Crack Cocaine & Mass Incarceration Essay

2208 words - 9 pages

The American Crack Epidemic:
How the War on Drugs was as Detrimental to Society as Drugs Themselves.
Lucas Carneiro
U.S. History
4/21/2013

Throughout the mid-20th century, Americans have experimented with illicit drugs, from marijuana to LSD. In the late 70s and early 80s, the high cost of cocaine made it the drug of choice for wealthy, elite, White Americans. On the other side of the social spectrum, lower-class African Americans sought an escape from their difficult circumstances in impoverished inner-city neighborhoods. They found refuge in crack, a smokeable form of cocaine, whose low production cost, high addictiveness, and debilitating nature made it the drug of choice for ...view middle of the document...

Cocaine prices dropped rapidly, and dealers sought to maintain the value of their product. Dealers began to produce cocaine freebase, a purer, smokeable form of the drug that was expensive to make, and yielded a much more powerful high (Cooper, 2002, p.8). Despite its potency, freebase did not become very popular due to its extremely high cost. In need of a more profitable product, dealers began to produce a cheap, smokeable form of cocaine, called crack. Crack consumption spread across the U.S. rapidly, which is the reason that its use reached ‘epidemic’ proportions.
The way that crack cocaine was marketed made it spread faster than any other drug in the U.S.. Despite the decrease in purity, crack still packed a powerful high. After being introduced to the market around 1985, it spread to every major city in the U.S. within 2 years. It was easily manufactured, could be sold at very low prices, and there was a steady demand as a result of addiction. Whereas powder cocaine tended to be used in private settings among more affluent people, crack was sold by and to a whole new class of people on inner-city street corners (Reinarman & Levine, 1997, p. 184). Crack was different from other drugs because unlike alcohol, LSD, and marijuana, it was highly addictive and created a strong dependency in the user. Because a dose of crack could cost as little as $2.50, poor, urban minorities could sustain an addiction, creating a steady market for drug dealers.
The vast amount of people consuming the drug in poor communities inevitably integrated the sale of the drug into the local economy. As stated in a criminal law journal, “Dealers, users, and relatives of both have an interest in maintaining the trade. Indeed, these incentives may become particularly strong if the local drug markets are supported by buyers from outside the community. These revenues will make local drug dealers even more economically powerful.”(Moore, 1991, p. 552). Witnessing the success of dealers firsthand, young African Americans often resorted to dealing as a source of income. Many adolescents joined gangs whose crack dealings became rapidly integrated into the local economy. Association with gangs created a number of problems including increased violence, prostitution, and rampant crack cocaine abuse. Both dealing and consumption of crack resulted in crime or violence. According to an article in the Journal of Black Studies,

“Statistics show that drug users report greater involvement in crime and are more likely than nondrug users to have a criminal record. In addition, persons with criminal records are more likely than those without criminal backgrounds to report being drug users.”(Joseph & Pearson, 2002, p. 427).

Dealers used violence in order to protect themselves and their products, whereas consumers tended to perform criminal acts in order to support their addiction.
The many health risks of crack contributed to its crippling effects in low-income...

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