users so greatly and have formed policy around the idea of drug users as morally wrong and harmful to society, the stigma surrounding drug use is one of the most difficult to break. When people have only been taught to fear and blame drug users for failings in their community and society, it becomes the reformers’ task to break those ingrained beliefs and shed light on the complexity of these issues. We must also educate others on how the drug war has exacerbated many of those beliefs without attention or wide-scale criticism.
Without question, many who are unfamiliar with drug use or policy will scoff at the idea of legalizing drugs or instating any of the programs for which reformers campaign. Our policy has made something as small as a conversation about drug use or policy difficult to achieve. College students have a willingness to learn that can serve as the starting point where SSDPers can enlighten others to the truths of our policy. Outside of the SSDP realm, many students know nothing about our drug policy and the depths of its impact despite being surrounded by drug use, making the Peer Education program a valuable tool to implement. Having the ability to shed light on our unconscious acceptance of society’s beliefs on drugs is the first step towards shifting attitudes, and one of the most difficult tasks for reformers to overcome.
The Peer Education program will give students the tools they need to begin this task. By emphasizing the historical and political significance in our beliefs, we will provide a solid foundation from which we can think critically about drug policy on the campus level and beyond.

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