During my sophomore year, one of my best friends was charged with 22 years in prison for a nonviolent LSD offense. After that, I began doing research on the drug laws that govern our society’s criminal justice system. Drug laws increased drastically in America during the 1970s, leading to the “war on drugs” and harsh mandatory-minimum sentences that have filled prisons with nonviolent drug offenders. Fifty percent of US prisoners are in jail for nonviolent drug offenses (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2014). We have the highest official incarceration rate in the world, with a disproportionate rate for people of color despite similar drug use rates across all races. These laws have been largely ineffective, as the U.S. still outstrips many countries in drug use today (World Health Organization, 2008). Thankfully the charges were dropped against my friend, who escaped prison time, but I realized that the picture I had in my mind of American drug policies was far from the reality.
I have spent the past year researching these dynamics, interviewing people about the war on drugs. I spoke with Yale students, residents of New Haven, police officers and professors. These illustrations are based on themes and quotes taken from their stories.