To say that the War on Drugs is controversial would be an understatement. Those who claim it’s been a failure point to the fact that it’s ineffective, costly, and apparently rigged against those of lower socioeconomic status.
Furthermore, a majority of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized, multiple sources say D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) does not work, and only recently did President Obama sign the Fair Sentencing Act, meant to correct a disparity in punishment between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine—drugs which are associated with users on opposite sides of the socioeconomic spectrum.
It’s no surprise, then, that meth laws are no different; though they may be formed with good intentions, they often hurt the poor and put them at an even greater disadvantage. A recent example of this was an incident that occurred in an apartment complex in Bellingham, Washington, where a resident’s consumption of methamphetamine contaminated multiple apartments, requiring several residents to vacate the premise indefinitely.
However, the issue here is that the levels of contamination may not have been harmful.
While the apartment of the meth-smoking tenant had a contamination level of 7.4 micrograms per 100 square centimeters, residents with 0.1 microgram per 100 square centimeters or higher were also forced to vacate their homes, in accordance with state and county law. But there is one key issue.
The 0.1 limit is considerably outdated.
The EPA has proven that contamination levels of 1.5 micrograms per 100 square centimeters or lower are harmless to pregnant women and children—some of the most vulnerable members of the population.
Burdening the Poor
Laws across the country vary, but homeowners are less fortunate in scenarios such as this. In an apartment, the landlord or controlling entity is responsible for following these regulations, but homeowners are stuck with the bill for decontamination.
If one is unfortunate enough to have their home cross-contaminated, harmful property must be disposed of, and you may have to pay anywhere from $3000 to $25,000, depending on the size of the home and the level of contamination, and insurance may not cover that.
This can lead to foreclosure, homelessness, and additional financial burden.
Contamination Levels Across the Country
After realizing how the 0.1 limit created unnecessary spending for both the government to clean up meth labs, and for citizens to decontaminate their homes, Washington State changed their contamination level to 1.5 micrograms per 100 square centimeters.
Washington is only one of seven states to meet that standard, while other states opt to have even lower limits on acceptable contamination levels. On top of that, individual counties can set up stricter limits, so long as those limits comply with state standards, meaning they can continue to support laws that create unnecessary costs.
Poor Man’s Drug
It is no secret that the media views meth to be a “poor man’s narcotic”—one that’s linked to violence, crime and addiction. The hit TV show Breaking Bad wasn’t the first, but it was the latest TV show to reveal the world of the addict and the pushers that perpetuate their pain, grinding an image into the collective unconscious.
However, Forbes reports that not only do very few users become addicts, but also that most crime and violence attributable to meth is related to black market disputes, rather than usage. In fact, most of that usage is tied to a lack of “stimulating environments,” which are very much tied to poverty.
It would seem that meth laws could be seen as an overreaction to the image of violent, braindead addicts—and both the law and our perceptions need to change with the times.
History of Research
Amphetamines such as meth are by no means new.
First synthesized in 1887, they were used to treat asthma, narcolepsy, and nasal and bronchial congestion in the 1930s, only later gaining notoriety for underground usage.
In fact, Benzedrine tablets were incredibly popular as the first commercial antidepressant, and the U.S. military supplied their servicemen with Benzedrine during World War Two to stay alert, as did the British, Germans, and the Japanese. Epidemics of amphetamine usage were prevalent during the 1960s.
There has been a long history of scientific inquiry into the effects of amphetamines, yet the laws to regulate usage and safety are startlingly off-base. You won’t hear anybody argue that methamphetamines need to make their way back into popular and military culture in a new way, but the fact that we’ve so thoroughly expunged the drug from rational conversations about responsible drug policy is a significant problem, and one that needs to be addressed.
The War on Drugs is a War on the Poor
To regulate methamphetamine today in the name of safety, without the context of historical experience, is not only unscientific, but ineffective and biased.
It would seem that the portrait of meth usage has been exaggerated when compared to the scientific reality. While the drug is undoubtedly harmful, it appears that this zeal for a 0.1 microgram per 100 square centimeters regulation hints at a desire to push aside poor Americans to make room for a different class of citizens.
Were these laws designed without a need to stamp out these caricatures of mindless addicts, and were the image of the underclass (who are more susceptible to drug use) not so tarnished, perhaps less money would be wasted on unnecessary decontamination, allowing those less fortunate to continue living their lives without interruption.
In the end, it seems that many are suffering for the deeds of few, lumped together without any care for context—a situation that, in essence, further cements the role poverty plays in this country. Let’s challenge ourselves to do better.
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