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America's drug problem manifests itself in many ways. Illegal drugs are linked to high crime levels, high imprisonment rates, and wasted lives. The harms associated with drugs and drug law enforcement disproportionately affect African Americans. Increasingly the answer to the drug problem is presented in terms of a debate between the supporters of tough drug-law enforcement policies, which focus on long sentences for drug offenders, and opponents who reject tough sentences as too costly for the African American community.
Those who support tough sentences for drug offenders argue that policies distinguishing between drugs typically sold and consumed in devastated inner-city communities and those sold and consumed in well-off suburbs actually benefit inner-city residents. The federal sentencing policy for cocaine offenses is an example. According to federal statute, a given amount of cocaine base or "crack" cocaine triggers the same mandatory penalties as 100 times as much powder cocaine. Those who reject tough sentencing policies counter that they are draconian and ineffective. Though advocates on both sides of this important issue contend that their positions reflect the sentiments of the African American community, empirical support for their respective positions is noticeably absent. I attempt to fill this gap by exploring survey opinion data that are pertinent to drug-law enforcement. Analysis of these data can inform and provide direction for policy decisions.
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