Thursday, May 1, 2014

Rob Ford and The Hypocrisy of Drug Enforcement: The poor go to Jail, the rich go to California.

Rob Ford is undoubtedly a very polarizing figure in Canadian politics. The drug addicted Mayor of Toronto has finally decided to take a break after yet another video surfaced of him smoking crack. The mayor has become something of a media darling in the US, where he has been the butt of many a joke in late night TV. But he is an example of a far more troubling phenomenon; the ways in which drug laws and attitudes toward drug users are arbitrarily applied on our society.

Ford falls under the category of the amusing yet somehow harmless drug user. He is white and rich, and not the type of person that is usually brought before a judge and put into jail on drug charges. In fact, Ford was critical of programs designed to help persons with addictions.

Yet as we see so often, poor, non-white people are receiving the harshest sentences on drug related crimes and innocent lives are lost as a result of the war on drugs. These are people in "bad" neighborhoods, with "bad attitudes"; certainly more of a danger to society than Mr. Ford.

How can we as a society take such a two-tiered approach toward drug use? Why are some drug users seen as dangerous and harmful people who need to be put in jail and not coddled with programs like INSITE, when others are seen as "misguided" or "troubled" souls who are worthy of help? Who makes this distinction, and on what basis?

The justice system largely reflects the views of those who hold power in society, and drug policy is no exception. So it is no surprise that those who benefit form privilege in other areas would not in the law. White men are much less likely to go to jail for drug possession, and our media glorifies white male drug use, while villainizing the "street thugs" who sell drugs, and stigmatizes those who suffer from addiction and mental health issues as well as the homeless.

Addiction is a serious health problem that makes no distinction between gender, race, or net income. The drug addict or alcoholic on the street is no different than Mr Ford, or Lindsay Lohan, or Zac Efron, and we need to stop pretending that only "bad" people are drug addicts. The problem this creates is that the most privileged in our society do not have the law applied equally to them and it creates two systems for drug users while not dealing with the much larger problem of inequality and addiction in general. You can't solve homelessness, and drug related crime without offering alternatives and giving opportunities. You also don't stop drug use by throwing black men in jail for minor possession. But you do reinforce systematic inequality.

 It's time to ask the hard questions about drug policy, and to start treating addiction as a health problem, and not a criminal one. It's time to take the racial and class coded blinders off our society.

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