Summer 2022, Sociology 440: Alcohol and Drug Use / Beck Final Assignment:

Summer 2022, Sociology 440: Alcohol and Drug Use / Beck

Final Assignment: Policy Paper

Re-Envisioning U.S. Drug Policy:

Moving Beyond the Punitive Prohibition of the War on Drugs

This assignment allows you to explore drug policy alternatives to the predominant drug policy approach in the U.S currently which criminalizes drugs and drug users (sometimes called “punitive prohibition”). You will review the five major drug policy approaches and argue for an alternative policy approach of your choosing.

These are the five main drug policies:

Drug prohibition (the primary policy approach today)

Drug legalization

Drug decriminalization

Harm reduction (include medically assisted drug treatment)

Drug treatment & drug courts


Your final write up of the assignment should be in discussion (narrative essay) form, use your own voice, and be sure to support facts you use with cited evidence from only the assigned readings/film that go with this assignment (not from non-course materials or the web, generally). However, please cut and paste the numbered sections directly below to structure your paper (then write in narrative essay form within each section).

Your paper is due during finals week (see the announcements and the submission link for exact date), The paper should be approximately 5 to 7 pages (it is ok to go over the page limit, but not necessary). Use double space and 12-point font.

Your policy paper will be graded on overall knowledge, organization, clarity of writing, and thoroughness.

Materials: You will need to use:

The pdf posted in course materials titled, Drug Policy Alternatives, which contains detailed readings about drug prohibition, drug legalization, decriminalization, and harm reduction. (You should also review the shorter, posted lecture slides on these as well.)

The pdf posted in course materials titled: Ch. 12 pdf on Drug law, drug Courts, Drug Treatment, from the Goode textbook (see the Week 8&9 folder).

Chapter 3, “The Color of Justice” in The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander.

The library’s streamed film: “Chasing Heroin” (PBS: Frontline). See “course materials” for the link to the film.

Please address all of the prompts below, to write your paper:

PART I: Critique of Drug Prohibition Policy

Review this policy on the titled Drug Policy Alternatives pdf then,

Give a short description of each of the four alternative drug policy approaches: drug legalization, decriminalization, harm reduction, and the drug treatment (including drug courts). And include some pros and cons of each of these approaches.

Now give a short description of what been called “punitive prohibition” that is the tough-on-crime approach used over the last four decades in the war on drugs. the mainstream drug policy approach of drug criminalization, which is still the most widely used in the U.S. What could be argued to be some advantages or pros of criminalizing drugs through harsh penalties like mandatory minimums- and what are the disadvantages or cons of do so?

Discuss the racial impact of the war on drugs on communities of color. In critiquing our current prohibition approach to drugs, use Chapter 3, “The Color of Justice” in The New Jim Crow (on race and drug war). (Be sure to reference facts from the chapter, for example, (Alexander, 2010, p. 100):

Start with reviewing pages 97 to 103 in Ch. 3, offering some evidence to support Alexander’s argument that the drug war affects African Americans and Latinos more severely than it does whites and other groups (despite the fact that whites and minority groups both abuse and sell illegal drugs at about the same rate). Then…

Choose any ONE of the bulleted concepts below to discuss giving adequate detail, which address the racially discriminatory results of the war on drugs:

The Hearne, Texas drug bust/sweep, Human rights Watch statistics on race.

Do “higher crime rates” among poor communities of color explain the highly disproportionate rates at which African Americans are incarcerated in the drug war? Are rates of drug use and sales among whites lower? Has a rise in violent crime driven the incarceration boom? Etc.

The role of police discretion in the war on drugs. (A main way in which our formally colorblind criminal justice system achieves racially discriminatory results in the war on drugs.)

Discriminatory sentencing in the war on drugs. (Discuss and offer examples.)

In addition, choose and ONE case below to discuss:

The restricting of court claims by defendants , i.e. McCleskey v. Kemp, (Another key way in which our formally colorblind criminal justice system achieves racially discriminatory results in the war on drugs.)

Armstrong v. the U.S.

All white juries, Purkett. v. Elm.

Race as a factor in who police stop on suspicion of drugs—discuss United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, and how looks/attire and location are not necessarily race-neutral.

The Alexander v. Sandoval decision in 2001—it’s consequences for making a legal claim of racial discrimination.

Finally, choose ONE of the other two concepts in this section to discuss:

Policing “the hood” and the University of Washington study on drug markets and drug busts.

Consent searches on the New Jersey Turnpike and other similar cases.

How what scholars have called “hyper-segregation” in poor, inner city communities influences police to patrol more heavily there.

PART II: Advocate for Your Chosen Drug Policy Reform

Argue for an alternative policy (or a combination of any two alternative policies) (Drug legalization, Drug decriminalization , Harm reduction, Drug treatment / drug courts)

First explain the policy approach you (and your partner) are advocating for. Be sure to mention the key components of the new policy approach.

Discuss several advantages and disadvantages (pros and cons) of your new chosen policy, tell why and how the pros of your chosen alternative policy approach outweigh the cons.

Provide evidence to support your policy position, that is, offer facts or statistics found in any of the course materials, handouts, charts, or readings that support your argument that your chosen policy approach is superior to prohibition.

To further support your argument, offer evidence through an outside source, such as drug policy institutes or drug policy reform organizations, programs, or new legislation (see links, below or search the web). [See Partial List of Outside Resources, below.]

Conclusion (one short paragraph). Sum your overall argument for why your alternative approach would be more beneficial to society than drug prohibition policy (criminalization).

Extra Credit: If you’d like several extra credit points on this final paper:

Review the last half of the film, Chasing Heroin (the film link is posted in the first several folders in course materials) and discuss the harm reduction approach that Seattle is taking through it’s L.E.A.D. program. Describe how LEAD works, and your opinion of harm reduction policy as it’s applied through the LEAD program. Do you think it’s effective? More humane than arresting drug addicts? How so? You might also mention the use of Suboxone medications by doctors as well, which reduce the craving for heroin.


(Feel free to search for and use other drug policy organizations, articles, legislation, and programs too.)

1. Drug Policy Reform organizations & Examples of recent Legislation:

Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)

California’s recent decriminalization laws: CA Propositions 36, 47, and 57 (passed in 2016). Reduce penalties for nonviolent drug offenders, early-release from prison, etc. (search these on the web).

Marijuana Legalization laws in eight U.S. states: (Search the web for information and articles on this. (Also search under European countries/ decriminalization and legalization—e.g. the Netherlands, England…)

2. Harm Reduction Approach

The Center for Harm Reduction, San Francisco

KALW Radio and article on harm reduction and crack in San Francisco

Harm Reduction and clean needle exchange, AIDS

3. Drug treatment and Prescription and Maintenance models for drug addicts

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Prescription and Maintenance policy statement

Also search web under “medically assisted treatment for opioid addiction” for studies

Drug abuse treatment effectiveness report

Additional drug policy groups and organizations of interest:

The Federal Sentencing Reform Act, (2015)

Trump’s Attorney General and drugs: