Is the War on Drugs Worth the Fight?

Drugs have been a controversial topic for decades. Today, however, it’s a topic that many people are comfortable discussing openly. In 1971, President Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one.” Today, drug-positive articles and social media posts are a dime a dozen. The war on drugs has fallen out of favor with much of the modern American public—millennials in particular. It might be due to a growing awareness of drugs and their effects or the spreading legalization of medical and recreational marijuana. Maybe, though, it’s a symptom of something bigger: the fight for equal rights. 

This past Thursday, Rachael Leigh Cook appeared in a holiday commercial of sorts (4/20’s a pretty sacred day for some people). In a re-make of the über dramatic 1997 “Your Brain on Drugs” commercial, Rachael reoriented her attack. Instead of admonishing drug use as she did in the 1997 ad, she criticized the war on drugs and its racist tendencies. The dispraportionate incarcerations of black drug users shows an unjust targeting of the black community, as Cook pointed out. The shift in the commercial’s focus points to a more progressive take on drugs—marijuana in particular. It highlights the unjust racial-bent to the war on drugs, exhibiting a heightened national attention to the racism within America’s criminal justice system. “The war on drugs is ruining people’s lives,” Cook says. “It fuels mass incarceration, it targets people of color in greater numbers than their white counterparts. It cripples communities. It costs billions and it doesn’t work. Any questions?” 

Rachel’s change in tone reflects the changing national landscape. Drugs are pretty ubiquitous in the United States; instead of fearing them as many did throughout the 20th century, contemporary Americans are learning how to deal with them. Regardless of one’s opinions on recreational drug use, the prevalence of drugs is undeniable. The next step, then, is finding the best way to regulate them. The war on drugs, though it may have sounded effective in the 1970s, is fairly out of date and awfully out of touch.

1997 “Your Brian on Drugs” ad:

2017 “Your Brain on Drug Policy” ad: