4 Books to Read About Race, Cannabis Law, and the War on Drugs


This week, for the second time in our nation’s history, the country recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Juneteenth (June 19th) is a hugely important date in America’s history and in particular in the history of Black Americans. It commemorates the day that, in 1865, U.S. soldiers announced to enslaved persons in Galveston, Texas that they were free. The announcement came over two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

While this was a big step toward racial equity in the United States, the treatment of Black people and minorities in general is far from equitable today. Many of our social practices and laws continue to discriminate against certain communities, keeping racism and, in some cases, even the practice of slavery alive.

The mass incarceration of minority groups for cannabis-related offenses has had a devastating effect for millions of United States citizens and their families. In commemoration of Juneteenth this year, we’ve created a reading guide for those looking to learn more about this subject.

Here are four books that will help you understand America’s drug war and its effects on minorities:

1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

This book by writer and activist Michelle Alexander was published in 2010. It takes aim at the public perception that the election of President Obama would usher in a new era of “colorblindness” in the US.

In her counter to this claim, Alexander highlights the laws put and kept in place by the War on Drugs which have led to the incarceration of millions of Black men. “The New Jim Crow” exposes the disproportionate and devastating impact drug laws have had on Black communities.

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2. Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure

Originally published back in 1997, this book by Dan Baum is a scathing indictment of the nature of the drug laws in place in the United States from a political perspective.

While there have been certain changes to laws regarding drugs in the United States since its publication, the sentiment of the author remains soberingly relevant. This is the book to read if you want an insight into how drug laws affect Black communities in practice, and who benefits from them.

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3. From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America

This book by historian and scholar Elizabeth Hinton looks at the war on drugs (as well as the war on poverty) as a vehicle for mass incarceration in America. While giving a comprehensive overview of the war on drugs, Hinton challenges the belief that America’s prison problem originated from drug laws. Instead, she blames the rise of mass incarceration on the first social welfare programs in the United States.

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4. Unequal under Law: Race in the War on Drugs

This book takes a closer look at how decades of racism in the United States helped to shape a drug policy that continues to disproportionately impact racial minorities today. Written by Doris Provine, it looks at the history of drug use in America right back to the temperance movement of the early 1900s and highlights the interwoven history of the anti-drug policies and racism in America.


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