From Volume 88, Number 2 (January 2015)
The war on drugs has increased the U.S. prison population by tenfold. The foundation for the war on drugs, and this unparalleled increase in prisoners, relies on the premise that drugs and violence are causally linked. Politicians, media, and scholars continue to advocate this view either explicitly or implicitly. This Article identifies the pervasiveness of this premise and questions the link between drugs and violence. It demonstrates that a causal connection between drugs and violence is unsupported by historical arrest data, current research, or independent empirical evidence. That there is little evidence to support the assumption that drugs cause violence is an important insight, as the assumed causal link between drugs and violence forms the foundation of a significant amount of case law, statutes, and commentary.
In particular, the presumed connection between drugs and violence has reduced constitutional protections, misled government resources, and resulted in the unnecessary incarceration of a large proportion of nonviolent Americans. In short, if drugs do not cause violence—and the empirical evidence discussed in this Article suggests they do not and that the connection is quite complicated—then America needs to rethink its entire approach to drug policy.