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1 - War on Drugs Revisited

Sat, August 10, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Sheraton New York, Floor: Second Floor, Metropolitan Ballroom East

Session Submission Type: Invited Session


As incarceration has increased exponentially, the War on Drugs has been reassessed over the past several decades. This panel considers how the War on Drugs has changed and the resistance to that change, through the lens of legalization and decriminalization, medicalization, and public health. For legalization and decriminalization, many states have begun to roll back mandatory minimum sentencing for drug laws and legalize medical and recreational marijuana. Yet simultaneously, the current Department of Justice has instructed its agents to charge the harshest possible sentence for federal drug law violations and rescinded its prior stance that said they would not interfere with state marijuana legalization. There is also evidence that the benefits of marijuana legalization are not evenly distributed across sociodemographic categories. For medicalization, individuals are increasingly turning to prescription drugs, the second most used illicit category of drugs. Such a move puts pharmaceutical companies and doctors in powerful positions to decide what drugs are acceptable, which results in lower stigma associated with prescription drugs relative to illegal drugs. Finally, with an unprecedented opiate crisis in the U.S., there has been a turn toward public health approaches for users, rather than a criminal justice response. Yet, as social scientists, we may ask what about the demographics of opiate users makes now the socially and politically appropriate moment to transition to a public health approach, and does it benefit all individuals and geographic areas equally. Taken together, these three trends are a stark departure from the prior rhetoric of the drug war, yet each also leads to many additional sociological questions. This panel brings together experts that can speak to each of these angles in the drug war.

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