Drug Decriminalization in Maryland Through an African Centered Research Paradigm- Analysis and Recommendations

This document offers guidance for theorizing questions related to a proposed research project purposed to advance drug decriminalization in Maryland.

This document offers guidance for theorizing questions related to a proposed research project purposed to advance drug decriminalization in Maryland.

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Drug Decriminalization in Maryland Through an African Centered

Research Paradigm: Analysis and Recommendations

Prepared By: Lawrence Grandpre,

Director of Research, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle

Process Overview

This document offers guidance for theorizing questions related to a proposed research

project purposed to advance drug decriminalization in Maryland.

Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle is a grassroots think tank in Baltimore, Maryland. Over the

past ten years, we have been engaged in community organizing and legislative advocacy work in

a variety of issues from racial consciousness in education curriculum, to advocating for police

accountability, and cannabis legalization. Additionally, our organization has pursued youth

development through policy debate instruction, research, academic conferences, consulting with

nonprofits, and public sector entities on anti-racism, public outreach, and policy advocacy. Our

organization pulls from the theory and experiences of academics and political activists from the

Black radical tradition, with a specific focus on understanding the theory and praxis of antiblackness

and the Pan African liberation struggle. This combination of experiences gives us a

unique perspective of academic analysis skills and real-world experience with advocacy and

community organizing, and it is this unique perspective that we seek to bring to this research

project on drug decriminalization in Maryland.

This document reflects the processing of various topics, specifically the analysis of drug

decriminalization. It is the result of reflecting on several questions, critiques of traditional drug

decriminalization research, discourses, and practices, and notes recommendations on how best to

pursue future research on the issue.

Close to 2000 pages of material – to include books, journal articles, media, and news

reports - have been processed for this report. Although these materials are available for

independent review, extensive quotes from these source materials are included to eliminate the

need for readers to assess the totality of the source material.

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Introduction - Beyond the “Standard Model” of the “Decriminalize Drugs” Argument

Since the 1930s, when Harry Anslinger led federal efforts to criminalize drugs through the

1937 Marijuana Tax Act, and then aggressively enforced prohibition under the Federal Bureau of

Narcotics (the precursor to the DEA), drug prohibition enforcement has been a staple of American

governance (Hari, 2016). Federal policy trickled down to state policy, claiming the harmful social

and public health impacts of drug use warrants an aggressive expansion of the “War on Drugs.”

With the notable exception of a short period in the 1970s where cannabis decriminalization was

pursued, state and federal governments have continued to enforce drug prohibition aggressively.

(Alexander, 2010). From its outset, with Anslinger conjuring fears of Mexican marijuana

intoxication, creating the threat of violence, and targeting Black jazz musicians with explicitly

racialized justification, the War on Drugs has had disproportionate impacts on racial minorities.

Despite making up approximately 30% of the nation's population, minorities make up 80% of

federal convictions on drug charges and 60% of state and local drug convictions (Drug Policy

Alliance, 2016). Despite this hyper incarceration, rates of addiction and drug crime have primarily

remained static despite the American prison population exploding by over 700% from 1970 to

2010 (Flatow, 2014). The impacts on communities of color have been expansive, and a full

accounting of the harmful effects are beyond the scope of this project.

Within the past 20 years, America's War on Drugs has faced a new development - the

expansion of a widespread “opioid epidemic” - which has swept the nation. While created by a

multitude of factors, the epidemic is largely seen as a confluence of economic malaise in broad

swaths of the country, especially Appalachia and the Southern United States; the massive

expansion of prescribed opioid-based painkillers such as Perdue Pharmaceuticals “oxycontin,” and

the availability of less expensive heroin from Mexico (Quinones, 2015). Unlike the cocaine

epidemic of the 1980s, this opioid epidemic produced a massive increase in overdose deaths,

including in white communities, which largely avoided the worst impacts (both addiction and

police crackdowns) of the cocaine panics of the 1980s and 1990s. Opioid overdose deaths have

more than quadrupled from 2000 to 2019 (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020). Visions of

young men and women withering away under the grip of opioid addiction shocked the nation,

leading many to wonder what radical interventions were needed to address this crisis.

These historical realities create the environment for what one could call the “standard

model” of drug decriminalization. This model is an intellectual intervention to the ideological

“common sense” powering of the previously established narrative around the War on Drugs. In a

nutshell, it might sound something like the following:

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“In the face of this wave of overdose deaths, and after decades of prodding from public

health officials, harm reduction activists, and concerned citizens nationwide, there is an

increasing focus on fundamentally reconceptualizing addiction and drug policy in

America, centering on shifting the issue of drug addiction from the criminal legal system

to an approach driven by public health. The current environment of criminalizing drug use

creates a chilling effect, deterring individuals from seeking treatment and even calling the

police when someone doses from fear of being criminalized for their addiction. Moreover,

the disruption of cycling in and out of jail prevents stability in terms of employment and

housing, which is necessary for individuals to effectively recover from addiction. Rather

than serving as an essential deterrent to addiction, it creates social disruption, which is

perpetuating the addiction crisis.

As opposed to viewing drug addiction as an issue of personal moral failing, drug addiction

should be viewed as a disease, met with treatment, not incarceration. Rather than spending

tens of thousands of dollars per year incarcerating individuals who were suffering from

drug addiction, a key driver in the expansion of the prison system, putting individuals in

treatment would save millions of dollars and allow individuals to return to being

productive members of society. Drugs should thus be decriminalized, with policy

implementation to be overseen by public health professionals, addiction treatment

specialists, researchers, and community advocates, allowing for a more compassionate,

evidence-based approach to drug policy to take shape. This might include centering

addiction responses on housing, opioid replacement treatment such as methadone and

suboxone, training police and other individuals on the delivery of overdose-reversing

agents like naloxone, and replace the criminal legal system with parallel institutions

specifically designed to address addicts, such as the “deferral commissions” pioneered by

Portugal, which should be modeled in the United States.”

This is the starting point for the vast majority of research on decriminalization produced by

mainstream academic and nonprofit institutions. As such, it is essential to start at this narrative to

explore its underlying assumptions and broader political implications.

On Methodology - The Eurocentric Nature of “Scientism” and African Centered Research


The question of methodology is perpetually overlooked and under-theorized in the context

of research. There are assumptions as to what constitutes “quality” research claims and how it

relates to the scientific focus on quantification and ostensible research objectivity. These

prerequisites are essential before interrogating any literature base.

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While the scientific method claims to seek universal knowledge through a system of

empirical validation, in reality, the cultural assumptions of those who build scientific institutions

impede the introduction of culturally specific ways of thinking into the paradigm. Morgan State

University professor Jerome Schiele discusses this in his critique of the concept of objectivity,


“...Although qualitative methods may do a better job at eliciting in-depth aspects of an

individual's or group's interpretation of the world than quantitative methods, qualitative

methods also are restricted in their ability to know and interpret human behavior. This is

partly because most current qualitative methods, similar to quantitative methods, share the

same underlying assumptions regarding knowledge/scientific inquiry that originate from

Eurocentric culture; they are as follows:

1. Human bias and emotion should be controlled, reduced, or eliminated in human inquiry.

2. There should be separate expectations for the observer and the observed, even if their

reciprocity is acknowledged. In other words, the observer and observed are usually viewed

as separate entities, often-times with mutually exclusive roles.

3. When collecting, processing, and coding information, phenomena should be reduced to

their simplest forms (i.e. reductionism).

4. Directly observable (i.e., material) phenomena are deemed the most legitimate forms of

reality. In other words, deemphasis is placed on unseen or spiritual aspects of reality.

5. Rational, linear, and dichotomous thinking are the primary modes through which human

behavior is understood and interpreted…” (Schiele, 2000)

The forms of thought that Schiele identifies links to notions of a rational, thinking subject with

links to European philosophy from René Descartes to classical liberal philosophers like John

Locke. Before we understand the implications these specific characteristics have for research of

drug decriminalization, it is vital that we:

1. Acknowledge that these differences are real and meaningful

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2. Understand that paradigmatic analysis asks you to view the content of research through the

lens of the cultural assumptions embedded in the research framework and the institutions

which produce and support researchers.

Methodology sets the parameters for what one is capable of envisioning in their research

project. Assumptions embedded within the researcher shapes the scope of research questions and

determines which forms of data collection and evaluation are likely to be pursued. Florida State

University professor Na’im Akbar analyses this within the context of psychology, writing :

The model determines the answers of your research in that it predetermines what will be

seen when the investigation begins. The questions predetermine the answers (Clark, et als,

1976). The method determines how to look. The method, predetermined by the model

dictates how the questions are going to be answered. The method is selected as an

instrument of the pre-established model. Contrary to the usually more objective view of

research methodology the emphasis here is that the model precedes the search determined

by the qualities pursued and it is selected to identify those qualities to the exclusion of other

sets of qualities. Scientific methodology is only one such instrument of pursuit. The

modality determines the expression of implementation of what the method has identified.

Structured by a model, guided by a method, the modality becomes the particular form or

matter of expression to be determined by the research investigation. Given this progression

both the questions and answers of the research agenda are actually predetermined by the

paradigm. (Akbar, 2003).

An example from the medical world can help emphasize how these insights work in function. One

well known example of the scientific process reflecting cultural bias relates to American slavery

and the medicalization and pathologization of the agency of people of African descent by an

ostensibly “objective” scientific establishment. University of Nevada - Las Vegas professor

Harriet Washington notes that doctors often diagnosed slaves who ran away from the plantation

with the disease of drapetomania, or an irrational desire to wander or walk away from the captivity

(Washington, 2015). As a solution, slave owners distributed “prescriptions” of “10 drops of

rawhide”, or ten lashes, as well as continued infantilization of slaves to “cure” drapetomania.

Many would counter that this is a perversion of the scientific process. They would argue

that contemporary scientific research disproves the reality of biological racism, dispelling these

sorts of myths and proving the objectivity of science and the value of the methodology. The truth

of the treatment of Black people in the medical world disproves this assertion. University of Texas-

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Austin professor John Hoberman writes in his book Black and Blue that medicalized racism

against Black people continues to be pervasive and precisely reflects assumptions around Black

patients, which are linked to slavery. Black patients are often prescribed less pain medication, with

research showing this stems from an assumption among medical providers that Black patients are

more likely to abuse drugs and also that they feel less pain. 2 out of 10 doctors said they believed

Black patients have “thicker skin” than whites, a trope which links back to slavery and the belief

that Blacks had a hardier constitution and resistance to mosquito bites which made them uniquely

suited for hard labor in the South (ibid). Thus, it is the doctors, individuals who should be the most

immune from bias with their extensive scientific training, who seem to be propagating some of the

worst examples of racism. Finally, the psychological or even spiritual suffering many Black

Americans face dealing with racism is often completely ignored by medical practitioners. Medical

practitioners continue to falsely pathologize Black coping mechanisms such as overeating,

smoking, or drug use as “personal failures” needing medical intervention; instead of the

manifestations of deep historical oppression requiring more comprehensive solutions.

A more in-depth examination of Hoberman’s analysis shows that these deficits in

understanding are linked to some of the traits of eurocentric scientific study, which Schiele

isolates. As opposed to ignoring race, Hoberman found that medical programs often pursued

extremely perfunctory, individual-based discussions of racism, which stressed Schiele’s point

about checking individual bias. As a result of the failure of these programs to engage in substantive

analysis of the structural reality of racism, many doctors boiled these discussions down to

simplistic notions of not harboring explicitly negative beliefs around racial minorities. This

allowed the implicit manifestations of racism to go unchecked, as many of these medicalized

manifestations were not necessarily solely based upon negative bias by the medical professors but

also their attempts to establish patterns out of what they see as “objective” empirical observations

on patients of different races. This shows the dangers of the “reductionism” that Scheile discusses.

Moreover, it ignores a consistent factor discussed throughout Hobernman’s work - the poor

communication between Black patients and white doctors. Studies have shown doctors often

lecture to Black patients, talk more slowly to them, and show a general pattern of infantilization

or an enhanced belief that Black patients are more likely to be “non-compliant” (Hoberman, 2012,

Nittle, 2020). This shows the flaw of the Eurocentric totem of valuing seemingly objective

“empiricism.” Black patients often don’t trust white doctors, meaning they are usually not entirely

honest with them about their fears, pain, or symptoms. Black patients are less likely to complain

about pain to white doctors because they don’t trust they will understand and maybe even fear that

they are “drug-seeking” or will be seen as being improperly differential to medical authority. This

silence leads some white doctors to believe “objectively” that Blacks feel less pain because they

talk about it less than their white patients (ibid). These failures relate not only to these doctors not

having enough data, or the “science” being done incorrectly but at a fundamental level, the frame

being applied is flawed and needs to be fundamentally questioned. While this example addresses

the broader medical system, it clearly challenges the notion that shifting the structure of addiction

research from the criminal legal system to the medical system is inherently positive.

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While it is seductive to chalk these epistemic limitations up to pure human nature, research

shows the history of how these ideas of “scientific objectivity” and “universalism” mirror the

history of western imperial control. Former Hunter College professor Marimba Ani uses the

philosophy of John Stewart Mill to make a more significant point around the very concept of

“social science” as an attempt to bring the scientific method to the social world as inherently an

act of control and an effort to leverage science as a tool of power. Ani writes:

“Formidable minds were committed to the task of imparting “objectivity" and

“universality” to Western social science… For Mill the inability to predict human behavior

has nothing to do with a qualitative difference between the social and the natural or the

physical. His conclusion in this regard is not influenced by a recognition of the human

spirit, but is rather based on what he thinks is a quantitative complexity of causal factors,

but the desire to predict and to control (the uncontrollable European need to order)

compels him to apply the “scientific method“ to social phenomena. And so on the level of

theory, that is, superficially, sociology becomes, at best, a collection of insignificant

descriptive generalizations, which reflect and encourage a dehumanizing concept of

human nature, characteristic of the culture in which the discipline was created. Its

epistemological purpose is to give Europeans a feeling of intellectual control that they do

not have, in an area that they do not understand. Something else is happening here. The

ideology of progress (while on seemingly sound footing when applied to the arena of

technology), when viewed critically, reveals the ineptness of Europeans in the social,

psychological, moral and spiritual spheres. Europeans needed to be able to “prove“ to

themselves and others that they also represented the epitome of moral and social progress.

It is for this reason that the edifice of European social science was constructed. Most

importantly this “social science“ provides a vehicle for the exportation of European

ideology by giving Europeans the “right“ to speak for all people.” (Ani, 1994)

While recognizing the complexity of human beings fighting abstract science, Mills feels compelled

to apply the scientific method to social relations, an act which Ani sees as a diminution of the

human spirit and furthermore a culturally specific desire to acquire the right to speak for other

cultures through the lens of these superior “objective” social sciences. The inability to truly

capture the complexity of human social relationships in social science renders much of social

science, for Ani, “a collection of insignificant generalizations''. While this may seem harsh, one

need only look to the history of addiction studies to see how this theory may help explain what can

only be described as the morass of often contradictory and ineffective explanations for addiction

in the literature. Despite the standard model describing addiction as a disease which is ripe for

scientific management by public health professionals, the social realities of addiction have

continued to frustrate researchers attempting to apply traditional scientific methods to this

“disease”. Bruce Alexander, the Canadian addiction researcher known for his “rat park”

experiments, comments on how the social and spiritual nature of addiction frustrates attempts to

apply traditional scientific methodology to the disease, writing:

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“The mysterious transformation of ordinary people into drug addicts urgently requires

explanation. Fortunately, addiction is well suited to theoretical analysis because it refers

to a single recognisable phenomenon, whatever drug is involved, including alcohol.

Unfortunately, however, analysis of addiction is hindered by the secretiveness of addicts,

because drug addictions are socially abhorrent or illegal. People in this situation have

many reasons to lie to authorities. It is perhaps for this reason that theories of addiction

are so often drawn from research on laboratory rats, an aspect of current scholarship

that—I predict—future generations will find hilarious…

Since the 19th century, however, the conventional wisdom has consistently viewed

addiction as maladaptive and explained it with malign hidden causes like loss of will power

to ‘addictive drugs’, unconscious fixations of the libido, deficiencies in the brain reward

system, neural sensitisation to the reinforcing effects of drugs, and genes for addiction—

or some combination of these. But theories based on these hidden causes have failed to

generate either a generally believable account of addiction or anything more than

marginally effective forms of therapy. A reasonable conclusion after more than a century

of frustrated searching for the hidden underlying disorder is that it does not exist. Addiction

is, in fact, not maladaptive for growing numbers of people under the dislocating conditions

of our era. There is no underlying disorder. Although only dislocated people become

addicted, many severely dislocated people

live and die in ways that cannot be called ‘addiction’ without stretching the word too thin.

Many of them ‘get by’ by dint of admirable resolution and a little help from their friends.

Others may become depressed, suicidal, apathetic, murderous, or mentally erratic, rather

than addicted. Thus, dislocation is a necessary, but not sufficient, cause of addiction.

As psychosocial integration is a fundamental human need, and free-market society, by its

nature, produces mass dislocation at all times (not just during times of collapse), and as

addiction is the predominant way of adapting to dislocation, addiction is endemic and

spreading fast. Free-market society can no more be addiction-free than it can be free of

intense competition, income disparity, environmental destruction, unequal access to lifesaving

medical care, or dishonest business practices. There can be no ‘technical fix’ or

‘market solution’ for problems that are built into the structure of society itself. Instead,

today’s society must either modify its free-market structure enough to keep its side effects

under control or watch these side effects continue to spread.” (Alexander, Bruce, 2010).

Ani explains how social science reflects a technocentric vision of material progress, and Alexander

explains how our contemporary addiction crisis is linked to the loss of psychosocial integration

this “free market society” produces. If this is true, it is essential that we not use the scientific

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paradigms and tools created by the social sciences of a “free market society” to attempt to solve

the problems this society produces (i.e., addiction).

Alternative Methodologies - African American Research Paradigms

While the tenants of the research Schiele outlines may represent the tenants of the dominant

methodology of scientific research, it is not the only paradigm available. Here we can begin to

analyze what I call African Centered Research Paradigms. I use this specific term as it is inclusive

of multiple different ways of describing research methodologies guided by the culture, knowledge

production practices, and experiences of people of African descent. As there is diversity within

African peoples, there are multiple different Black scholars with different versions of what could

be called African Centered Research Paradigms. The goal here is not to attempt to parse one from

the other meticulously but to take a general conceptual understanding of what the paradigms bring

to the research process and what general characteristics reflect researchers using these

methodologies. One additional note on terminology, many scholars use the term “Afrocentric” to

describe these practices, including many who will be cited in this report. As this term is used

increasingly to describe the specific methods of research produced by Temple University professor

Molefi Asante and his academic disciples, we feel it is more accurate to use the term “African

Centered” to reflect the diversity of scholars beyond those directly affiliated with Asante and

Temple University.

Na’im Akbar outlines the tenants of what he calls the African American Research Paradigm

(i.e. AARP), a process where the author attempts to proceed through four distinct research phrases

to produce knowledge explicitly in the service of liberation. Akbar writes:

“The second issue of methodology is the "how" or types of research procedures that

appropriately address the model. There are four (4) general types of research which are

most relevant to an African American paradigm: (1) theoretical, (2) critique of falsification

(deconstruction) research, (3) ethnographic, and (4) heuristic (construction or

reconstruction) research.

Theoretical research is for the purpose of generating questions. Theory development grows

from self-reflective observation and the introspective analysis of ones (collective)

experiences. No data beyond ones subjective and affective appraisal of the observer's

experience are necessary. This is not unlike the procedure for the ground breaking and

paradigm-setting work of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, William James, B.F. Skinner and the

vast array of luminaries in all fields of social science research who never produced a

control group while laying the corner- stone for Western thought. Once a logically

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coherent and systematic theory is in place, then one elaboration may be to raise questions

that may require empirical answers. The empirical question is neither necessary nor

sufficient as evidence for the validity of theory. Considering the conspicuous absence of

introspection and self-study within the context of the appropriate worldview for African

people, then it would seem that empirical questions would be premature in the absence of

theoretical base from which to generate such questions.

Curtis Banks (1980) has identified "deconstructive" or falsification research as another

type of research. Such research is concerned with an analysis of the construct validity of

traditional research. The falsification researcher is concerned with demonstrating the

fallacy of the inferences and the methodological distortions of that traditional research.

This is a process beginning to undo the kinds of destructive inferences about African

Americans such as we have described above that emanated from traditional research.

Falsification research involves both theoretical dismantling as well as empirical rebuttal.

Ethnographic research is probably the only authentic form of empirical research that is

appropriate for this point in our scientific method of development. This approach permits

the researcher, having passed the “Relationship [Research] Index” (Sowande, 1971) to

observe black people where they are and to try fulfilling the criteria of a worker within the

African paradigm who can begin to identify those characteristics of Black people that are

most fruitful in the light of our research model. Rather than cataloging deficiencies of

Black people, the ethnographer researcher can identify those strengths and self affirmative

patterns that have facilitated our growth.

Finally, heuristic research offers the bridge to our discussion of modalities. This research

follows from the ethnographic research in that it begins to articulate culturally adaptive

styles and begins to demonstrate the benefits, which come from adapting that style. The

objective of this research is to fortify those structures that have been demonstrated to be

beneficial to the survival and advancement of Black people. If tests are to be used, what

kinds of tests would be most appropriate in identifying those qualities that have emerged

as valuable and effective for survival from the ethnographic research. (Akbar, 2003).

While named the “African American” research paradigm by Akbar, this 4 part methodology is a

good starting point for an emancipatory research methodology for individuals of any race.

Theoretical research does not take into account the existing research in the field. In contrast,

deconstruction research attempts to question the underlying assumptions behind existing research,

with an understanding that in a society structured by racism/white supremacy, no research can

extricate itself from reflecting the cultural bias of the researchers and is used in some way,

according to Ani, as a tool to help strengthen the existing system of power. Ethnographic research

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is both an attempt to account for the researcher's cultural background and potential bias, and also

an account of the cultural characteristics of the groups of people being studied. This goes beyond

a “strength-based” perspective that sees culture as a system that can help us understand how to

interpret behavior and to predict how different interventions and proposals might function.

The research index is particularly important, as it challenges notions of scientific

“objectivity”. Many scholars within the dominant scientific tradition have tried to account for the

bias of individual researchers, but, like Hoberman’s discussion on the limits of sensitivity training

of doctors, the argument is not simply that the individual researcher has some bias, but that the

process and methodology of scientific inquiry imbeds bias into the process. Schiele cites both

Akbar and Ani in his critique of the concept of objectivity, writing:

“The Afrocentric paradigm posits that since research or knowledge inquiry is a "people

made" activity, it, as with additional human creations and activities, is influenced by, and

imbued with, human values (Akbar, 1994; Asante, 1990; Semmes, 1981). These values not

only influence the process of a particular knowledge inquiry and development paradigm

but also shape the very structure and philosophical tenets that undergird the process.

Unlike the positivist/post-positivist paradigm, the Afrocentric paradigm does not posit the

superiority or hierarchy of methods. The Afrocentric paradigm rejects Kerlinger's (1979)

assertion that "procedures of science are objective—not the scientist" (p. 264), because

this exaggerates methodology's power to remove subjectivity from knowledge inquiry and

development. Methods are developed by people, and the Afrocentric paradigm contends

that all knowledge inquiry methods are subjective, reflecting the ideas about knowledge

inquiry and development held by their creators.

The Afrocentric paradigm also repudiates Popper's (1972) notion that objectivity is a

system of organized/mutual critique—that science is objective because of the willingness

of the scientist to have his or her work critiqued by colleagues. Although Popper (1969)

contends that it is rare for the social scientist to be value free, he still implies, similar to

Kerlinger, that objectivity lies in some sort of method (in his case, the critical method),

thus again separating the method from the people who create and subscribe to it. The

notion that the critical thinking method in some way suspends the scientist's values while

the scientist forms a critique is unfounded, Afrocentrically. Although the critical thinking

method appears to be value neutral because of its focus on identifying the pros and cons

of an idea, all critiques are permeated with the philosophical and ideological preferences

of the evaluator. Furthermore, critical analysis is itself a value, in that it demonstrates the

preference for a more subdued form of debate: by identifying the pros and cons of an idea

uneffusively, one is misled into believing that one's assessment of the idea is objective or

at least fair. At the core of the Afrocentric vision that knowledge inquiry and development

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are value laden is the belief that objectivity is an illusion (Akbar,1984; Ani, 1994). It is

believed to be illusionary because Afrocentricity disagrees with the notion of

objectification, the belief that the knower should, and can, emotionally detach himself or

herself from that which he or she is attempting to know—even if the targeted entities are

humans and their social environments. This, of course, nurtures the well-discussed

"subject/object" duality. From an Afrocentric viewpoint, this duality is inappropriate

because "in the pure Africanized worldview of the unity of [people] and the phenomenal

world, there is no empty perceptual space between the self and phenomena" (Dixon, 1976,

p. 70). Further, this duality fosters and reinforces a process of knowing that is sterile and

incomplete.” (Schiele, 2000).

Schiele argues the those who attempt to resurrect the notion of scientific objectivity confuse the

perceived ability to detach their emotions from research and focus on data as proof of their

objectivity, where in reality their belief that they can separate themselves from the world around

them is an illusion and fundamentally misconstrues the ability of the subject to exist outside of the

world, and other people. The idea of the thinking subject to be able to transcend the influences of

the world, to create themselves as an autonomous being of pure logic, goes back to the famous

statement of philosopher Rene Descartes “I think therefore I am.” Scholars of African descent have

often countered this view of rational, autonomous subjectivity with a notion of collective subject,

with the human subject coming into being through their reciprocal relationships with others, often

expressed through the notion of “Ubuntu” and the phrase “I am because we are”. This seemingly

academic distinction reflects a deep divide between two different systems of thought, with the

AARP challenging the researcher's ability to separate themselves from their research and forcing

them to take accountability for how their research interacts with the world.

This is important because the critical 4th stage of Akbar’s AARP, heuristic research,

suggests that research findings should be applied to make recommendations for what should be

done to materially improve conditions for the oppressed. While the dominant vision of research

views knowledge in and of itself as a laudable goal and seeks to turn research findings into grist

for the mill of scientific progress (i.e., more research), the AARP says explicitly research findings

should be used to recommend changes to the world. This is often seen as outside the scope of the

academic’s role, which is to produce knowledge that others may use to recommend political

interventions, but to be involved directly in advocating policy changes would violate scientific

notions of “objectivity.” AARP recognizes that objectivity and the notion that the researcher

should be morally separated from the applications and ramifications of their research is false and

obscures the responsibility the researcher has to use research as a tool to address the material

conditions of oppression. This is not to say emancipatory research has the trust, or capability, to

eliminate white supremacy, but that it has its own role to play in the struggle for liberation.

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Just as the dominant mode of scientific inquiry can be seen as reflecting specific cultural

traits, evaluations of research paradigms for people of African descent can be seen as reflecting

the cultural traditions of African people. This is not to say these traditions are superior to any

others, but that they have been under valued within academic institutions which have tacitly valued

research methodologies which reflect the previously discussed Eurocentric values of “objectivity’,

“reductionism”, technophilia, and subject/object dualism. In his explanation of what he calls the

Afrocentric social work research paradigm (there is diversity even amongst African Centered

Research Paradigms) Schiele contrasts a view of progressivism - the assumed notion of liberar

progress through progressive scientific method vigorously testing methodologies and data claims,

discarding the inferior ones and progressively picking the “best”, with an African centered visions

which respects the possibility of ancient wisdom and rejects the dichotomous concept of

knowledge. He writes:

“In Afrocentric social work research, tradition and consensus are key elements. Horton

(1993) maintains that knowledge development tends to be "traditionalistic" and

"consensual" within the African framework. According to Horton (1993), a traditionalistic

and consensual concept of knowledge development is one in which (1) the major precepts

of a community's knowledge are thought to have been developed and handed down by the

ancients, and (2) theorizing is carried out in a way that accentuates the commonalities,

notwithstanding differences, among diverse ideas. In contrast, a progressivistic and

competitive concept of knowledge development is one wherein (1) knowledge is seen as a

process of gradual but steady improvement (i.e., future knowledge is thought to be better

than present knowledge and present knowledge to be better than past knowledge) , and (2)

the generation and advancement of ideas takes on a competitive character in which various

theories compete aggressively to demonstrate their superiority over rival theories in

explaining and predicting social and human phenomena.

If Horton (1993) is correct about the Afrocentric paradigm's focus on tradition and

consensus in the knowledge development process, then that focus might be based on at

least three assumptions:

1. Knowledge that stands the test of time is worthy of continuation (Horton, 1993). This

adage advances the belief that much of what we need to know today about human behavior

can be found in the wisdom of the ancients. It asserts that for knowledge to be valid, it must

endure the ultimate test of time. Time is essential because it is through the repetitious use

of ideas by various groups across generations that the validity of ideas can be adequately

assessed. If ideas have been useful for past generations, it is suggested that they are, and

will be, relevant for present and future generations. This is in contrast to what Horton

(1993) refers to as the "progressivistic" feature of knowledge development in the West (i.e.,

knowledge is seen as a process of gradual but steady improvement).

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2. African ancients—especially those of the Nile Valley—are thought to have possessed

supreme wisdom because their objective was to generate knowledge that would enable

people to tap into the complete, positive potentiality given to them by the Creator (Akbar,

1994; Asante, 1990; Diop, 1991; Karenga, 1989; Van Sertima, 1989). By cultivating the

beliefs that humans have great potential to tap into the spirit and essence of the Creator

and that science should not be separated from this pursuit, the African ancients are thought

to have possessed the moral ingredients for creating a society wherein human interactions

and ideals are undergirded by mutual respect, a concern for collective well-being,

spirituality, and a striving toward excellence.

3. Each idea or theory uniquely adds to a different understanding of the totality of the

human experience. Afrocentric social work research asserts that no one theory is, or can

be, robust enough to explain all or most dimensions of social and human phenomena.

Rather, theories are conceived as uniquely different ways in which social and human

phenomena can be described and explained. They are unique in that they reflect

interpretations held by one individual or a cadre of like-minded individuals.

Each theory serves to contribute a unique piece of understanding that can be used to

construct a complete picture of social life that limits or prevents knowledge hegemony.

(Schiele, 2000).

Scheile’s analysis is essential, as it addresses an assumption that often props up around African

centered research paradigms. They do not seek to replace the hegemony of eurocentric models of

research with their own orthodoxy and perspectives, instead, the African research paradigm seeks

to balance knowledge by incorporating often overlooked aspects. This reflects another distinction

often noted between eurocentric and African centered thought systems. The eurocentric scientific

method assumes a dichotomous and competitive vision of knowledge creation, where ideas are

locked in mortal combat and through objective experimentation and analysis. The better idea wins,

and the inferior ideas are relegated to the dustbin of history. This might make some sense to

scientific inquiry in fields like astronomy, where for some questions (such as the debate between

the heliocentric or geocentric vision of the planetary system) there can only be one correct answer.

As Ani notes, applying this methodology from material sciences to the social sciences obscures

the complexity and humanity and the nature of racism that impacts our view of social sciences.

Moreover, it ignores the political implications of even so-called objective, “hard” science, such as

the heliocentric universe being attributed by many solely to the Greeks even though there is

substantial cultural intermixing between Egypt and Ancient Greece, as well as often overlooked

evidence that the heliocentric theory traces it roots to Ancient Egypt (Van Sertima, 1999). In

contrast to this, African systems of thought are often seen as diunital, seeking to unite disparate

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concepts and find the truth embedded in them rather than assume contrasting ideas are

diametrically opposed.

It is crucial, along these lines, that we delineate the critical (“deconstructive”) components

of African centered research paradigms from “critical” research paradigms produced within the

“critical theory” tradition. A vital part of the distinction is centered around the heuristic component

of the research. Rather than recognizing the contingency and power relations behind so-called

“objective” knowledge claims as an end in itself, as the Critical Theory often attempts with

rhetorical analysis, it is a materialist paradigm which seeks to undermine not only oppressive

systems but the very systems of thought which make this oppression possible. As Schiele notes:

“...the Afrocentric paradigm endeavors to foster what Foucault (1977) calls the

insurrection of subjugated knowledges. The Afrocentric paradigm is a form of knowledge

insurrection in that it challenges interpretations of people of African descent that stem from

groups who benefit from the oppression of people of African ancestry and advocates that

these interpretations emerge from the narratives of black people themselves. However,

unlike some from the postmodernist camp (see, for example,Bauman, 1992; Lyotard, 1984;

Seidman, 1994), the Afrocentric paradigm does not view the affirmation of a subjugated

group's narrative as an end in itself. The Afrocentric paradigm is materialist in that it

endeavors to validate the narratives of people of African descent not only for psychological

(i.e., self-esteem) and scientific (i.e., knowledge validation) reasons but also to change the

political and economic conditions faced by people of African descent. Knowledge

insurrection within the Afrocentric perspective defies Eurocentric universalism and strives

to abolish the material conditions and consequences of racial and cultural oppression.

Similar to those within the ranks of the Frankfurt School (see Habermas, 1971;

Horkheimer and Adorno 1994; Marcuse, 1964), the Afrocentric view of social work

research, and by extension social theory, merges social change activities with those of

knowledge inquiry and development.

Unlike the proponents of "Critical Theory," the Afrocentric paradigm does not limit its

social change activities to the elimination of a specific economic system with its

accompanying ideology, although this is important. Rather, the Afrocentric paradigm

aspires to eliminate the underlying worldview that creates the need for such an exploitative

system in the first place.

In essence, Afrocentric social work research encourages humans to become more at one

with the Creator and the universe. This "oneness with nature and God" cosmology is

thought to bring about respect and appreciation for all aspects of nature—including human

beings—both for the common aspects and the different ones, and is believed to preclude

the exploitative behavior that accompanies oppression (Schiele, 1994). In this regard,

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Afro-centric social work research generates knowledge to enhance the potential of people

and societies to behave morally and in ways congruent with the belief in the oneness of the

universe and humanity.” (Schiele, 2000).

This is important to note, as the intellectual innovations created by people of African descent are

too often seen as iterative or reflective of some previously established European theorists or

thought traditions, rather than deserving respect as a wholly unique and distinct contribution to


This raises the critical point that research should not only be evaluated by its specific

claims, but also through the ideological and rhetorical justifications used to justify these claims.

These claims have serious implications from the perspective of African Centered Research

paradigms, as they impact the underlying thought systems readers take away from the research.

From the standpoint of African Centered Research paradigms, this is essential, as it implicates the

heuristic value of the study if the justifications behind the findings undermine the emancipatory

values of the recommendations. For example, an analysis of drug policy might argue that addiction

should be treated as a public health issue because Black communities are incapable of producing

alternatives to the underground economy, and thus decriminalizing drugs should reflect a realistic

approach to contemporary urban poverty. This would be seen by many as positive, as it seeks to

address the material suffering caused by hyper incarceration and addiction. However, it would

ignore that Black communities are, of course, not incapable of producing alternatives to the

underground economy, but instead politically starved of the resources needed to create these

alternatives. This replicates the previously stated fallacy of taking existing information as

“objectively” true without understanding the social, historical, and structural conditions behind

these “facts.” It also fails to accomplish the stated role of challenging the underlying assumptive

logic behind these systems of inequity, which, in this example, would be to focus on the underlying

conditions leading to addiction in under-resourced black communities and to study the positive,

productive capacities of individuals who use selling illegal drugs as a means of survival and

economic empowerment. Importantly, this does not mean that any of the negative social impacts

of addiction or violence stemming from the drug trade is ignored. Rather it suggests that the

research around drug decriminalization takes these issues into account from the lens of using the

history and culture of the people impacted by these issues into account both in terms of explaining

these issues and offering recommendations for how to address them.

This example helps show how these paradigmatic considerations are not merely questions

of fairness, but strong influences on the sorts of questions that researchers ask, the methods they

use, and the conclusion they come to. Using Akabr’s African American Research Paradigm, this

section could be seen as theoretical research and deconstructive research at a meta-level, seeking

to analyze many of the characteristics of the dominant research paradigm, expose their limitations,

present alternative research paradigms and provide examples of how they may be applied. The

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next section will seek to apply these theoretical and deconstructive research methodologies to the

specifics of the drug decriminalization literature.

Part II. Literature Review: Drug Decriminalization Analysed through an African Centered

Research Paradigm

Remembering what we have established as a frame of analysis, it is reasonable to assume

that deconstructive research can be applied specifically to the literature on drug decriminalization.

In keeping with the previously established notion of fundamentally challenging the

ideological suppositions behind policy analysis, it is essential to start a study of drug

decriminalization by analyzing how research comes to explain and understand the War on Drugs.

As previously discussed, there is a common explanation of the harms of the War On Drugs,

which is often used to justify drug decriminalization. Understanding the cultural biases embedded

in these explanations, the limitations of how these narratives are produced is essential to find where

an emancipatory research project could add new and productive insights to the literature.

A Synopsis of the “Standard model” on explaining the harm of the War on Drugs is

reflected in the joint Human Rights Watch Report entitled “Every 25 Seconds”:

“Every 25 seconds in the United States, someone is arrested for the simple act of

possessing drugs for their personal use, just as Neal and Nicole were. Around the country,

police make more arrests for drug possession than for any other crime.

And despite officials’ claims that drug laws are meant to curb drug sales, four times as

many people are arrested for possessing drugs as are arrested for selling them.

As a result of these arrests, on any given day at least 137,000 men and women are behind

bars in the United States for drug possession, some 48,000 of them in state prisons and

89,000 in jails, most of the latter in pretrial detention. Each day, tens of thousands more

are convicted, cycle through jails and prisons, and spend extended periods on probation

and parole, often burdened with crippling debt from court-imposed fines and fees. Their

criminal records lock them out of jobs, housing, education, welfare assistance, voting, and

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much more, and subject them to discrimination and stigma. The cost to them and to their

families and communities, as well as to the taxpayer, is devastating. Those impacted are

disproportionately communities of color and the poor.” (Human Rights Watch, 2016).

Here we can use the findings of our theoretical research to understand the logic behind why the

writers of this report believe this framing would be persuasive to its audience. First, they claim

that our enforcement system is excessive, with an extreme focus on arrest and conviction (every

25 seconds). This appeals to the reader's sense of rationality and logic: even if drugs were a

problem, isn’t the idea of someone being arrested every 25 seconds too much? There is a definite

appeal to the reader's sense of being able to evaluate risks rationally and judge the dangers of drug

use are outweighed by the dangers of hyper-incarceration. It appeals to a reader who might view

quantification as a critical part of the persuasive argument and dedicates substantial space to

providing the reader with the statistics on incarceration. Similarly, why hyper incarceration is seen

as wrong is framed through the lens of individual liberty. While harms to the community are

mentioned, the primary focus is on the harm to the individual, including debt and denial of critical

resources. This can be read as attempting to establish empathy with the reader, asking them to

imagine being cut off from all these essential services and subjecting them to discrimination and

stigma. Finally, the reader is told this hyper-incarceration does not work and is even causing harm

to the reader by not deterring drug sales and wasting valuable tax money. The reader is thus tacitly

posited as a taxpayer who wonders why their resources are spent on a policy that clearly does not

work and causes so much harm.

Now that we have analyzed some of the underlying assumptions behind the “standard

model” of interpreting the harm of the War On Drugs, we can begin to apply a critical lens to this

argument. First, we can question the focus on the individual. As previously expressed in the

discussion of the distinction between the individual rational “cogito” subject versus the collective

“ubuntu” subject of African centered thought, focusing on the personal impacts of the War On

Drugs risks obscuring its collective implications. Consequently, a larger, historical understanding

of the War On Drugs stems from a desire to control specific racialized populations. Todd Clear in

book Imprisoning Community denotes how targeted hyper-incarceration, primarily driven by the

War on Drugs, has undermined the capacity of communities to develop civil society institutions

that could create meaningful alternatives to the street economy. This creates conditions for more

crime, thus more policing, further undermining community civil society institutions. Hyperincarceration

doesn't just hurt people; it locks entire communities into cycles of violence which

secure in perpetual violence, a perspective which risks being obscured with a focus on individual

liberty. Moreover, the specific form of liberty used in the standard narrative reflects a “negative”

view of freedom. Negative freedom, freedom from government constraint of individual behavior,

is often contrasted with a “positive” view of liberty, as in establishing an affirmative right for

individuals and communities to have the resources they need to flourish and the autonomy to

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decide how to use them for themselves. While the Human Rights Watch would seem to affirm a

more positive view of freedom discussing the denial of critical social services, it does not establish

a positive right to be free from hunger, poverty, or miseducation. It merely suggests inclusion into

existing institutions which themselves are woefully inadequate. This is a critical bit of ideological

work, where even the ostensibly radical position of decriminalizing drugs ultimately affirms the

right of individuals to not have drug use exclude them from the current political order. But it fails

to inherently seek to challenge the existing order. It furthers an inability to create conditions of

positive freedom, human rights, and self-determination for oppressed individuals and


Finally, the core assumption behind the narrative on the harm of the War on Drugs assumes

that the reader will be able to use a rational, objective critique of the excesses of hyper incarceration

to make political change. This implies that the core assumptions guiding the construction of the

contemporary War on Drugs are a rational desire to address the perceived dangers of drug use,

which has simply spiraled out of control due to the ignorance of voters and lawmakers. Scholars

of the War on Drugs challenge this notion, explaining that it is not merely that the War on Drugs

was inaugurated and supported by racist assumptions, but rather that drugs serve a critical social

function at the core of affirming the very civilization project of the West. In a Western society

which prioritizes rational as the condition of possibility for the community, scholars have argued

that the fear of drug intoxication reflects a concern of the “rational” west reverting society to a

violent “state of nature,” with irrational, racialized “others'' threatening the very fabric of civilized

society. This concept fundamentally challenges much of the assumptive logic of the research on

the War on Drugs and drug decriminalization. It will be foundational in setting racism and antiblackness

at the core of this paper’s subsequent finding. Birkbeck School of Law professor Kojo

Karam is quoted at length in attempting to provide context for this argument:

“To appreciate the social function of the concept of drugs helps us to understand the moral

panic that they engender and why their prohibition often takes the form of reinforcing the

old colour line now ostensibly discredited within liberal political discourse. Drugs are not

seen as mere plant life in the manner that they appear in nature, nor are they seen as

commodities, as natural resources to be exploited for capitalist gain. Drugs are instead

discursively produced as ‘transgressive substances’, elements of the natural world that can

call upon the negation of the characteristics that define ‘humanity’. As Desmond

Manderson argues, the fear of drugs is not merely the fear of the substances themselves;

rather, ‘what lies beneath is undoubtedly a fear of contamination’, a fear of the failed state

of humanity they are commonly read as bringing about. Drugs are taken to facilitate

movement between different states of being, transferring consumers from the realm of the

human to the non- human. The contemporary conceptualization of drugs takes much from

the classical notion of pharmakon, which Derrida recovers to describe the discursive

process for how difference is produced. The pharmakon facilitates ‘the movement and the

play … (soul/body, good/evil, inside/outside, memory/forgetfulness, speech/writing, etc.)’

threatening any notion of ‘internal purity and security’ within a social order. Furthermore,

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unlike the nineteenth-century notion of scientific racism, drugs are not presumed to impact

only those who are afflicted; a key element to grasp in order to appreciate the fear that

underwrites drug prohibition is to understand that prohibitionists see a mimetic or

contagious power within drugs. The fear that drugs might consume the subject who

themselves sought to consume the drug is not only a fear of the damage drugs might cause

to that specific consumer but that this damage will spread amongst the other members of

the community. The fear of these drugs is that they threaten the stability of the social order

as a whole, functioning as what Stanley Cohen termed as the societal folk-devil, spreading

the addiction amongst the whole community. David Courtwright states that ‘absent the

idea of addiction, the whole system of controlling drug supply that has developed over the

last two centuries would make little moral or practical sense.’ I would add to this that an

understanding of the fear that drug addiction causes, and importantly spreads, the

denigration of an idealized figure of the human is necessary to understand why the drug

laws have persisted despite the devastation they have brought upon already oppressed

peoples. Early drug prohibition campaigns in the US at the start of the twentieth century

found much of their success through equating particular drugs with particular groups of

racial others – opium with Chinese labourers, marijuana with Mexican migrants, etc. The

US’s earliest recorded drug law, the 1875 City Ordinance Against Opium Dens passed in

San Francisco, was a law produced on ‘strictly ethnic grounds’, aimed against ‘Chinese

immigrants’ practice of smoking opium’ and fuelled by a popular media obsessed with

‘images of “yellow fiends” debauching white women and the youth of the nation’.

Particularly relevant is the way in which the threat of these drugs was seen as not merely

contained to the communities of the racial others, the real danger was how they could spill

out into White communities. In short, drugs as ‘transgressive substances’ are read as

having the power to transform even the most rational, autonomous, enlightened and

sovereign European ‘maninto the lazy, violent, depraved figure of the sub-human. The

correlative response to this fear is the aim of expelling these ‘drugs’ from the collective

social order, along with those who might be addicted or particularly susceptible to an

addiction to these substances. The metaphysical quality read into drugs is easily

transferred into the very material bodies of those already traditionally constructed as being

a threat to the boundaries of humanity: racially othered populations.

Sociologist and cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard adds a further element to this argument

with his own reading of how indebted the fear of ‘drugs’ is to a Weberian conception of

the economic and social good in western society. For Baudrillard, the West arrogates onto

itself a specific capacity for delayed gratification and it is this capacity taken to underlie

presumptions of civilization. The condemnation of drugs therefore functions as a stand-in

for the fear of the threat of the loss of that capacity for delayed gratification, the defeat of

reason and the will, at the hand of the appetite in Aristotelian terms. Baudrillard argues

that ‘traces of this long-standing condemnation linger on in our own vision of modern

drugs and of the occult power they derive from their ancient symbolic virtues.’ As opposed

to the ‘evil’ of drug addiction residing in the drug itself and infecting western modernity

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from the outside, Baudrillard shows us how the ‘evil’ is instead a consequence of the very

logic of the system, of the excessive logic and rationality of a system – in this case society

in the Industrialized countries – which, having reached a certain level of saturation,

secretes antibodies which express its internal diseases, its strange malfunctions, its

unforeseeable and incurable breakdowns.

Within the discourse of European modernity, where the social relations between subjects

is presumed to be fully secularized and consequently solely mediated through mutual

recognition of each other’s humanity, the fear has been that ‘drug use threatens the social

bond’ and summons up the spectre of the sub-human that persists within.” (Karam, 2019).

The implications of this theory cannot be overstated. If Karam is correct, then many in society

don’t see incarceration of drug users as a waste of tax revenue, but rather as productive investment

in societal stability. Excluding the drug user from the realm of the rational precludes analysis of

“evidence-based” drug treatment from being seen as a productive alternative to incarceration;

addicts are not seen as sensible individuals capable of taking advantage of new services, but their

addiction itself is seen as excluding them from the community of the rational. Ironically, this

obsession with rationality is in itself irrational, suffused with racialized assumption around the

Black/Brown others fundamental irrationality being expressed through intoxication. The racial

disparities of the War on Drugs are not a “bug” in the criminal legal system, they very much are a

feature, where Black and Brown drug users are seen as needing to be contained, lest their deviant

cultural traits spread to the broader white community.

Some would counter that the recent turn in research toward more compassionate views of

drug users refutes Karam’s analysis. Here it is essential to remember Schiele’s discussions around

the importance of thinking in diunital, rather than dichotomous patterns. Indeed, many have

viewed the increasing interest in “public health” approaches to addictions as explicitly reflective

of a racialized trend in addiction treatment, with the rise of opioid addiction in white communities

being seen as the impetus for this shift. Netherland and Hansen argue it is an explicitly racialized

fear of “wasted whiteness” with the contagion of addiction impugning white subjects' ability to

productive neoliberal citizens as responsible for this shift. That explicitly notes a romanticized

view of Whites in Appalachian Maryland as worthy of compassion because of their “hard lives of

manual labor.” The ideological justification behind this shift makes their analysis particularly

crucial for this project, as they write:

“...Alcoff, for instance, argues that “White supremacy is itself incoherent and can manifest

itself quite differently depending on historical periods and social groups” (2015: 15).

Representations of drugs and the people who use them are influenced by the complex

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intersections of class- and race-based disadvantage (Pruitt 2015). White drug users who

are disparaged appear linked primarily to rural poverty. Abuse of prescription opioids first

surfaced in rural Maine, Maryland, and then Appalachia among the rural poor, likely

because the isolation made prescription opioids more accessible than street drugs and

because of a high prevalence of pain syndromes related, in part, to “hard lives of manual

labor” (Inciardi and Cicero 2009: 106; Tunnell 2004). Known as “hillbilly heroin,” the

use of oxycontin in rural Appalachia was linked with crime by local law enforcement and

politicians despite the fact that crime rates did not increase (Tunnell 2004, 2005). Several

studies of methamphetamine have rooted the construction of that drug as white in the

growing economic and class insecurities of rural whites. Garriott (2011, 2013) argues that

meth production and use grew in rural communities for a number of reasons, including the

need to supplement income in areas where jobs are scarce and low wage and to help

workers in monotonous, repetitive jobs (like the poultry industry) perform better. Even

within class, there are important distinctions to be made between rural, suburban, and

urban Whites (Pruitt 2011). Beori and colleagues, in their study of suburban meth users,

found that many had been introduced to meth as a means of enhancing their performance

and productivity at work and “maintaining a suburban lifestyle (2009: 14). Adderall, a

stimulant very similar to methamphetamine, is routinely used by students to perform better

on tests with little stigma attached to its use (Hanson et al 2013)..

The stories of the deaths of white people are considered tragic in part because of the

underlying assumption of promise and privilege lost. If affluence is a constitutive element

of whiteness (Pruitt 2015), then the loss of that affluence (whether realized or aspirational)

is tragic. Because of drugs, people normally expected to be “productive” cannot fulfill

obligations and expectations (a neoliberal) society has for them. As Lane DeGregory of

the Tampa Bay Times notes, with the increasing opioid crisis in white communities: “Hard

workers can no longer hold jobs. Smart students drop out. Good moms neglect their kids,

drain their bank accounts, steal from family members (2011).” Part of the implied tragedy

is that of squandered whiteness and a system of advantages to which black and Latino

people have limited access. The ways that this systemic advantage is built on racial

inequality goes unflagged. Nor do these accounts of white opioid use mention the criminal

justice system that disproportionately disciplines blacks and Latinos.

In addition to efforts to differentiate and make exceptional white opioid use by treating it

as novel and explaining its causes in ways that humanize the white drug user, whiteness is

also maintained by shoring up the geographic boundaries between white and black or

Latino communities. Whiteness is always being reinterpreted and subject to internal

contestation (Alcoff 2015). Right now whiteness is under particular threat as

demographers and the U.S. census bureau are predicting that between 2042 and 2050

whites will no longer be a majority in the U.S. (Alcoff 2015). In the face of such a “threat”

and the increasing porosity of the boundaries between racial groups, the maintenance of

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geographic boundaries between Black and white becomes ever more imperative for those

wishing to maintain white racial dominance.

This geographic separation is evident in reports of increases in suburban heroin use as a

consequence of tightened restrictions on opioid prescribing leading to dwindling

prescription opioid supplies (NIDA, 2014). As one paper from Fargo put it: “That's a

direct conduit... They were using diverted pain meds, then the price for too high. Some

switched to heroin (Nowatzki and Benshoof 2011).” In our analysis, we found that the

transition from prescription drugs to heroin is often couched in a theme of contagion – that

is, the transition from prescription pills to heroin is leading to a mixing of suburban and

urban drugs and drug users. For example, a Chicago Daily Herald article reported:

“Suburban teens who fall into the trap of heroin use often drive to West Side...to buy the

drug” (Daily Herald 2001).

White people searching for drugs in urban areas are not only crossing geographic

boundaries, they are crossing boundaries that lead them from the imagined safety of the

suburban and rural white community and exposing themselves to the violence that

supposedly characterizes the inner city drug markets. As Elijah Anderson points out, white

and black spaces are perceived as distinctive, and black spaces are seen as dangerous by

many whites: “[f]or the larger society, from the nightly news and media reports of rampant

black-on-black crime ... images of the black ghetto loom large” (2015: p.13). In addition,

the contagion runs both ways. Just as white people are portrayed as seeking drugs in urban

areas, so too drug dealers from urban areas are portrayed as infiltrating white

communities. As this account from Madison, Wisconsin explains:

[T]he drug is being transported by street gangs and drug trafficking

organizations along the interstate system from Chicago. Communities from

the state line to the Fox River valley, and through the east side of the state

from Milwaukee on south, have been inundated with the drug [Elbow 2011]

The problem being described here is the breakdown of the segregation between white,

supposedly drug-free, non-violent communities and black and Latino supposedly drugfilled,

violent communities. This threat of miscegenation logically calls for reinforcement

of the social-geographic boundaries between white and black or brown neighborhoods,

symbolically undergirding disparate policy responses.” (Netherland and Hansen, 2016).

This analysis contextualizes the quote explicitly from the Human Rights Watch around the tragedy

of the War on Drug being seen in the exclusion from social services, which were never sufficient

for racialized populations. But for White America, this exclusion marks an explicit “squandering”

of “whiteness.” Moreover, their analysis of the racialization of the concept of “contagion”

implicates public health methodologies as themselves reflecting racialized logics of “containment”

in service of “racial dominance” and reflective of racial anxieties around miscegenation. This is

important for researchers, as even research projects which use a public health frame for addiction

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in service of humanism and “good science” risk being redeployed by those seeking to protect

whiteness from the racialized “fall from whiteness” that is addiction.

The analysis of Karam, Neatherland and Hansen reflects much of what has previously been

stated around the importance of challenging eurocentric norms around how to evaluate data and

pursue research. His analysis of the fear of intoxication as reflective of a fear of spiritual

“possession” validates Schiele and Akbar’s interpretation of the importance of an understanding

of cultural psychology and incorporating “spirituality” into an analysis of law and so-called

“objective” research. It also reflects the necessity of viewing culture as a real, material force that

must be taken into account in order to understand the policy. At the same time, rationality and

critical thinking may be universal, the idea that a rational individual capable of delaying

gratification and holding onto their rational objective faculties is so essential to this society’s view

of safety. Those who are deemed to not reflect these ideas deserve violent exclusion from society.

Additionally, social control is a characteristic specific to Western cultures under modern

imperialism and anti-Black violence, and this must be taken into account in order to understand

the evolution of drug policy. Finally, it challenges the positivistic and progressive notions that

underlie many assumptions behind research and the scientific method. Rather than research almost

axiomatically being better by applying the scientific method to problems, research risks becoming

a tool that furthers the cultural project of policing boundaries of the rational and irrational.

Researchers position themselves as exemplars of rationality and relegate those who disagree with

them as absurd “others.” Thus, research should be pursued with appropriate levels of humility and


This analysis allows us to return to the “standard model” drug decriminalization argument

and further interrogate its assumptions, now with a specific focus on the “decriminalization”

portion of the argument. Decriminalization is seen as essential to control dangerous diseases, and

presents Portugal’s model as an alternative which creates social benefits for everyone, even the

police. Domolawski writes:

“Responding to drug use and possession with the tools of law enforcement means that

public health suffers. Drug dependencies largely go untreated; inside most prisons there

is no access to needle exchange, opiate substitution or other treatments. HIV and Hepatitis

C spread easily. Large numbers of inmates take up drug use in prison, and many overdose

shortly after release. Prison is simply not the answer to drug use and minor drug-related

offenses. We need to find a better, more humane response.

The basis for this response can be found in a growing international movement led

by scientists, health practitioners, drug users, policymakers, and law enforcement officials

who are committed to effective, enduring, and humane solutions to the challenges of drug

use. The Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include four past presidents,

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a former UN Secretary General, and a Nobel Laureate, launched a report in June 2011

that condemns the war on drugs and calls for governments to seriously consider

alternatives such as decriminalization. The Lancet, a renowned British medical journal

published a special issue in July 2010 to address the problem of HIV among drug users.

The 2010 Vienna Declaration, signed by the heads of UNAIDS and the Global Fund to

Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, bears 20,000 signatures in support of drug

policies that are rooted in science. A global campaign led by AVAAZ—End the War on

Drugs—gathered over 600,000 signatures.”

Surprisingly, Portugal—a small country known for its conservative values, strong

Catholic tradition, and recent emergence as a democracy—has become an international

model for drug policy reform. In a dramatic departure from the norm, Portugal

decriminalized drug possession in 2000. By moving the matter of personal possession

entirely out of the realm of law enforcement and into that of public health, Portugal has

given the world a powerful example of how a national drug policy can work to everyone’s

benefit. In the past decade, Portugal has seen a significant drop in new HIV infections and

drug-related deaths.

Instead of languishing in prison cells, drug dependent individuals in Portugal now receive

effective treatment and compassionate programs that integrate them back into society.

Even law enforcement has benefited, as police officers are now free to focus on intercepting

large-scale trafficking and uncovering international networks of smugglers. As a result,

public safety has increased.” (Domosławski, 2011).

With an understanding of epistemology and the cultural context behind research paradigms, we

can apply the same scrutiny to this statement around the advocacy of drug decriminalization, just

as was pursued around explanations on the harms of the War on Drugs. Again, rather than a

political ethic based upon solidarity and examination of racialized moral panic behind fear of

intoxication, the report uses the language of public health to justify decriminalization. First, it

raises the specter of disease spread, assuming a universal conception of either self preservation

(protecting the larger public from dangerous diseases) or human empathy around the pain of

suffering from disease will convince the reader on the value of decriminalization. An

understanding of Karam’s analysis casts doubt upon this assumption, as it is equally likely that

those reading the text may citge fear disease spread among drug users as reason to keep them

incarcerated, and view their suffering as necessary to create a incentive for individuals to “hit

bottom” and free themselves from their drug addiction. In the extreme, one could imagine, as was

argue in the mist of harm reduction debates in Vancouver, canada, that lawmakers will view

increase overdose rates as a social good, arguing that if enough drugs addicts die there would be

no one left to overdose, thus solving the overdose epidemic (Lupick, 2018).

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Moreover, the frame of the decriminalization argument, which centers public health, locks

in a politics of scientific expertise which itself reflects a focus on “objective”, quantitative science,

a spiritual reasoning critiqued in Part I. The quote from Domosławski cites numerous international

treaties, Nobel Laureates, and prominent non profit institutions. This can be read as an attempt to

launder a seemingly radical idea of drug decriminalization through borrowing the institutional

credibility of these institutions. While understandable as a tactic, this process has limitations as it

limits the frame for the forms of evidence that are “admissible” under this frame. Rather than

expanding the discursive framework to allow “subjugated knowledge” to come to the fore, as

Schiele states, the report seeks to recenter the reader within dominant notions of scientific

respectability. This creates a premium on truth claims which meet the characteristics of eurocentric

research outlined by Schiele - reductive, quantitative, centered on visual analysis of the discrete

phenomenon, rather than the more spiritual and comprehensive forms of research advocated by

the African Centered Research Paradigms. More directly, the report isolates a political theory of

change, which can be seen as stemming from the assumptions guiding the research. The report

argues explicitly that the decriminalization movement is being led by a coalition of “ scientists,

health practitioners, drug users, policymakers, and law enforcement officials.” The idea that drug

users and law enforcement officers could be locked in an antagonistic relationship, or a relationship

drought with centuries of racialized violence, is completely absent from the analysis. Pointedly, it

ignores the public safety risks that continue to justify racialized violence even in the face of an

attempted shift to public health.

It might be more precise to say it assumes what public health is for whites is what it would

be for racial minorities, despite the continuous realizations that for racialized minorities public

health itself has been used as a tool for racialized social control. Rail and Jette use the concept of

“biocitizenship” to frame how public health discourses are deployed to justify racialized visions

of “unworthy” biological subjects unable to effectively manage their health through proper

internalization of discipline; and thus, need experts to inculcate proper biological morality into

them for their own good. They write:

Biomorality thus corresponds to the moral demand to be happy and healthy. Biomorality

engenders biocitizens. Following Foucault, Rose and Novas (2005) argue that biocitizens

are “made up” from above (by medical and legal authorities, public health professionals,

insurance companies, etc.), but they also make themselves. Active biocitizens inform

themselves and live responsibly, adjusting lifestyle and all areas of their physical and

social environments so as to maximize health. But those who made up biocitizens and

virtuous sub-populations also contrast them to dangerous Others. These are the weakwilled,

the lazy, the amoral, the unruly, those who do not live responsibly and engage in

“risky” behavior or do not get involved in preventive behavior, in brief, those who are

“made up” as domestic bioterrorists who exploit the tax-supported institutions that

produce health and well-being. We call these individuals “bio-Others” (Rail, 2011) as the

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health imperative seems to justify them being robbed of their full citizenship. Bio-Others

are dangerously undisciplined and in great need of policing. Given the ambient

biomorality, coercion to leave the company of bio-Others and join that of biocitizens takes

many forms, including surveillance, marginalization, abjection, public blaming, digital

bullying, police brutality, and economic discrimination and exploitation. In Western

societies, history shows how many social groups have been designated as the

contaminating “Other” against which public health measures were undertaken (Peterson

& Lupton, 1996). At one point or another and in many countries, the working classes,

Indigenous people, immigrants, women, gays and lesbians, disabled individuals, and non-

Europeans have all been the target of biopolitical projects that we now regard as classist,

xeno-phobic, sexist, homophobic, ableist, racist, colonialist, and/or genocidal. (Rail and

Jette, 2015).

While some will be tempted to see these as artifacts of a problematic but long conquered past, Rail

and Jette see this obsession with biocitizenship replicated in the various “savior” missions pursued

under the guise of inculcated public health for various “Bio-Others.” Using post-structural

analysis and theories of Michel Foucault, they present a comprehensive critique of seemingly

benevolent public health interventions which deserve to be quoted at length, writing:

Today, in neoliberal societies, all of these projects are still on-going, but with the

advent of biomorality and phenomena such as genomics, securitization, age-ism,

Islamophobia, and transphobia, many more bio-Others are being “made up.” Public

health discourses, in particular, have performative powers and often produce the illnesses

that they describe, as well as construct social identities for those who are not well.

Everywhere, the “white” individual is used as a reference point against which bio-Others

are measured and contrasted.

**Rescue Missions to Save Bio-Others Rescue missions are trendy. Popular media are

thirsty for stories of White men saving Others. Reviving the spirit of 19 th century

philanthropists, many biomoralists seek to reach out from their own perfectly constructed

world. Public health officials are equally adept at designing programs aimed at saving

the degraded and abject. Many rescue missions are weapons of mass conviction but are

couched in humanitarian rhetoric that renders them palatable. Such missions are designed

to save Bio-Others and take many forms.

**Provisionist. The provisionist mission consists in asking bio-Others what they need and

then attempting to give it to them. The mission occludes social structure and implies that

Bio-Others are unwell because they lack something quite basic to attain or maintain their

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wellbeing (e.g., a green area in their neighborhood, access to nutritious food, a soccer

ball, an antidepressant, a gym pass). In theory, providing bio-Others with what they lack

will save them.

**Culturalist. This approach similarly erases social, economic, and political factors. In

theory, it encourages those in the health and wellness business to play a role by

establishing trust with bio-Others and intervening in a way that is culturally sensitive. If

culture is the problem, it can also be the solution. Examples of this type of mission abound

in Canada and the United States where federal programs to restore the health of

Aboriginal people involve a return to traditions including hunting, fishing, harvesting

traditional foods, dancing, and playing games. Here, interventions are performative in that

they produce the “Aboriginals” that they describe on the basis of cultural relics previously

wiped out by colonization.

**Biopedagogical. This type of mission does not question patriarchal or colonial

hierarchies either. Being taught to be well is often similar to being told to be well. Current

biopedagogical missions work on the premise tha the bio-Other has a unified self and a

fixed subject position. It assumes that, for such a subject, knowledge necessarily leads to

desired behavior and therefore that, as this subject becomes more informed about health

and how to attain it, he or she will behave in ways that lead to such health. The

biopedagogical approach draws upon a neoliberal notion of individualism that positions

the bio-Other as capable of, and responsible for, changing his or her lifestyle and therefore

in effecting his or her health. Underlying notions of “Buying Green” and “Going Organic”

or shows such as the Biggest Loser or Jamie Oliver’s Kitchen is the belief that a set of

historical, social, environmental, cultural, political, and economic issues can be put aside

in favor of a simple intervention meant to teach folks how to live life the “right way.”

**Participatory. Against the background of the health imperative, many experts have spent

time exploring ways to engage bio-Others. With this fourth type of mission, bio-Others are

encouraged to partake in decision-making processes leading to predefined objectives

related to health. Many feminists have drawn attention to the limitations of a conception

of participation that implicitly excludes women or certain women (e.g., poor, less educated,

racialized, queer, disabled, and so on). Other authors lament the fact that participatory

models almost always involve a hierarchy of knowledge where expert knowledge is

considered superior to non-expert knowledge.

Participatory missions also involve a “community” of bio-Others in need of saving, but

there is often a reification of this “community.” Indeed, the concept of “community” means

a shared identity of interest among some people, but there is little recognition of other

shared experiences linked to health status, cis status, size, class, race, ability, and so on

that intersect or conflict with place-based identities (Peterson & Lupton, 1996). Missions

that involve community participation (e.g., to change the food landscape in an area or to

reduce sedentary living or to decrease drug use or alcoholism) call upon bio-Others to

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discipline themselves in conformity with the collectively decided activities and to utilize

their agency in fulfillment of pre-set health objectives. Involvement in such a decisionmaking

process and chosen activities presupposes willingness, and an entire range of

personal attributes, skills, attitudes, and commitments.

**Empowering. The last type of mission focuses on empowerment. Unfortunately,

empowerment has been co-opted by neoliberal managerial discourses. While at some

point, it was associated to critically analyzing, resisting, and challenging structures of

power that create wellbeing for the few and misery for the masses, it has been recuperated

to mean that a benevolent, humanitarian agent of empowerment works to help people

develop capacities to act successfully within the existing system. Attempts to empower

marginalized bio-Others via a neoliberal variety of empowerment mission may be

regarded as one more way of defining, regulating, and normalizing bio-Others. It is reliant

upon the use of strategies that position bio-Others as acting of their own free will and in

their own interests to reach or protect their own health, guided by agents of empowerment

possessing rationality and expert knowledge. But, who is positioned to empower? How are

empowerment and humanitarian missions historically embedded? And what are some of

their foreseen and unforeseen consequences? What does an anti-racist and anti-colonial

lens reveal about past and present empowerment interventions? What are the paradoxical

relationships between humanitarism and imperialism? And what are the equally

paradoxical relationships between empowerment and status quo?

In the end, all five types of rescue missions insist that bio-Others “do it” by themselves and

for themselves. Such insistence on personal responsibility is the perfect corollary to a

politics that aims to legitimize injustice, poverty, and un-wellness. McAll (2008) has used

the concept of “health transfer” to characterize the distribution of health in Canada. We

would like to extend his analysis to speak of health in a globalized world. Health is

unevenly distributed and, in general, more present among those few who are positioned to

appropriate the resources and the work of others. It is notably via the exploitation of the

work of many Others (usually female, poorer, darker) that the (usually male, richer, whiter)

few forge their wealth and wellbeing. The richer few get Others to work in a way that

exempts the former from brutal working conditions. The richer few also protect their

wellbeing by appropriating resources (e.g., green spaces, better housing, leisure time)

linked to health and this leads to the social exclusion of Others who are then, less healthy.

In this way, there is a transfer of health between sub-populations, and exploited Others

often become bio-Others. At the global level, the health of workers in the South is

transferred for the health and wellbeing of those in the North.

To sum it up, biomorality leads to rescue missions that are generally afflicted by the savior

syndrome. Such missions have a depoliticizing effect. They entrench existing power

structures, exacerbate class divisions, and reproduce patriarchal and colonial hierarchies

that pave the way to the transfer of health from the masses to the lucky few. Ironically then,

biomorality connects to “psychopathology” in the sense that an entire section of the world

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population is antisocial, sometimes a criminal, and lacks of sense of moral responsibility

for the health and wellbeing of others. This is how bio-Others come to have “disposable

bodies” as Karam (2014) has shown, and why their lives are at times “ungrievable” as

Butler (2009) would say. (ibid)

This text sets up a vital touchpoint in this analysis. Rail and Jette set a touchtone in isolating many

of the conceptual justification and technologies public health uses to launder racist, sexist, classist,

and ableist assumptions through a lens of benevolent intervention. By presenting populations with

the illusions of control and participation, Rail and Jette note that these populations are ultimately

made responsible for their suffering, as the public health interventions are engaged outside of the

context of more substantial structural change. Even under a seemingly culturally competent

approach, these strategies reduce culture down to abstractions and artifacts (dance, food, clothing).

It seeks to use culture in the context of a reductive, transactionalism vision of empowerment where

in exchange for proving productive bio-citizenship, the culture of oppressed people comes under

attack, and its origin recognition is erased. Even in the seemingly most benign “provisional” model

of public health interventions, where oppressed populations tell officials what they want and then,

ostensibly, get it, experts and lawmakers are still positioned as the power brokers and are

positioned to shape the contours of what interventions are “givable” or even “askable” in the

context of this engagement. One wonders what would happen if communities gathered and told

public health officials they wanted “reparations for the War on Drugs” or even “the banishment of

racist public health institutions from their neighborhoods” as part of these “empowerment”

sessions. Rail and Jette note that the goal of these sessions is often to round down visions of

sweeping political change to an idea of social repair, which creates healthy biocitizenship within

a racist, neoliberal framework. You can get fresh fruit at the corner store, but you can’t challenge

the political economy of neoliberalism, which forces you to buy fast food and cook quick meals to

get to your service economy job.

While Rail and Jette set up some useful analysis in critiquing the assumptive logic of public

health interventions, they should not be seen as necessarily representative of an African Centered

Research Paradigm. As Schiele notes, the African Centered Research Paradigm should not be

confused with a poststructuralist critique of power relations.While the Post Structuralists seek to

name and call out power and engage in “archeological” analysis of the historical complexity and

contingency of so-called “objective” truth claims to point out how they seek to reify power and

constrain individual freedom, the African Centered Research Paradigm aims to see the world

through a communalist lens. Rather than merely identifying power to analyze how best to

undermine it, the African Centered Research Paradigm builds new institutions which manifest

visions of collective empowerment and freedom. For example, while equally critical of superficial

and “culturalist” interventions, an African Centered Research Paradigm would be sure to not

assume that just because a racist neoliberal view culture as an abstract force, that this should not

be continued as indicating all attempt to leverage the cultural resources of the community to

address a social problem. Moreover, while Rail and Jette attempt to adopt a comprehensive vision

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of critiquing power, the African Centered Research Paradigm attempts to understand the

specificity of how Anti-Black and Eurocentric thought systems function in the reproduction of

inequality and violence. The goal is not to avoid the wielding power, but instead, explicitly build

it for oppressed people. This is also not to say that all forms of oppression can be reduced to race;

white supremacy serves as an epistemological frame through which other forms of identity, such

as gender and sexuality, become salient.

The violence of the modern state formation has been so centrally formed by Eurocentric

institutions operationalized white supremacist violence. Having a grasp on the functioning of this

system is an essential part of guiding the approach of more comprehensive strategies of liberation.

For example, while acknowledging that medical violence has impacted all oppressed people, it is

also critical to analyze the unique ways in which chattel slavery changed the “doctor-patient”

relationship for people of African descent. As Harriet Washington notes, the very idea of a “doctorpatient”

relationship obscures the “master/slave relationship,” which was at the core of Black

people's relationship to the medical profession from the inception of American medicine

(Washington,2015). Washington explains that under American chattel slavery, the doctor had no

ethical obligation to the enslaved African they were treating, but solely to the owner, as the goal

of medicine was render the slave fit to work, not to return them to any abstract notion of true

“health” (ibd). John Hoberman writes in his analysis of racism in the medical professions that

doctors at times seem to mirror police officers in their authority over black bodies, exercising

freedom from democratic accountability that allows anti-Black ideologies to flourish among their

ranks. He writes:

As one physician-author noted in 1988, “doctors are unwilling to blow the whistle on other

doctors. It’s somehow bad manners or breaking the faith of the medical profession to report

a bad doctor.” In this sense, the practice of medicine, like police work, is more of a

fraternal order than a scientific community that recognizes and acts upon its responsibility

to monitor and correct the deviant and dangerous misconduct of its practitioners.

Another powerful factor that shields doctors from scrutiny is the “halo effect” that wraps

physicians in an aura of benevolent power. “Doctors,” a New York Times writer noted in

2009, “have a degree of professional autonomy that is probably unmatched outside of

academia. And that is how we like it. We think of our doctors as wise men and women who

can combine knowledge and instinct to land on just the right treatment.” The combination

of benevolent intent and the power to heal has traditionally conferred upon doctors “a

degree of professional autonomy” that can make them appear as sages who have earned

a status that puts them beyond the judgments of observers who do not belong to the guild.

The physician’s authority and autonomy can promote a socially conservative identity that

resists both personal self-examination and social reforms. Social conservatives may not

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see the causal relationship between self-scrutiny and a willingness to promote social

change, including the profound social changes that antiracist policies require. Even today,

social conservatives (and others) retain the option of preserving the traditional racial

hierarchy and its racist folklore inside their heads, while conforming to antiracist public

norms that enforce public civility and a degree of racial integration within “disciplined”

workplaces such as hospitals and clinics. There can be no doubt that many doctors choose

this option, thereby disciplining their social conduct but not their racial imaginations.

The research I have done for this book confirms that physicians share the racial attitudes

of their fellow citizens. Indeed, their intimate involvement with medically afflicted black

bodies and minds may even create and intensify feelings about the racial differences they

perceive. There is, then, no evident reason to assume that doctors feel greater sympathy

toward or possess a greater understanding of African Americans that most whites do. On

the contrary, it is probable that many doctors, like police officers, are exposed to more

than their fair share of extreme and unattractive behaviors of the troubled and the indigent,

a disproportionate number of whom may be black. These experiences do not produce racial

goodwill. Consequently, as one African American physician commented in 1990: “The

problem is not that medical providers are ethically deficient compared with the public, it

is that we are no longer any better. Our ranks include racists and virtually every other

variety of impaired citizenry. (Hoberman, 2012).

This has profound implications for the theory of change laid outlined by Domoslawski. The idea

that doctors and law enforcement officers, who are both structurally inoculated from accountability

specifically to Black populations and given legally sanctioned authority over the lives of

oppressed, can engage as a political “equals” with racialized drug users, specially Black drug users,

is ignorant of not only political economy which creates a massive power imbalance within this

“coalition”, but the “libidinal” economy undergirding vision of racialized drug users as threats to

white society and the authority of the very cops and doctors Domoslawski and those like him are

asking drug users to work with.

It could be argued, in Domosławski’s defense, that he is specifically a Polish journalist

writing about his observations around drug decriminalization in Portugal, which does not have the

same racialized history around policing that the United States has. Rather than challenging this

critique of eurocentric research paradigms, this argument precisely proves why it is so dangerous.

In the physical sciences, research findings can be translated from one country or language to

another with confidence that the physical properties underlying the interactions will not change

from country to country. The notion that anything analogous can be done with social science

should be on face ridiculous, given the specific contextual histories of social formations (and

specifically, racialized violence) and how it differs from nation to nation. Yet there are attempts to

treat the social science question of addiction as if biological processes involved in chemical

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dependency occur objectively outside of the context of the society which produces these addicts.

Here the “disease theory” of addiction risks locking researchers into an inadvertent ignorance of

how transposing “objectively” productive institutions into an American context can create a

hazardous situation for racialized (specifically Black) “bio-others.”

On Portugal- The Dangers in Implementing Colorblind, ”Disease Model” Reforms

for Addiction

Portugal is the most prominent example held up by advocates of drug decriminalization as

the model of good policy which many argue should be a model for reforms in the United States.

No report on drug decriminalization could be complete without referring the Protugese experiment.

Given the bevy of resources available summarizing the Protugese experiment, and previous quotes

which allude to the Protugese model, it is logical to directly analyse the limitations and culturally

assumptions behind the elevation of the Protugese model to examination and limitations and

potential to create new forms of control and bias.

While the details of the Portugal model can be explored through subsequent analysis, the

historical narrative around Portugal is a useful place to start, as it reveals several essential points

of analysis an African Centered Research Paradigm can add to drug decriminalization research.

Domosławski presents what is a common narrative around explaining how Portugal “descended”

into an addiction crisis. He writes:

“After the Second World War, Portugal, alongside Spain under General Franco, was the

only European country where authoritarian power was still exercised by fascist-oriented

political groups originating in the 1920s. Portugal was a firmly Catholic, traditional,

conservative society governed by the authoritarian dictatorship of Antonio Salazar. Under

the Salazar regime, the Catholic Church gained significant influence.

Salazar’s Portugal was also an autarkic country, closed to new ideas, changes in

Western societies, and new trends in culture and customs. The counterculture movements

of the 1960s that celebrated drug use as a component of fashion and culture largely passed

over Portugal. Drug use (mainly LSD) was accepted within Portugal’s relatively small

communities of artists and bohemians, but it was sporadic and had little cultural or social



It was not until the late 1970s that drugs became a noticeable problem in Portugal.

A number of factors potentially contributed to increased drug use in Portugal: the end of

the colonial war in Africa and the return of people from the colonies (including soldiers of

the Portuguese empire), and the fall of the Salazar dictatorship in 1974, which resulted in

a very closed country quickly opening to the world. A recurrent observation made by

interviewees in this study was that drug use, or, to be precise, cannabis use, started to

become more visible in Portugal when Portuguese citizens returned from colonies where

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marijuana was grown and used openly. Others maintained that with Portugal’s opening

after 1974, drug use was simply part of a large “package” of issues that it began to share

with other Western societies as the country, pursuing more multilateral cooperation with

other countries, became exposed to new ideas, trends, and fashions.

After a half century of isolation, the Portuguese were ill-prepared to confront the wave

of changes that came with greater openness in the late 1970s. They possessed no common

knowledge about drugs, especially the distinction between hard and soft drugs, what

problems different drugs carried, what health risks they presented to individuals, or what

kind of social problems they caused.

In the early 1980s, the most commonly used drugs in Portugal were hashish and

marijuana, but heroin had already appeared by the late 1970s. Heroin smuggled from

Pakistan and India through the former colony of Mozambique by Portuguese of Pakistani

origin was sold on Portuguese streets in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Then, when two

large gangs smuggling heroin through Mozambique were broken up, heroin started

flowing from the Netherlands. Because heroin smuggling in Portugal consisted of so many

small groups and individual smugglers, the authorities found it impossible to stop. Heroin

use was also changing at this time, as consumers started to smoke as well as inject the


In the late 1980s, and especially in the early 1990s, drug consumption in Portugal

became a subject of social concern. Many people in Portuguese society concluded that the

country had a serious drug problem and high drug consumption. At the time, this

conviction was not based on any research on consumption, but simply general impressions

and anecdotal evidence. A likely contributing factor to these impressions was that drug

consumption in some districts of Lisbon and other bigger cities had become more open and

visible. A EuroBarometer survey conducted in 1997 showed that the Portuguese perceived

drug-related issues as the country’s main social problem. Four years later in 2001,4 when

the new law decriminalizing drug possession and use was implemented, drugs occupied

third place on the list of issues that gave rise to social concern among the Portuguese.


Domosławski inclusion of Pakistani and Mozambique being seen as the progenitors of a heroine

epidemic in Portugal should be read within the analysis given by Netherland and Hassan. In this

context, Portugal’s understanding of addiction is deeply linked to narrative of protecting whiteness

from deviant otherness. It can also be read within the context of Karam’s analysis, with cannabis

and LSD seen as “mind expanding” “soft” drugs which can coexist with and maybe even facilitate

the functioning of whtie subjected rationally engaging with the world and affirming archetypal

white characteristics of self control, while heroine is seen as a drug which threats whiteness and

creating idleness and robbing its “victims” of their rational facilities (i.e. racially “blackening”

them). Finally, Portugal can be read within Alexander’s analysis of “psychosocial” integration and

socials structures as being the superstructure which creates the context for addiction. The transition

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from military dictatorship to democracy required the destruction of old institutions built to support

the military regime and the refashioning of a democratic civil society; this is a recipe for disrupting

psycho-social integration and under Alexander’s theory it is logical under these conditions

addiction would increase. Indeed, one could use Alexander’s theory to present the hypothesis that

as decmoratic civil society reasserts itself, psycho-social integration could be reestablished and the

addiction “epidemic” could largely resolve itself, a hypothesis supported by the fact that, in 2001,

only 8% admitted drug use, putting Portugal's drug use rates among the lowest in Europe even

before the rolling out of the “revolutionary” drug decriminalization regime (ibid). While it’s

possible that self reported drug use rates can under count actual drug use rates, as individual may

feel a self of shame (especially in a concervative society like Portugal), one could imagine similar

dynamics being at play in all the European nation’s who self reported data. That Portugal's drug

use rates did not seem to be beyond the norm for a European country further supports the notion

that a proper analysis of Portugal's drug addiction “crisis” must include the context of racialized

fears of “wasted whiteness” being part of the impetus driving policy changes.

This is important not only in understanding the context which produced the sense that there

was an “addiction crisis” in Portugal in the 2000s, but also to understand the solutions which were

proposed and why they were deemed acceptable in that specific period of time. The Portugal

experience is often narrated as the rise of science and reason overwhelming political inertia,

leading the creation of an enlightened solution through differing to expertise, as Domosławski


“The Portuguese government’s actions in 1998 went precisely against all of the typical

and expected “emergency” policy responses. Instead, the government appointed a

committee of specialists—doctors, sociologists, psychologists, lawyers, and social

activists—and asked the committee to analyze the drug issue in Portugal and formulate

recommendations that could be turned into a national strategy.” (ibid).

Given Ani’s analysis of “scientific rationality” and “objective reason” being use as tools to

promote European superiority and domination, it is important that researchers be skeptical of this

narrative. For example, it was not objective, expert led political debate, but the specific

circumstances of Protuguese society that to drug decriminalization laws passing in the early 2000s.

During the late 90s and early 2000’s, Domosławski report that their was still a feeling in Portugese

society that remember the abuses of power under the military dictatorship and creating a unique

sense of sympathy for folks suffering under the boot of state authority, writing:

“The fact that there was opposition to the new law and reforms serves to underscore a

constant and fundamental question about the process in Portugal: why did the government

adopt the new policy so decisively? Some of those interviewed for this study explained it

simply as the government having a fundamental conviction and the political will to have

what it saw as the right path prevail. Another interviewee from the IDT noted that after

years of living under a dictatorship, the Portuguese public was sensitive to the needs of the

aggrieved and society’s weaker members; bearing this in mind, the government could feel

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confident that the electorate would be able to see drug dependent persons as people who

were ill, rather than as criminals, and would therefore react favourably to the new policy.”


At a surface level, this is important for this project, as research projects often assume that creating

by rationally conveying the objective benefits of Portugal’s model, this will help the prospects for

decriminalization in America. These notions should be deemed questionable given the specific

circumstances that created a sense of solidarity in Portugal, i.e. a military dictatorship, do not exist

in America. Moreover, an analysis of whiteness should help further refine an understanding of

why drug addicts were deemed sympathetic, a sense of shared whiteness. Given the analysis of

Karam, Neatherland and Hassan, racialization of addiction, it seems that it is unlikely that

consensus around a genuinely compassionate approach to addiction is likely to flourish in

America, unless it fits Rail and Jette’s model of inculcating productive “biocitizenship”. With this

as a fame, the specifics of Portugal’s legal interventions around decriminalization can be analyzed

within their proper context.

Despite being framed as a “anti-criminalization” model, the Progugese model has

embedded into it numerous points of discretion where criminal legal system authority can assert

itself. For example, officers continue to have discretion to bring relatively minor drug possession

charges back into the preview of the criminal legal system. Domosławski notes that even drug

possession charges at or under the legal limit for deferment, law enforcement officers have the

discretion to determine whether the accused was actually intending to sell the drugs, raising the

charge for possession to possession with intent to distribute and thus mandating criminal legal

system involvement, writing:

“There was initially a disconnect between the thresholds laid down by statute and those

followed by the courts. However, the courts in general were grateful to be relieved of some

of their workload. Under the practice that now prevails, all parties view the threshold

quantities as indicative rather than binding. For example, it should be stressed that the

charts indicate what amount may be for personal use, but it is the task of the police to

determine what a person intended to do with the substances they possess. If a person has

an amount that may be considered for personal usage but he or she is caught selling it, this

remains a crime. (Domosławski, 2011).

While defenders of the model might not that the police typically use appropriate discretion, in the

American context the persistent racial inequities seen in the criminal justice system should make

the prospect of this being equally applied highly dubious. Despite the well established reality that

many individuals who sell drugs are selling to feed their own addiction, the Protuguese model does

not create accommodations for this, deeming intent to distribute, or even the suspicion intent to

distribute through the possession of baggies or scales, as an inherently criminal matter. Despite

how the deferral commissions are portrayed as a solution to overdose, the vast majority of

individuals referred to the commissions are young cannabis users, with 50% under the age of 29

and 73% being sent for cannabis or hashish use (ibid). While this is logical as drug use skews

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young and their are for more cannabis smokers than hard drug users, it does challenge the

assumption that the deferral commissions should be read centrally as a “compassionate” response

for hard drug users, as the majority of their work deals with lower level cannabis possession. Many

would say that the inclusion of lower level cannabis offenses proves the value of decriminalization,

as it keeps low level cannabis offenders out of the criminal legal system. However, Monaghan and

Bewley-Taylor offer a different interpretation for this dynamic, relaying interviews done by

journalist Glen Greenwald which presents different interpretation of this data, writing:

“The following paragraphs illustrate some of the areas of concern regarding policing

issues. In his review of the Portuguese decriminalisation ‘regime’, published in 2009,

Greenwald notes that:

The effect that the decriminalization regime has had on police conduct with regard to

drug users is unclear and is the source of some debate among Portuguese drug policy

experts. There are, to be sure, some police officers who largely refrain from issuing

citations to drug users on the grounds of perceived futility, as they often observe the cited

user on the street once again using drugs, leading such officers to conclude that the

issuance of citations, without arrests or the threat of criminal prosecution, is worthless.107

However, he continues:

Other police officers, however, are more inclined to act when they see drug usage

now than they were before decriminalization, as they believe that the

treatment options offered to such users are far more effective than turning users into

criminals (who, even under the criminalization scheme, were typically back on the street

the next day, but without real treatment options). (Geoffrey Monaghan and Dave Bewley-

Taylor, September 2013)

This raises the specter of “net widening”, or the expansion of the categories of individuals subject

to disciplinary institutions. It is possible that decriminalization led Protugeses police to send

individuals to deferral commission who otherwise would have simply been let go, under the belief

that they are actually helping the individual by sending them to the commissions. This should be

seen as a practical application of the theoretical analysis of discourse and cultural epistemology

this report has peruse, as this net widening should be seen as polie showing a desire to inculcate

positive “biocitizenship” in populations of drug users. While some decrim advocates claim

Portugal as an unqualified success, this analysis raises several questions around this narrative.

Even one of Portugal's most laudable accomplishments, a decrease in HIV infection rates, need

to be questioned, as these statistical trends were prevalent throughout Europe during this

timeframe, including nations that did not decriminalize drugs (UNAIDS,2020). This presents the

real possibility that the benefits of decriminalization could be overstated.

In addition to creating discretion for the criminal legal system to take over, the

“decriminalized” process of the deferral commission also contains a surprising degree of punitive

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potential, even without directly involving the larger criminal legal system. Domosławski give

some details around the possible sub- incarceration punishments these deferral commission can

levy, writing;

“If a person fails to attend the Dissuasion Commission, an administrative sanction may be

applied in their absence, such as a fine, revocation of a driving license or license to bear

arms, community service, or a prohibition from being in a certain place.25

...Other administrative sanctions include social work, regular reporting to the

commission, the withholding of social benefits, or six weeks of group therapy instead of a

fine. Similar sanctions may be applied to drug dependent persons at the first meeting if

they do not voluntarily undergo treatment; however, such individuals are generally not

sanctioned because the commission is trying to persuade them to go into treatment, not

force them into doing so. By law, a financial fine can never be applied to a drug dependent

person since it is thought that this could result in further crimes being committed in order

to obtain money to pay the fine.

For those not ready to engage with treatment, the commissions take an individualized and

flexible harm-reduction approach. They have the power to escalate sanctions, but rarely

use it,unless the person is deemed to be a recreational user involved in small-time

trafficking but against whom there is insufficient evidence to charge, or if the person is

repeatedly caught in the vicinity of a school. Most commonly, written warnings are given

for those not ready to be dissuaded, but the commission also can be more creative and, for

example, extend the suspension period when further infractions arise; this usually happens

when a person is engaging with treatment and interventions, but not yet ready to reduce

their drug use or is doing well with regards to harder drugs, like heroin, but still smoking

hashish on the side. An IDT member described taking a “lighter approach” for such

individuals, saying:

“if we have in front of us a heroin addict who is successfully maintaining their treatment

but still smoking some hashish on the side, quite frankly, that’s the least of their

problems!”27 Failure to comply with an administrative sanction constitutes the criminal

offense of disobedience and can be referred to a court. However, an interviewee from the

Lisbon Dissuasion Commission stressed that cases of noncompliance are very rare.28 If a

sanction is complied with, or a procedure is suspended, the case cannot be referred to a

court. (ibid)

There seems to be very little data on how often these punitive measures are applied, with most

sources say that coercion is rarely used and is a last resort only when someone doesn’t attend the

deferral commission. Nonetheless, the possibility of pretty serious punishments, including

necessary government benefits being stripped away, seems to challenge what many lay people

would think when they here the concept of “drug decriminalization”. Within the concept of a

“Portugal style” drug decriminalization regime being modeled in the United States, as much of the

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litureates seems to advocate for, this assortment of punitive tools becomes even more worrisome.

While a comprehensive analysis may be beyond the scope of this report, it is safe to say that every

punishment offered at the Deferral Commission risks having serious disproportionate implications

for Black communities in America. Black communities are already subject to higher level of

racialized surveillance while driving, taking away their licenses would merely make these

instances of “driving while black” a more effective feeder for racial inequity in the criminal justice

system. Black communities are already deemed inherently criminal and dangerous, eliminating

pathways to legal gun ownership raises the specter of Black residents being convicted of illegal

gun possession, a crime which comes with substantial jail time. Moreover, within the racialized

public conception of addiction this raises the possibility that the american legal system might argue

that since poor Black communities have disproportionate addiction issues, they have essentially

forfeited their 2nd amendment rights to self defense, a reality which is especially unacceptable

given the rise of racialized violence in the country. Much has been written about the political nature

of social work, with state officials often applying racist conceptions of the inherent deviance of

Black family life to justify breaking up Black families and criminalizing Black behavior (Martin

and Martin, 1995, Chapman and Withers, 2018)). Moreover, while the literature says individuals

are typically given alternatives to mandated treatment, mandated treatment does not seem to be

beyond the scope of the deferral commissions authority, and while this option may be rarely used

in Portugal, Karam’s analysis of racialized drug user as a threat to the very fabric of society makes

it unlikely that this option would be the same sort of “last resort’ here in America. Many who have

studied the treatment system of in america have noted that it, like social work, is festooned with

racist logic, specifically around racialized applications of 12 step ideology around viewing Black

addicts as excessively “willful” and needing to embrace powerlessness and submission as a

precondition for being render productive “biocitizens” (Mckim, 2018). With mandated treatment

creating the threat of incarceration of a patient is deemed “noncompliant”, addiction counselors

end up wielding vicarious carceral authority, which they can use to coerce racialized performances

of acquiescence in the name of sobriety (ibid). One wonders is, in the American context, a system

capable of calling on these levels of violence deserves to be called “decriminalization” at all.

The term “decriminalization” might be misleading as an adjective for the Protugese model,

as it does incorporate enhanced policing into parts of the model. Specifically, Portugal increased

police presence in schools as part of what it calls its “Safe school” program, with the intention of

creating a deterrent to drug dealing near youth (Domoslawski, 2010). Given not only the history

of “drug free school zones” in America increasing racially unequal level of incarceration, but the

nationwide concern over police brutality, specifically the notion of police engaging in violent

interactions with students and discussion around the so called “school to prison pipeline”, this

provision seems especially likely to expose Black citizens to enhanced level of risk of criminal

justice involvement, going counter to the very notion of “decriminalization”.

Finally, there is one more potential punishment the Portugauese deferral commissions have

access to which, from the perspective of a research using an African Centered Research Paradigm,

might be the most concerning. Alex Kreitt relays the under reported fact that the deferral

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commissions have the authority to ban individuals from visiting certain areas and having

relationships with individuals the court deems inappropriate, writing:

For offenders who do not fall into the dismissal category, the panels can take a range of

action, including issuing a warning to the offender, requiring the offender to check in with

the panel at specified times, ordering the offender to enter into a treatment program, and

even banning the offender from visiting certain places or associating with certain people…

(Kreitt, 2010).

When operating from an understanding of the functioning of Anti-blackness, few things could be

more concerning than a public policy which creates legal authority for viewing entire communities

as deviant and/or dangerous. While this concept is prominent in contemporary american law

enforcement, with parole violations automatically applying to certain individuals found in “known

drug trafficking areas”, these notions have been critical tools in justifying systemic over policing

of Black neighborhoods, deemed as inherently criminal and deviant. It seems unlikely that large,

predominantly white suburban communities, despite having equal rates of drug use as poor and

working class urban areas, would receive these sort of “no go zone” designation, creating a

powerful tool for replicating racial bias. However, one need only have a basic understanding of

human nature and the culture of people of African descent to understand how problematic this

authority can be. If there is any proof to Alexander’s theory of “psycho-social integration”, or the

connection between individuals and feeling of having a social support system and community,

being a critical part of the addiction epidemic, there are few easier way to create a crisis of psychosocial

integration than to legally ban individuals from engaging with people in their community.

While some in this community might create factors which drive people toward addiction, others

in the same community are likely key to creating alternative forms of psycho-social integration

that can create the social networks needed to prevent drug use from sliding into full blown

addiction. Beyond the meta level analysis, social connections in community are essential for

individuals to find jobs and housing, necessarily stabilizing factors to create social stability. All

of these factors are magnified when seen through the lens of people of African descent. The notion

of ubuntu is also known as “collective subjectivity”, with the individual seeing the basic unit of

social and political life as the community, not the wetern, autonomous, “rational” individual (Ani,

1994). From the perspective of a culture which operates through collective subjectivity, cutting

individuals off from the community is not only a punishment for the individual, it is a punishment

for the entire community, who see their relationship with the excluded individual as a necessary

part of their own subjective flourishing. All this needs to be seen within the context of anti-black

notion of the need to “rescue” Black people from their pathological and devinate Black

communities. What Ibrahim X Kendi call an “assimilationist” impulse, i.e. the notion that Black

people need socialization and civilization influence by engaging with whtie people, white

communities, and whtie institutions, has been an essential fulcrum of Anti-Black policy and

practice in America since the 1600s (Kendi, 2017). Few policies more neatly fit within Anti-Black

assimilationist assumptions than banning individuals from being around their community and

potentially forcing them into forms of drug treatment which, as 12 Step derived drug treatment

often does, argues for “cutting off” individual in your past life of using drugs or any “negative

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influences” from your past as a precondition for sobriety. Given these realities, researchers

interesting in productive and emancipatory research must challenge the simplistic notion that

Portugal represents a ”best practice” in drug decriminalization which should be copied in America,

lest one risk ignore a myriad of ways in which the Portugese model can be applied in a manner

which could reflect Anti-Black sentiment and even risk expanding Anti-Black social control and


This analysis of the Portugese model helps establish the implications of deconstructive,

African Centered Research on meta level analysis of policy recommendations. We can now apply

the deconstructive model to look more directly at research methods and begin to isolate specific

questions and finding which may be useful for “heuristic” research.

Research Methodology and Anti-Blackness. On the Form and Function of Drug Policy


In analysing a cross section of research on drug decriminalization, research methodologies

and practices which are problematized by an African Centered Research Paradigm. For example,

Kozlowski et al pursued a very interesting and potentially useful research project attempting to do

a quantitative analysis of the impacts of cannabis decriminalization in Prince George's County

(Kozlowski et al, 2019). While the findings of these articles will be taken up later in this analysis,

for this section it is the methodology that is under examination. In an attempt to find a variable

which shows statistical significance when used as a lens through which to view their data, the

researcher’s made what, from an African Centered Research paradigm, is a very interesting choice,


“Additionally, we included an indicator of physical and social disorder, measured as the

proportion of all misdemeanor enforcements within a beat-year that involved a disorderrelated

incident.6 Lastly, we included percent female headed households (in 2010) as an

indicator of socioeconomic disadvantage, measured as the percent of all beat households

(with at least one dependent) that are female-headed. Four other measures of socioeconomic

disadvantage – percent unemployed, percent in poverty, percent without a high

school diploma, and percent receiving public assistance – were also considered for


However, whether as individual variables or collapsed into two indices along with female

headed household, none of these four variables were statistically significant. The only

variable that significantly contributed toward accounting for overall beat-level variation

in marijuana enforcement was female headed household, so we included this variable as

an indicator of beat-level disadvantage.” (Kozlowski et al, 2019)

The idea that female headed households are a symbol of disadvantage may have fits the short term,

instrumental needs of the researchers in the movement, but given the historical context of how

Black communities have been deemed inferior because of their prevalence of female headed

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households, this is a research tactic which deserves scrutiny. Politicians and theories such as Daniel

Patrick Moynahan used an analysis of female headed households as a sign of social economic

disadvantage to recommended an assimilationist politics seeking inculcate socially appropriate

patriarchal values into the Black community, including recommending more Black men be sent to

war as a tool to combat this dangerous amtriacrhical excess (Moynihan, 1965). This analysis was

roundly criticized as not only reflecting anti-black bias, but also fundamentally misunderstanding

the family structures of people fo African descent, which typically do not fit a simple, nuclear

framework. Rather than seeing the possibilities within the extended, non-nuclear family structures

within Black communities, Moynahian sees them as different and therefore deficient, and while

these researchers don’t seem to share Moynahan’s views, they use similar research methodologies

by embracing the notion of “female led households” as a salient measure of social -economic

distress. While this is clearly not the intent of the researchers, one wonders if they felt an

appropriate sense of urgency of finishing an alternative metric of socio- economic disadvantage in

order to not risk replicating the pernicious myth of there being something inherently wrong with a

frame headed household. That the researchers made this choice within the context of research

related to the War on Drugs makes the choice particularly ironic, as it is the hyper incarceration of

men, specifically Black men, which created the context for the predominance of female lead

households in the Black community (Clear, 2010b). This historical context, as well as a potential

alternative historical metric for evaluating the data (historical arrest rates) is ignored, and the

researchers isolated female headed households as if it was some neutral lens through which to

evaluate historical socio -economic disadvantage.

Researchers around drug decriminalization have also commonly makes argumentative

choices which risk limiting the scope of political analysis. The Human Rights Watch reports makes

one of these choices when it chooses to focus a large chunk of its analysis on the innocence of the

individuals swept up in the War on Drugs dragnets, writing:

“Numerous interviewees in each state we visited said they had pled guilty even though they

were innocent. Many said they did not feel they had any other real choice. Defendants,

defense attorneys, judges, and prosecutors in different jurisdictions used the language of

gambling: would the defendant “roll the dice” and go to trial? Most defendants said no,

because the odds were against them and the stakes were too high.

In Texas, where defense attorneys said laboratory scandals and faulty roadside drug tests

had raised concerns, Harris County began testing drugs in possession cases that had

already been closed. Since 2010, there have been at least 73 exonerations in Harris County

for drug possession or sale where the defendant pled guilty for something that turned out

not to be a crime at all. In 2015 alone, there were 42.279

Of the 42 exonerees in 2015, only six were white.280 Most or all had been adjudged

indigent, meaning they could not afford an attorney and had either a public defender or

another attorney appointed for them. One of those attorneys, Natalie Schultz, said a

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significant number of them were homeless.281 When the laboratory finally tested their

drugs, it found only legal substances or nothing at all.

For example, in July 2014, police arrested Isaac Dixon, 26, for possession of a substance

that field tested positive for Ecstasy. Two days later, Isaac pled guilty to felony drug

possession and was sentenced to 90 days in the Harris County Jail. More than 14 months

later, the substance was tested by a laboratory, and the field test was proved faulty. No

drugs were found—only antihistamine and caffeine.282” (Human Rights Watch, 2015).

The intent here is clear enough, as the author is attempting to convey the reality that innocent

people are potentially subject to incarceration due to the policing regime under the War on Drugs.

However, focusing attention on whether individuals arrested for drug possession were actually in

possession of drugs risks obviating the core argument of drug decriminalization, the drug

possession ought not be a crime. Calling upon the narrative of innocence risks making the

conversation harder for individuals who are clearly “guilty”, specifically individuals who might

be convicted of possession with intent to distribute or face charges related to weapons possession.

John Pfaff notes that drug decriminalization risks creating a “Squeeze the Balloon” effect where

even as states reduce penalties around drug possession, the increase charges for crimes related to

accusations of violence, writing:

“In reality, only about 16 percent of state prisoners are serving time on drug charges—

and very few of them, perhaps only around 5 or 6 percent of that group, are both low level

and nonviolent. At the same time, more than half of all people in state prisons have been

convicted of a violent crime. A strategy based on decriminalizing drugs will thus

disappoint—and disappoint significantly.”...

At the same time, for all the talk of “low-hanging fruit,” there doesn’t

appear to be anyone building ladders to pick the fruit higher up the tree.

Prison reform has been on the political radar since about 2000, and it has

been taken seriously since about 2008; that’s somewhere between nine and

seventeen years. Yet reform efforts are still aimed entirely at this “lowhanging

fruit,” and there seems to be no effort to move the discussion on to

tougher issues.

In fact, the situation is arguably worse that this makes it sound. It isn’t

just that reform bills focus only on those convicted of nonviolent crimes,

but that, as we’ve seen, reform options, such as drug diversion, often

explicitly exclude those convicted of violence. Even more troubling, many

states generate the political support for lessening property and drug crime

sentences in part by toughening those for violent crimes. To belabor the

metaphor, far from building taller ladders, we seem to be burning the wood

we need to build them. If the goal is real, substantial reform, this approach

is untenable. The sheer volume of violent offenders in prison acts as a

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arrier to deep cuts built solely on nonviolent offenders.

Maybe deep reforms really aren’t the goal. Maybe the goal is merely to

release prisoners who really don’t scare us, but otherwise leave things

untouched. That, however, doesn’t seem to match the rhetoric of

transformative change coming from both the Left and the Right.

Furthermore, even if the goal is only the modest one of releasing those who

“don’t scare us,” we should still be less punitive toward many of those who

are serving time for violent crimes. Our current approach to punishing those

convicted of violence is almost entirely blind to mountains of sophisticated

research about violent behavior. The harsh sentences we impose on people

convicted of violent crimes are not buying us the security we think they are:

they incapacitate people longer than necessary and provide little deterrence

in exchange. It’s a situation that begs for real reform.” (Pfaff , 2018b).

When decriminalization attempts to tactically limit its frame to non-violent drug offenders,

this creates a strategic limitation to comprehensive de-incarceration. Moreover, decriminalization

advocates have often explicitly made the point that decriminalization would allow more resources

to focus on “more serious crimes”.

“Along with changes in medical marijuana laws, more recent state-level reforms have

decreased the criminal punishments related to low-level possession or have legalized lowlevel

possession altogether.Since 2012, when both Washington and Colorado approved

legislation allowing for adult recreational use, 10 states and Washington, D.C., have

legalized small amounts of recreational marijuana for adults (as of year-end 2018).

Additionally, some states have decriminalized or depenalized small amounts of marijuana

possession for adult recreational use (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2019).

These permissive policy changes of the last decade occur in stark contrast to the policies

of the “War on Drugs" era of the 1980s and early 1990s, which criminalized drug use and

prioritized enforcement of drug offenses. Depenalization, decriminalization, and similarly

permissive policies aim to do the opposite — reduce enforcement of low-level drug offenses

in exchange for increased resources to be allocated toward the prevention of more serious

(e.g., violent) crimes (DeAngelo, Gittings, & Ross, 2018; Makin et al., 2019; Ross &

Walker, 2016).” (Kozloski et al., 2019)

Given calls to #DefundThePolice, and the standing reality of racial bias in the criminal legal

system, the question of whether defacto increasing police resources is a desirable outcome is

debatable. This is especially glaring when contrasted with an alternative of reinvesting this money

in communities most impacted by the war on drugs, a prospect which is rarely mentioned in

decriminalization literature even though discussion of reorienting resources from drug

enforcement to other organs within the policing apparatus.

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The conversation around decriminalization allowing for more efficient policing, research

around policing has shown the limits of this. While there is an underlying notion that

decriminalization is important because it is a “compassionate” act towards victims of crime as it

would allow more police to spend less time hunting down drug users and more time “protecting

them” the reality of policing challenges this narrative, writing:

“The legalization of marijuana undoubtedly resulted in the opportunity for agencies to

reallocate resources, and as mentioned earlier, the level of resources available in police

agencies is one important organizational factor that may influence clearance rates.

Although some research finds little evidence of a resources-to-clearance rate connection

(Cloninger & Sartorius, 1979; Greenwood et al., 1975), considerable evidence does exist

in the research literature that resource availability does make a difference. For example,

Stolzenberg, D’Alessio, and Eitle (2004) found that an increase in the number of police

officers is associated with improved clearance rates for violent crime. In one of the earliest

studies undertaken in this area, Chaiken (1975) found that officers’ effectiveness in solving

crime improved with the increase in departmental resources used for criminal

investigation. Similarly, a more recent study conducted by Wong (2010) revealed that

resources available—as measured by police expenditures—are positively associated with

the clearance capability of the police.

These studies demonstrate that police resources do matter in the provision of public safety

outcomes. However, the likelihood of clearance of a crime is contingent on the availability

of policing resources devoted to investigation, including the ability to actively search for

evidence and to spend time on the development of leads (Benson, Rasmussen, & Kim, 1998;

Borg, Parker, & Karen, 2001). Indeed, as Cooney (1994) has noted, police resources

typically are not evenly distributed across cases even within the same type of crime.”

(Willits et al, 2018).

This is an even handed attempt for researchers to balance the literature around increased resources

helping police clearance rates with discussions around the limitations of this approach. However,

this analysis would benefit greatly from applying an understanding of anti-blackness and the

African Centred Research Paradigm. When the authors write “police resources typically are not

evenly distributed across cases even within the same type of crime”, they open the door to a more

nuanced understanding of how decriminalization relates to policing, one which points to the reality

that crimes involving rich, respectable (read white) citizens are more vigorously investigated than

crimes involving poor, none respetable (read Black) citizens. Often researchers refuse to make

points like this, as they feel it make them appear non-objective in their analysis. While this is

understandable, an African Centered Research Paradigm understands that policing is a life and

death issue for Black people, and as such would believe that point is sufficiently important to

warrant an analysis beyond the “both sides have a point” faux objectivity presented by the

researchers. Indeed, to get information back up the claim that police resources are dolled out along

racial lines, one need only look at the text of the article the researchers are citing, as Coony

explicitly presents race as a critical factor in the allocation of police resources, writing:

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Investigation also varies with the social characteristics of civil- ian victims (e.g., Simon

1991:19-20). The police treat some cases as "big" or important and investigate them in

considerable detail. Crimes committed against high-status victims are especially likely to

be treated this way (e.g., Skolnick 1966:176-77). A clear exam- ple is the assassination of

a political leader or a media celebrity. Here investigation by police and others may

continue for de- cades or even centuries. But the same principle applies, less dramatically,

in crimes against ordinary citizens. When wealthy, re- spectable people are

victimized, police are likely to seek physical evidence such as fingerprints, tire tracks, and

hair samples at the scene of the crime, interview large numbers of potential witnesses and

informants, and conduct extensive in- terrogations, polygraph ("lie detector") tests, and

"line ups" (sessions at which suspects are viewed by victims or witnesses through a oneway

mirror). (Black 1980:16) As the victim's social status declines, the probability that

these investigatory measures will be undertaken decreases. Thus, in cases where the

victims are of decidedly low status, even the most obvious investigative leads may not be

pursued, regardless of the legal seriousness of the incident. A study of homicide in a rural

Mexican community, where the victims are poor farmers, reports: "There is never any

questioning of suspects or attempt to solve the crime by officials" (Nash 1967:461).

Similarly, minimal investigation also appears to follow homicides committed on American

Indian reservations (Matthiessen 1991:193) and skid row (Black 1989:6-7). In a Georgia

case I observed,6 a young black man, whom the police strongly suspected of being a drug

dealer, shot and killed a close friend, another young black male also believed to be in the

drug business. The killer turned him- self in to the local jail the day after the shooting, and

told the authorities he was prepared to make a statement to the police. Seven months later,

when the case came up for trial the prosecut- ing attorney complained that the investigating

officer had still not taken a statement from the defendant. Busy with other cases, the killing

of one street-level drug dealer by another was simply not high on the detective's list of


That evidence is uncovered is no guarantee that it will be use- ful or important. A

considerable amount of legal strategy re- volves around excluding or suppressing

information that is avail- able to at least one party (see, e.g., Mann 1985). However,

without investigation legal actions are difficult to sustain. In the above case, for instance,

the lack of evidence resulted in the assis- tant district attorney accepting a plea of

involuntary manslaugh- ter instead of pursuing the murder conviction he had initially

sought. Another aspect of social status affecting the thoroughness with which cases are

investigated is the victim's respectability. One student of police homicide investigators has

noted that "nothing deflates a detective more than going back to the office, punching a

victim's name into the admin office terminal and pulling out five or six computer pages of

misbehavior, a criminal history that reaches from eye level to the office floor" (Simon

1991:177). But any deviation from conventional standards of behavior can weaken a

victim's claim. A study of Canadian detectives cites the following two cases to illustrate

this point.

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In the first, an alleged rape, the detectives "spent five hours trying to talk the victim into

following through with her com- plaint and giving a written statement on it. ... [They]

willingly worked a continuous 16 hour period on this case, on behalf of a victim they

characterized as 'naive' and 'respectable' and in need of police assistance to develop and

sustain the case" (Ericson 1981:106). In the second, an alleged assault, a young man got

into a fight while attending a party, receiving injuries which ne- cessitated him spending

four days in hospital. The detectives spent a total of 15 minutes on the case. After visiting

the victim in his disheveled apartment a detective commented, "Did you see the way he

lives? He's probably glad he got hurt so that he had an excuse not to be working." Although

the case was one of the most violent encountered during the research, the detectives filed

the case without ever contacting the two eyewitnesses or the suspect. The reason they cited:

lack of evidence (Ericson 1981:106-7). Legal officials often cite lack of evidence as a

reason for the attrition of criminal cases. Examples such as these demonstrate that the

designation has an evaluative component linked to the social status of the parties, and that

statistical presentations which employ it tend to contain embedded partisan effects (see,

e.g., Boland, Mahanna, & Sones 1992:35-48). (Conney, 1994).

While there may be a debate as to the role of resource allocation in aggregate impacted clearance

rates, there does not seem to be much debate as to whether drug decriminalization will help poor,

minority victims of crime, as these crimes are subject to the resource allocation decisions that deem

their crimes less of a priority independent of drug decriminalization. An african centered research

paradigm would understand how this argument around using decriminalization to protect victims

of crime through policing deserves careful attention. Not only does the argument risk generally

expanding the power of the carceral state, but feeds anti-Black notions of police as benevolent

institutions which, if only freed from the tedium of drug prohibition enforcement, could be more

effective in their assimilationist mission of inculcating discipline and respect for authority into the

Black masses. Not only does this argument not detract for the researchers core mission, it enhances

it, as Kozlowski et al present this analysis specifically to frame a discussion around how cannabis

decriminalization in Prince George's County did not solve racial disparities in cannabis

enforcement, it may have created net widening effects with Black residents receiving more

citations post decriminalization. They write:

“... Examining arrests and citations for marijuana possession separately provides some

evidence for the claim that criminal citations replace arrests for marijuana possession in

later analysis years, implying that the 2013 shift to criminal citations had the intended

result of reducing arrest rates for marijuana possession. However, while arrests are

declining over the period and citations are rising through 2014, we did not observe a

complete displacement effect of arrests to citations. This point is best illustrated by

examining the total enforcement rates during the period. If marijuana possession arrests

were simply being replaced with criminal citations (in 2013-2014), then we would expect

the total enforcement rate to remain stable or decline over this period. However, the

opposite is true. Considering all county beats, the total enforcement rate steadily increased

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from a low of 2.49 per 1,000 in 2010, to a peak of 5.87 per 1,000 in 2014, the second (and

last) year of implementation of criminal citations for possession of less than 10 grams.

We see a similar pattern for high frequency beats, though the peak average total

enforcement rate (7.34 per 1,000) occurred one year earlier in 2013, the first year of

implementation of criminal citations. The most dramatic impact on arrests and total

enforcement rates came later, in 2015, the first full year of implementation allowing civil

citations for possession of less than 10 grams...

One possible explanation for the divergent trends in arrests and criminal citations draws

on the concept of substitution or replacement effects. That is, individuals who were arrested

for marijuana possession of less than 10 grams in the pre-change period (2010-2012)

would instead be criminally cited (starting in 2013). However, considering the overall

increase in total marijuana possession enforcement rates (arrests and citations combined),

during the period between 2010 and 2014 (as shown in Table 2),

it appears that the addition of criminal citations as an enforcement option for lower-level

marijuana offenses had a net-widening effect. That is, individuals who previously received

no enforcement (or received an unofficial sanction, like a warning) for low-level

possession of marijuana were then (in 2013-2014) issued criminal citations. Therefore, in

addition to replacement effects (that are likely occurring for some fraction of the

enforcement population), arrests remain relatively stable over the period while citations

are increasing, resulting in a greater number of total possession-related enforcements

during the two-year period of criminal citations.” (Kozlowski et al, 2018)

A more comprehensive understanding of anti-Blackness would add to the researcher’s

findings, as it would help explain the social context which might produce a net widening result in

light of decriminalization. Despite this reticence, the researcher’s do incorporate some analysis of

anti-blackness into their “objective”, “data centric” approach, noting that, even accounting for

racism and bias against Latinx peoples, the net widening effects specifically are seen in Black

communities, writing:

“Proximity to Washington, D.C., is also positively related to the 2014 marijuana

enforcement rate, suggesting that beats adjacent to Washington, D.C., had higher rates of

marijuana enforcement. We elaborate on this finding in two ways. First, Prince George’s

County wraps around the northeast and southeast borders of Washington, D.C., which

contain some of the city’s most disadvantaged communities.

Second, the numerator of our outcome measure includes D.C. residents who were subject

to enforcement by PGPD (the census data used for the denominator does not include D.C.

residents). In 2014 specifically, D.C. residents accounted for approximately 16% of all

marijuana possession arrests and 12% of all marijuana possession citations. So, the

positive relationship between D.C. proximity and marijuana possession enforcement rate

may be partially attributable to the greater presence of D.C. residents who are subjected

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to arrest or citation in those beats.10 Proportion Hispanic is negatively related to the 2014

marijuana enforcement rate, indicating that beats with higher proportions of Hispanic

residents have lower rates of marijuana possession enforcement. Interestingly, there is

substantial overlap between the

few beats with high Hispanic populations and D.C. adjacent beats. The negative coefficient

for proportion Hispanic indicates that, despite their proximity to D.C. (positively

associated with enforcement rates), beats with higher concentrations of Hispanic residents

have a lower enforcement rate, all else being equal. (ibid).

The research indicates that, in predominantly Black Prince George’s county, the net widening

effects are concentrated in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods Near Washington D.C., but not

the Latinx neighborhoods. The researchers, however, do not state the logical conclusion of this

analysis, that the potential net widening effects are driven specifically by policing in poor, Black

communities. Kozlowski et al are doing research related to decriminalization in Maryland and

engage in deep, quantitative analysis around the implications of decriminalization, including its

potential to inadvertently increase some racial disparities. As such few articles are more potentially

useful for an analysis of decriminalization of drugs in Maryland. These criticisms are not to

diminish the reports findings, it is to attempt to outline how subsequent research efforts could

expand upon their work to incorporate an explicit analysis of anti-blackness and create even more

productive research findings via utilizing a African Centered Research Paradigm.

The research indicates that racial disparities existing post decriminalization can be found

beyond Prince George's county. Tran et al find similar levels of specifically Anti-Black policing

post decriminalization in Philadelphia, writing:

“Marijuana arrest rates were high among African Americans prior to decriminalization.

We found that African Americans experienced greater absolute reduction in arrest rates

once marijuana possession was reclassified as a civil offense compared to Whites;

however, arrest rate disparities, specifically for sales/manufacturing, increased

betweenAfrican Americans and Whites. For instance, relative reduction for

sales/manufacturing-based arrest rates was nearly 3 times lower for African Americans

than their White counterparts after decriminalization. This is similar to recent work

documenting increases in relative arrest rate disparities despite decreases in absolute

disparities followingmarijuana legalization between Whites and African Americans

(Firthet al., 2019).There are two possible rationales that may explain the differential

patterns in arrest rates by race. One rationale is that our data do not reflect actual law

enforcement behaviors, particularly biases in the criminal justice system, that would

contribute to the continual dis-parities in arrest rates (Gelman et al., 2007; Milner et al.,

2016; Mitchelland Caudy, 2015;Ulmer et al., 2016). This may explain, in part, how African

Americans continue to be unfairly targeted by law enforcement officers relative to White

individuals. However, recent work suggests that perceptions around policing of small drug

use and purchases are changing among law enforcement officers (Rouhani et al., 2019).

Theother rationale posits that arrest rates disparities may be partially explained by

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differential purchasing patterns that place Africans Americans at greater risk for arrest,

including purchasing marijuana out-doors, from strangers, and far from their homes

(Ramchand et al.,2006). These hypotheses, however, require further evaluation to disentangle

the mechanisms contributing to the persistent arrest rate dis-parities between

Whites and African Americans.Our results also suggest differential impact of

decriminalization by sex. Males experienced greater absolute/relative reduction for

possession-based arrests, but females appear to experience a higher relative reduction for

sales/manufacturing, which the percent decline among females was twice as much as it

was among males. This heterogeneity of effect may, in part, be a result of the preexisting

gender differences in arrest rates prior to decriminalization. Females had an overall lower

arrest rate before marijuana decriminalization, thus, any declines in arrest rates, even

small ones, can result in a large relative reduction.Further exploration of gender-based

differences following decriminalization is warranted.Finally, the impact of

decriminalization appears to be somewhat similar across age groups. This is congruent

with prior work to show that decriminalization policies lead to significantly lower rates of

pos-session-based arrest (up to 75%) for both adults and youths (Plunket al., 2019). Our

research, however, further extends prior work to show that, even though absolute

differences may be similar between age groups, there were relative differences for

sales/manufacturing-based arrest rates by up to an order of 3-folds. It has been speculated

that law enforcement officers may compensate for their inability to arrest youths for

marijuana possession by arresting them more frequently for mar-ijuana

sales/manufacturing (i.e., possession with intent to distribute) (Smart and Kleiman, 2019).

This was not supported by our data. In fact, sales/manufacturing-based arrest rates did not

increase following marijuana decriminalization for any of the demographic groups in our

analyses.” (Tran et al, 2020).

This article, published this month, shows how the field of decriminalization research is constantly

evolving, but having a conceptual understanding of anti-Blackness can be useful to provide a frame

through while to view and process this evolving literature base.

Tran et al also raise an important, though often overlooked, demographic component within

research, the importance when possible of disaggregating data between Black men and Black

women. An African centered research paradigm understands that white supremacy impacts Black

men and Black women differently, and this disaggregation seeks to acquire more specificity within

its analysis around how gender impacts drug policy. As Tran et al, as well as a bevy of others point

out, drug policy has specifically, though not exclusively, targeted Black men, and it important that

disparity analysis be supplemented with meta level analysis showing no only how policy changes

create disparities between white and Black communities, but also centered communities most

impacted by these policies. While, as previously stated, these policies impact the entire Black

community, Black men appeared to particularly be targeted by these forms of policing. This is

important, as the current trend toward “intersectional” analysis has at times attempted, laudably,

to centre a diversity of marginalized groups, specifically showing disparities between black women

and white women to show how Black women’s experiences differ from white womens. While this

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is important, it is also important to be analytically precise by pointing out that Black men are the

most impacted by War on Drugs policing. In fact, many scholars have pointed out that this violence

should be theorized through anintersectional” lens and be seen as anti-Black misandry, a specific

form of gendered violence which targets Black men for their rmale gender (Curry, 2017). This is

a logical extension of the analysis of Karam, Netherland and Hassan, as

a. The Black male subject is seen as specifically dangerous in the midst of their drug

intoxication in light of a perceived physical and cultural affinity for violence


b. The fear of miscegenation, from historical lynchings to contemporary fears of “drug dealers

coming to the suburbs” has specifically been targeted at the fears of Black men

impregnating white women.

These points are raised not to diminish any carceral violence targeted towards Black trans people

or Black women. It is included to address what Curry and other have seen as a understandable but

none the less analytically imprecise tendency in research on Black people, a belief that fidelity to

intersectionality” means you must show how many issue impacts Black people evenly, or even

to focus on the harms towards Black women and Black trans under the misled assumption the

intersectionality the Black women and Black trans are always, already the most impacted by any

particular issue. A more nuanced and precise application of intersectional analysis, one more

accurately reflected within data on the War on Drugs and drug decriminalization literature, is to

include Black male gender as a itself an intersectional frame and analysis policy within the

historical understanding that Black men have being specifically targeted for discrimination and

violence speifically because they are Black and male. While some conceptions of intersectionality

incorporate a simplistic assumption that patriarchy dictates men are always the beneficiaries of

privilege and never the victims of it, an African Centered Research paradigm challenges this

assumption and correctes places anti--Black misandry within its research methodology.

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Part III. Recommendations and Suggestions for Future Research

An important prerequisite to establishing a research paradigm and strategy to study

decriminalization is to define the scope and definition of decriminalization. Jordan Blair Woods

uses an analysis of the decriminalization of certain traffic offenses to argue that decriminalization

advocates often have a narrow focus on criminal sanctions, failing to address fundamental

questions of policing authority. In his conclusion, he offers an interesting analysis on how

decriminalization should be evaluated, questioning whether “cost benefit analysis” should be the

operative frame for evaluating decriminalization police, writing

“It is difficult to propose bright-line rules or methodologies about when legislative

judgments will weigh in favor of restricting police authority and discretion during

decriminalization efforts because of the diversity of contextual factors at play. Limiting

police authority and discretion against the backdrop of decriminalized traffic offenses

might be viewed as posing qualitatively and quantitatively different harms and costs to

civilians and to the state than does restricting police authority and discretion against the

backdrop of other decriminalized offenses. Further, even if a cost-benefit analysis weighs

in favor of not restricting police authority and discretion in specific contexts, the extent to

which cost-benefit paradigms should define the scope of individual protections (whether

constitutional or statutory) in policing contexts is debatable.398 There may be certain

civilian harms stemming from policing that laws and doctrine should not tolerate or

encourage, even when that approach is viewed as not cost-efficient (especially to the state).

Regardless of methodological choice, approaching decriminalization as a process that

implicates more than criminal sanctions encourages deeper and more systematic

conversations about policing costs and fairness in situations involving decriminalized

conduct. In focusing on sanctions, narrower accounts of decriminalization do not offer

meaningful frameworks to evaluate the full scope of these policing matters, regardless of

whether lawmakers and other criminal justice actors ultimately conclude that they weigh

in favor of sustaining police authority and discretion.” (Woods, 2014).

Even if preserving some police authority could have some positive effects, Woods offers the

possibility that the potential harm of racialized violence through police traffic stops warrants a

more comprehensive reduction of police authority through an expanded conception of

decriminalization. He also notes that even after decriminalization, police stops continued , as

decriminalization had so deeply focused on whether the driver would receive a criminal or civil

sanction from traffic violations, that they did not address the authority police have to pull people

over in the first place. It is useful to remember Akbar’s assertion that there is a domino effect

involved in research, with the underlying assumptions determining the methodology pursued to

collect data, which then determines the conclusions researchers achieve through evaluating their

data. If decriminalization is seen as a primarily legalistic process of changing the legal sanctioning

related to the criminal legal system, more fundamental questions around the nature of punishment

and power risk being obscured:

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“As this example illustrates, the criminal justice process entails much more than

sanctioning wrongdoing. Along line of sociological and criminal justice literature

describes the criminal justice process along a spectrum involving complementary

institutions of social control (for example, police, courts, and corrections)” including the

following stages: crime is detected or reported, police investigate and arrest suspects,

suspects make court appearances, claims of innocence and guilt are adjudicated, and the

guilty are punished (the so-called “sanctioning" stage).11 Even though sanctioning is only

one stage in this progression, it dominates discussions about decriminalization.

If decriminalization proponents take their normative commitments seriously, then

modifying sanctions should represent only the beginning of the decriminalizafion process.

Sanction-focused approaches to decriminalization fail to capture the harms to civilians

and to the state that formal institutions of social control impose at earlier stages of the

criminal justice process. This Article focuses on one formal institution of social control

with a central role in the criminal jusfice process: law enforcement.” I argue that

decriminalization ought to involve not only modifying the sanctions that attach to

particular kinds of conduct but also modifying the ways law enforcement entities police

that conduct.

Sanction-focused approaches to decriminalization have perpetuated the idea that the chief

goal of decriminalization is to reduce or to eliminate punishment. But this view is much

too narrow. Advocates of decriminalization should expand their view and attend to the

multitude of ways in which diffusing different types of social control—including

punishment—might be made possible.” (ibid)

It is important that researchers expand the frame for decriminalization beyond the nature

of formal sanctioning, as the reality of the legal system complicates the assumed clear divided

criminal between the civil and criminal realms. Just as criminal law serves a social function of of

“blaming”, decriminalization must not assume that civil punishments would absolve marginalized

populations from stereotypes which subject them to increased risk of policing, as Woods


“By advocating for decriminalization approaches that include both formal sanctions and

restrictions on police authority, I am not arguing that civil-criminal classifications should

categorically govern the scope of statutory or constitutional rights in all contexts. At the

same time, accepting the notion that there is no meaningful difference between the criminal

and civil realms would render decriminalization a meaningless process. Rather than

abandoning the entire idea of a civil-criminal line, it makes more sense to engage in deeper

conversations about the contexts in which civil-criminal classifications do meaningful

work to reduce social control, and the contexts in which they do not (or in which other

types of distinctions do more meaningful work).377 In one insightful attempt to resuscitate

the criminal-civil distinction, Carol Steiker has argued that criminal punishment operates

as a distinctive “blaming” mechanism.378 Based on this view, she posits that a special

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procedural regime for criminal cases is necessary to limit the state’s ability to resort to

blaming through punishment, especially against political enemies and minorities in a


Expanding conversations about decriminalization to capture restrictions on police

authority and discretion in a more coherent way broadens this inquiry to consider how in

today’s policing era, “blaming” through punishment is not the only way that the state

controls, stigmatizes, and condemns its political enemies or minorities. Rather, police

authority and discretion are also key sources of control, stigma, and condemnation. As the

previous discussion has highlighted, the harmful and disempowering consequences of

police discretion can take force against members of different minority communities

regardless of whether criminal punishment is ever applied. For instance, police discretion

facilitates and perpetuates stereotypes that put transgender women—especially

transgender women of color—at risk of being perceived as sex workers by the police

whenever they walk in public.380 In addition, police discretion during the “war on drugs”

over the past few decades, and the more recent “war on terror,” has facilitated and

perpetuated stereotypes that force many members of minority communities—especially

young men of color—to live with the everyday stigma of being perceived as “suspicious”

by others.”(ibid).

Woods presents some of the clear analysis of the limitations of critical elements of the standard

model of decriminalization. Including a deeper analysis of Anti-Blackness, and an analysis of the

net widening analysis from the previous section of this report, it appears possible that

decriminalization can present new avenues for anti-Black bias to manifest itself. Thus, the first

and most salient recommendation this report presents is that, in order to pursue research which

most effectively reflects a comprehensive understanding Anti-Blackness and reflects an African

Centered Research Paradigm, the research must have as one of its underlying assumption a desire

not merely to study decriminalization of drugs, but to place its analysis of decriminalizing drug

within a larger context of seeking decriminalize the social communal life of marginalized

communities, specifically people of African descent. This finding has implications for the research

methodology and policy recommendations stemming from drug decriminalization research.

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We have created this document to serve as an example of how to apply an African-centered

research paradigm. It is undertaken with the understanding that the methodology used in this paper

may not be entirely applicable to future research, given the unique experiences of the author, and

this information is conveyed with the hope that this research will inspire future researchers to

incorporate elements of this process into their understanding and methodology. It is difficult to

reduce an evolving understanding of how to approach research to discrete recommendations.

However, this section will attempt to distill our findings into specific observations and suggestions

for future researchers. Operating on the understanding that this is not presented as a definitive or

exhaustive list of “requirements” but as an attempt to clarify how our findings up to this point

could be applied to future research.

It is important to be precise in understanding that, though every research project document

will likely be engaged by a variety of individuals and institutions, researchers should be clear in

whom they see as their audience. Based on the findings of a preliminary conversation, advocacy

organizations are likely to be a key audience for this project. As such, the information must be

presented in a way that is easily accessible and shareable. This lends itself to a more narrative

model and less towards a data-centric, academic-style form of presentation. It is important,

however, that researchers not assume that the primary benefit of their research is to inform

advocates on best practices around drug decriminalization. Whether intentional or not, the

decisions made by researchers on what to center conceptually serves as forms of messaging and

media. Presenting to the audience a theory on how to frame debates and interpret information.

Netherland and Hassan comment on this point in the conclusion of their report, noting:

“Racial and ethnic inequalities are symbolically imbedded in U.S. popular and political

cultures as well as medicine and are reliably and imperceptibly reproduced in U.S.

institutional practices. Specific interventions are required to counterbalance their hold on

drug policy. If policy and clinical responses to addiction are to be racially inclusive, a

racial/ethnic impact assessment is one way to predict and document the effects of health

policies and clinical practices on racial and ethnic inequalities. Racial ethnic impact

statements have been implemented in a few states, such as Iowa and Connecticut, and

proposed in others, such as New York (London 2011; Mauer 2009). They require

policymakers to conduct a formal assessment of how a specific policy proposal is likely to

ameliorate or exacerbate racial disparities, particularly in the criminal justice system.

These statements, modeled on fiscal and environmental impact statements, are meant to

avoid policies that purport to be colorblind or race neutral but, in fact, result in differential

treatment. These policy assessments could go a long way in heightening public awareness

of the ways that racism is institutionally reinforced...

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Our study of media portrayals of race and opioids points to the critical role of racialized

imagery and narratives in generating public support for disparate policy responses in drug

control. The extent of unmarked, naturalized discourses of white deservedness and

humanity in the face of opioid addiction indicates the degree to which racially disparate

drug laws require extensive cultural work to justify and maintain against political

challenges. The flurry of media activity around white prescription opioid use represents a

considerable investment of public relations effort. It may also indicate the vulnerability of

racialized constructs of race, addiction and criminality to social analysis and organized

alternative readings of drug policy. Media analysis is a political act, one piece of a multipronged

effort that will be necessary to challenge drug war punishment and as racial

violence in contemporary form.” (Netherland and Hassan, 2016)

The notion that “policy assessments could go a long way in heightening public awareness of the

ways that racism is institutionally reinforced” is noteworthy and requires further interpretation in

terms of what an African-centered research paradigm might see as desirable framings of policy

issues and how these might differ from much of the current literature on drug decriminalization. It

may be useful to expound upon where an African-centered research paradigm might recommend

caution. As previously stated, narratives of the “inno[cent] victims” of the War on Drugs are

fraught with danger, as they presuppose a search for a “perfect victim” who is “rational” and

“respectable” and thus worthy of sympathy. In addition to potentially working against the larger

mission of legitimizing and containing addiction, recreational illicit drug use, and the drug selling

that often accompanies addiction, these frames of innocence and respectability are deeply

racialized. However, in line with the “diunital” thinking previously introduced, that does not mean

this argument need play no role in making an emancipatory case for drug decriminalization. The

HRW “Every 25 Seconds” report introduces the concept of “false positives” from police drug tests

done in the field. They write:

“Like Isaac’s conviction for drug possession, dozens more in Harris County in 2015 were

ultimately vacated and the charges dismissed, but only because authorities took the time

to have the drugs tested, after the case dispositions. The exonerations required laboratory

testing, defense and prosecution filings for habeas corpus relief, trial court

recommendations, and eventual dismissal by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.283 In

the meantime, defendants had to endure pretrial detention, probation, sometimes a jail

sentence, and the prospect of a felony conviction for action that was lawful.

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As the exonerations in Harris County demonstrate, people plead guilty to drug possession

even when they are innocent, because the system makes them feel they have no choice.

These cases also show that field tests often produce false positives and yet are sometimes

the only evidence of drug possession. Fortunately for the defendants, Harris County

invested the time and resources to test drugs after conviction. Harris County Public

Defender Alex Bunin told us that if other jurisdictions undertook the same effort, he

expected we would see that around the country indigent defendants plead guilty to drug

possession when they are innocent.” (Human Rights Watch, 2016).

This is interesting not merely from the perspective of promoting the “innocence” narrative, but

specifically because it impugns the ability for cops to be perceived as competent and effective

adjudicators of guilt and innocence under drug prohibition. As such, a research project that focuses

on limiting policing to be able to test for drugs accurately, with an explicit focus on the police’s

ability to “game” the test or the fundamental issues of field tests essentially taking the place of jury

trials in establishing guilt and innocence, would help delegitimize the very notion that drug

possession can be adjudicated in a criminal manner and thus help foster a drug decriminalization

narrative. Additionally, funding for a project, as was done in Texas, that attempts to exonerate

those convicted of drug possession based on false positive field tests could be a productive research

inquiry. This would also meet the objective of “heuristic” or applied research in that it would have

real-world results towards furthering the goal of the material liberation of oppressed people. It

would help individuals craft appeals that could lead to their exoneration and freedom. While this

would feed the myth of “innocence,” the real world material contribution to liberating people from

prison makes this effort a fruitful research effort. Again, these efforts must explicitly be defined

by researchers as delegitimizing the very notion that police should have the authority to police

drug possession, lest these efforts be recast by police “reformers” as a means to give them more

researchers for better and “more professional” testing. Researchers must be cognizant of deeply

embedded pro-police assumptive logic embedded in American society which can make even

efforts designed to challenge police authority into reasons to give them even more money and

support in the name of “reform”.

Moreover, researchers should be cautious when confronting the notion of empathy and

emphasizing the illegitimate suffering of the victims of the War on Drugs. While it is the

assumption that this sort of humanization creates identification with victims which is politically

productive, it assumes the experiences of those who are victimized are knowable to the audiences.

A reality which is dangerous as it creates the assumption that white audiences are able to

understand and identify with the suffering of African peoples on the terms of African peoples.

Where what more often happens is the deep suffering of people of African descent gets transposed

into political and moral narratives that are familiar to white audiences (Hartman, 2010). Columbia

University professor and MacArthur Genius award recipient Sidiya Hartman presents this analysis

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within the context of a critique of the reproduction of slave narratives, which often presents graphic

violence done to enslaved Africans in the name of educating the audiences. This creates suffering

as a spectacle which demands cathartic recognition. Obscuring the direct need for material change

and ignoring the uncomfortable dynamic of voyeurism and racial sadism that accompanies these

representations (ibid). Drug policy is an especially apt space for this critique, as no matter how

graphic the suffering of addicts is presented, it will lead many to argue this suffering was necessary

for the individual to “hit their bottom.” With a twelve-step ideology as a particularly powerful

frame to justify structural violence as necessary for the moral and spiritual awakenings which some

argue are prerequisites for sobriety. As such, researchers should not assume that graphic depictions

of suffering are politically productive for the communities they are attempting to advocate for.

Instead, they should focus extensively on an analysis of the institutions engaged with the issues of

drug decriminalization, the interactions between them, how the status quo exacerbates the

deracination of institutional capacity of communities to solve their problems, and how drug

decriminalization can be one tool to add capacity for the ability of communities to self determine

their futures. Not only does this express the ability of an African-centered research paradigm to

shift the frame of analysis from the individual to the collective, but it also expresses what Schiele

calls the “universalist” impulse of African-centered research, as this collective institutional

analysis must be equally applied to white and Latinx communities as it is for Black communities.

For example, calls for decriminalization must account for the reality that hyper incarceration, in

addition to being a racialized social control program for Black populations, is also a jobs program

for rural and suburban communities (Pfaff, 2018). Policing and prisons are some of the few sources

of jobs that provide middle-class salaries and benefits with no need to obtain a college degree

Creating a powerful incentive for these institutions to hold onto their power and a deep conception

in many communities that these institutions are economic pillars of their communities.

Decriminalization research has often presented alternative visions of policy formation around the

sanctions of drug possession. They have not presented an alternative vision for social

organizations that could undermine the institutions that benefit from the current arrangement, a

reality the African-centered vision of heuristic research sees as an oversight.

African-centered research also presents recommendations for the institutions that focus

their efforts on analyzing drug decriminalization.. First, policing must be seen comprehensively as

an institution, accounting for the heterogeneity among distinct policing entities and even the

diversity within policing institutions. There is no singular Maryland drug prohibition entity but a

variety of them that overlap and influence each other in often chaotic ways. State troopers enter a

variety of jurisdictions and may have distinct enforcement patterns than local police. Within local

police departments, different formations may be pursuing different strategies related to the

enforcement of drug prohibition. All of these institutions interact with federal law enforcement

entities, which, in addition to typical incentives and influences as Byrn illustrates, also engage with

federal institutions like fusion centers which can help shape local enforcement patterns and

practices. The recent data dump from “Blue Leaks” presents extensive data on the role fusion

centers play in engaging local policing and creating a culture within police departments that are

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conducive to aggressive, heavy-handed War on Drugs policing (Martinez and Lee, 2020). It might

be useful for researchers to look through this data dump and see if there is any relevant information

pertaining to Maryland. Moreover, no account of War on Drugs policing in Maryland would be

complete without an in depth analysis of the machinations around Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task

Force, which used the War on Drugs’ delegitimation of street level drug sellers as leverage to

violently attack and rob drug dealers, themselves becoming drug traffickers and engaging in other

forms of violence against the citizens of Baltimore (Lopez, 2018). Viewing the Gun Trace Task

Force not as the machinations of a few rogue cops, but as the interactions of the power imbalance

between the community and the police force, helps to clarify how having a more “expansive

research frame on police statutory authority,” as Woods recommends, might look within the

context of an Afrocentric research paradigm. This would mean analysis of drug decriminalization

must include analysis of civilian oversight institutions, including the limitations of their oversight

capacities because of legal obstacles such as the Maryland Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of

Rights. This would also require understanding drug prohibition as what John Pfaff describes as a

comprehensively broken legal system with several structural factors beyond the War on Drugs

which must be addressed in order to challenge the perverse incentive towards over-policing,

overproduction, overcharging, and the lack of support for public defenders. Researchers would do

well to engage his critique of the “standard model” explanation for hyper incarceration, centered

on an over-focus on the War on Drugs and “nonviolent drug offenders,” as it will be a useful

starting point for expanding frames of analysis for research on drug decriminalization.

Given the uniqueness of the American criminal legal system and our analysis of the

limitations of the Portuguese model, researchers should be dubious of claims that data from other

nations can serve as sufficient proof of the efficacy of drug decriminalization. Not only because of

the role of structural racism and anti-Blackness in America, but because of the clear difference in

medial infrastructure for the poor. Illustrated by the fact that America is one of the few

industrialized nations which still does not offer a guarantee of some basic form of universal health

care for its population. This does not, however, mean that other nations' experiences are not useful

places for research. An African-centered research paradigm would advocate for an increased focus

on nations which more accurately mirror the United States in their racial dynamics, such as Brazil

and South Africa. While these nations are typically ignored in decriminalization literature, both

have court rulings on cannabis decriminalization. Which, according to many, are typically not

enforced on the ground, have nascent legalization movements facing pushback, and are not linked

to larger social justice movements, both of which may serve as a necessary cautionary tale for the

efficiency of decriminalization in the United States (Nel, 2018; Veit, 2019).

It is within the methodology of institutional analysis and assessing community capacity

that we can offer suggestions on how to answer a critical research question in more detail: how

exactly does one define decriminalization. As previously stated, the standard model has an

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overreliance on the civil and criminal punishment paradigm and ignores the more comprehensive

frames of the criminalization of oppression endured by entire populations. How this might be

applied within the specific context of researching solutions to drug prohibition requires researchers

to engage the voices of individuals subjugated by dominant research methodology and to

understand their voices as critiques to the epistemic and political limitations embedded within

research on drug decriminalization. Afrocentric researchers have conveyed an understanding of

drug policy as epiphenomenal of the larger structure of anti-Black and anti-poor violence

embedded within American society, arguing that only comprehensive reorganization of American

society can address the root causes behind addiction. On this point, addiction researcher Burce

Alexander and African-centered researcher Jerome Schilie agree. Both argue that macro-level

reorgnaization of society, ranging from universal job guarantee and reparations for slavery to

wholescale elimination of neo-liberal globalizaed captialism, are nessessary to address the

sutuructral violence which drives individuals to problematic drug use (Alexander, 2010; Schiele,

2010). While these recommendations go beyond the scope of many research projects, this can

serve as a starting point to understand how these frames can be applied to research at a state-wide

level. First, this frame would caution researchers against the “decriminalization would save

money” frame of analysis. s Pfaff suggests, despite lofty claims, cost savings from incarcerating

fewer people is likely small and often projected. Indeed, he argues well-meaning researchers may

often inflate cost savings in an attempt to “strengthen” the argument for reform. In addition to

tacitly falling into a frame of austerity, this frame ignores the reality that many individuals see

investing in drug prohibition as a necessary investment in social stability. Trying to convince them

of the efficacy of decriminalization through the touting of cost savings is a largely futile exercise.

Drug policy reform analysis has often reflected a tacit libertarianism that argues that individuals

should be free to do whatever they want with their bodies without state regulation as long as no

one else is directly hurt by those actions. While this should be lauded in that it rejects as assumed

legitimacy of the authority of the state to extend regulation to individuals bodies, it fails to account

for the community-wide implications of the War on Drugs. Harms which requires the active

redress by the guilty party. In this case, the state of Maryland. This sentiment is best encapsulated

by a quote from African freedom fighter Malcolm X, who once said:

“If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there's no progress.

If you pull it all the way out that's not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the

blow made. And they haven't even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They

won't even admit the knife is there.” (MALCOLM X, TV interview, Mar. 1964)

When it comes to drug policy, decriminalization of drugs is equal to taking the knife out.

For researchers to produce analysis which reflect emancipatory praxis, an African research

paradigm would necessitate research and analysis on how to heal the wound. Several authors have

commented on the necessity for reparations for the War on Drugs, and given the possible

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legalization of adult use cannabis in Maryland producing a large pot of new tax revenue, it would

seem logical for researchers to link the analysis on drug decriminalization to calls for reparations

for the War on Drugs (Grandpre, 2020). Detailing the specifics of these reparations regimes is

beyond the scope of this analysis and likely beyond the scope of any subsequent research. What is

critical, however, is how reparations is framed centred on the notion of communities themselves

having the funding, capacity, and autonomy to decide for themselves how to repair the harm caused

by the War on Drugs (ibid). The assimilationist impulse Kendi presents in his research merely

points out harms to communities is not only insufficient, but potentially counterproductive. As the

dominant impulse in the face of it all shows the suffering of the Black community to believe

individuals must come into their community from the outside. Bringing them enlightenment and

refinement through inculcating ideologies and, most importantly, the institutions, of the dominant

society. From an Africancentered research paradigm, there would be no worse outcome from a

research project than for readers to see research on the harms of the War on Drugs and to interpret

this data in a manner where they convince themselves the solution to the harms done is to replace

the prison industrial complex with the nonprofit industrial complex. An assemblage of

philanthropic institutions are equally (sometimes even more so than police department) without

any formal mechanism of accountability to oppressed communities and are tasked with managing

and containing the suffering and social upheaval produced by a white-supremacist capitalist

patriarchy rather than eliminating them (INCITE!, 2007). To counter the gravitational pull of

assimilationist thought and its tendency to believe the solution to the suffering of the Black

community is to transpose the ideology and infrastructure of the white community upon them, it

is necessary for research to explicitly reject the politics of assimilation and to present analysis

around how research suggests are the best ways to empower communities to use their own

institutions and cultural resources to address issues of addiction and violence in their communities.

While there are a bevy of community level interventions into addiction and violence in the

Black community, these interventions are woefully understudied by mainstream researchers.

Fortunately, there are several examples researchers may use as a starting point for further research.

Schile presents specific recommendations for future research on projects touching on addiction,

arguing it should incorporate an analysis on the intergenerational effect of slavery and whether the

“surviors guilt” of relatively affluent Blacks could be a factor in addiction, writing:

“Although much is made over the point that some affirmative-action policies punish

contemporary European-American males who had nothing to do with slavery and past

institutional racism, and thus represent a "two wrongs don't make a right" policy agenda,

less attention is devoted to the innocent victims of historic institutional racism and slavery

and the adverse corollaries this victimization has had for generations of families of color.

This is why the Afrocentric paradigm recommends that more re-search be funded for, and

devoted to, unraveling, identifying, and analyzing the long-term, intergenerational effects

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of slavery and institutional racism on not only the economic conditions of African-

American families but also the psychosocial functioning and well-being of these families.

If substance abuse is viewed partly as a reaction to severe psychosocial stress and

economic albatrosses, the opportunities provided by affirmative-action policies might help

to diminish substance abuse in the African- American community. Hence, future research

should examine the impact of enhanced educational and employment opportunities on

African Americans' level of substance use and abuse.

The latter recommendations focus on the victims of racial oppression, but what about the

political and economic beneficiaries of racial oppression? Since it was argued that their

privileged status can place them at risk of substance abuse, what can be done to alleviate

the fear, anger, and guilt associated with this privilege that can contribute to substance

abuse? Fundamentally, the system of racial oppression has to be eliminated to completely

destroy these feelings. Although the abolition of racial oppression may take just as long as

its creation and evolution, a few steps can be taken that might help ease, but perhaps not

eliminate, these feelings, particularly those of fear (i.e., anxiety) and guilt.” (Schile, 2013).

Jerome Schiele presents a summation of the research of Kobi Kambon, who argues that

programming which promote what he called an “African self-consciousness” (ASC) could have a

protective effect for Black people in relation to addiction, writing:

“The African self-consciousness (ASC) construct, discussed in the last chapter, can be

employed as an indicator of an African American's level of group commitment to other

people of African descent when one examines the four dimensions of the construct

presented by Kambon (1992, p. 56):

1. Awareness of one's African identity (a collective consciousness) and African cultural

heritage, and sees value in the pursuit of knowledge of self.

2. Recognition of African survival and positive development as one's number one priority.

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3. Respect for and active perpetuation of things African: African life and African cultural


4. Maintaining a standard of conduct of resolute and uncompromising resistance to all

things anti-African.

Together, the dimensions of ASC echo a common theme: ethnic con-sciousness engenders

group commitment. Regarding drug abuse, it is assumed that as a youth's ASC

decreases,his or her level of substance abuse is likely to increase. It is further assumed that

when an African-American youth does not internalize high ASC, he or she will probably

not be as concerned with eliminating the oppression that black people face and, thus, would

have little desire to advance black people politically, culturally, and economically. To the

extent that a youth is not conscious of the oppression of people of African descent, one may

be unaware of the manifold subtle and insidious ways the system of oppression maintains

control over African Americans. The over availability of illicit drugs and liquor stores in

many African-American communities probably would not be recognized by persons with

low ASC as a possible strategy to dominate and manipulate African Americans. Therefore,

youths with this mind-set may be at a greater risk of abusing substances because they lack

understanding of the political and economic function of substance abuse within the context

of oppression, as discussed earlier in this chapter. Moreover, persons with low ASC, as

opposed to those with high ASC, may be less likely to participate in black liberation

struggles and, therefore, may fail to acknowledge that substance abuse significantly

inhibits their ability to optimally contribute to these struggles.

Some evidence suggests that the ASC construct may help to explicate self-destructive

behaviors among African-American drug abusers. In the only study uncovered that has

examined the effects of ASC on African-American drug abusers, Dixon and Azibo (1998)

found that African-American male crack-cocaine users who had ASC scores that

represented a higher level of group commitment tended to participate less in exploitative

means to earn a living than those who had ASC scores that demon-strated lower levels of

African-American group commitment. Earning a living via exploitative means was defined

by the authors as participation in thefts, robberies, selling stolen goods, and hustling

people in licit and illicit ways. Although Dixon and Azibo did not examine whether lower

ASC places one at greater risk of using or abusing drugs, their findings are important in

that ASC may help to explain the variance in criminal behavior among African-American

crack cocaine users and abusers. Future research needs to explore the effects of ASC

orientation on African Americans who become drug abusers and those who do not. In the

Dixon and Azibo study, all of the subjects were drug abusers.

Although not using the ASC construct, Gary and Berry (1985) found a significant

relationship between awareness of racial oppression and attitudes about substance abuse

among 411 randomly sampled African Americans. Awareness that racial oppression was

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a reality in the United States was a major dimension of what the researchers referred to as

a racial consciousness scale. When racial consciousness was correlated with their measure

of "attitudes toward substance abuse," respondents who had higher racial consciousness

were significantly less likely to tolerate substance abuse than those who had lower racial

consciousness. Indeed, in this study, racial consciousness was more important in

explaining substance abuse attitudes than were gender, age, church involvement,

education level, marital status, and community involvement.

When commitment to one's ethnic group has been conceived as an outcome of drug abuse,

adverse consequences also have been reported. Westermeyer (1995) demonstrates how

substance abuse can be pernicious to one's ethnic affiliation and cultural participation.

The abuse is adverse because it can cause what he refers to as cultural disruption, a

disruption not only in one's participation with the group but also in one's internalization

of the group's values, norms, and customs. In other words, the person becomes less

committed to the ethos and interests of his or her cultural group. Westermeyer also

suggests that the relationship between cultural disruption and substance abuse is

reciprocal in that the disruption can increase the severity of the abuse. This is indicated by

his statement that "The longer that these [cultural disruptive effects] have been present,

the longer the substance abuse is likely to have been present. If the cultural disruption is

extensive, the substance abuse is likely to be severe" (1995, p. 596). Applying

Westermeyer's ideas to this discussion could imply that lower levels of ASC for African-

American youths are tantamount to cultural disruption and could place them in jeopardy

of drug abuse and addiction. (Schiele, 2013).

This analysis fits well with Bruce Alexander’s analysis of the protective effects of “psycho-social

integration” in relation to addiction. If Alexander is to be believed, then it is a logical inference

that the programming most likely to produce effective psycho-social integration for Black

communities will likely be programming that explicitly pulls from the culture and resources of

African people and reflects their unique experiences here in America. This is furthered by the

findings of other researchers, such as Wilkinson and Pickket, who argue that the relative economic

equality of the Netherlands and Sweden has fostered cohesion and is a protective factor in limiting

addiction in these nations (Wilkinson and Pickket, 2014). Researchers impacted by the

assimilationist impulse might assume this research should be applied to America by arguing Black

Americans need deeper social cohesion with white America, necessitating deeper social-economic

integration between these communities. An African centered researcher would however

understand that addressing poverty within the Black community and establishing institutions

which build up Black civil society can also promote social cohesion within the Black community,

creating a similar protective effect. In relation to addiction, there are several examples of Black

human social service practitioners using African-centered thought to produce culturally

competitive addiction services (Rowe and Grillis, 1993; Longshore et al, 1998; Jackson, 1995;

Fairfax, 2016; Oshodi, 1999).

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This concept of promoting socio-economic cohesion and social integration within the

Black community also serves as a starting point to address another critical element of the drug

decriminalization debate which researchers must address. The fear of violence and the interaction

between street level drug sales and violence. Researchers within the standard narrative of

addiction, as previously noted, have argued that decriminalization would free up police resources

by eliminating the need for enforcing drug prohibition, allowing these resources to flow to

addressing more serious crimes. In addition to reflecting a misunderstanding of how policing

works, this argument fails to address the role fear of crime and specifically the spectre of violence

plays in relation to Karam’s analysis of Black bodies being a repository of societies fear of the

irrational, racialized “other”. By claiming decriminalization helps to stop violence, researchers risk

reinforcing the myth of the irrational racialized other which drives calls for prohibition. It is

important to point out the reality that, in aggregate, violence rates for whites and Blacks are

relatively similar, with condensed poverty being an aggravating factor in both communities

(Wilson, 2015). However, in an attempt to avoid feeding into the myth of Black on Black crime,

researchers risk downplaying the very real dynamic of increased Black morality though homicide

in impoverished urban areas and increased Black vulnerability, particularly Black males, to violent

death in general and regardless of class. Berthelot, alongside other researchers, presents a clear

summation of the data in regards to Black vulnerability to violent death, writing:

“To highlight racial variance, race-specific predicted probabilities of victimization

risk were calculated and are presented in Table 3. All predictors were set at their mean

with the exception of the structural disadvantage index and family income, which were

adjusted to assess predicted probabilities of victimization risk at various levels of individual

and aggregate deprivation. The probability that a Black individual in a commu-nity

with average levels of disadvantage and average family income will be murdered is 6 times

greater than that for a comparable White person. If the same Black individual lives in a

highly disadvantaged area, their risk grows to nearly 7 times that of a similarly situated

White person. In contrast, if the same Black person resided in a more affluent area he or

she would reduce their risk to only 5 times that of a similar White individual. To further

illustrate racial distinctions, a Black individual in the least deprived area with family

income in the 90th percentile, experiences a 2.1 times greater likelihood of being murdered

than a low-income White in a highly disadvantaged area.” (Berthelot et al.)

Rather than seeing this as an argument to be glossed over in the name of making an argument for

drug decriminalization, an African-centered research paradigm would view the increased rates of

violence-related mortality as a very real issue for people of African descent. This view would then

be used as an argument in favor of decriminalization. It is true that there is clear evidence of

increased violence in Black communities, but there is little clear evidence that increased funding

for police operations has any long term deterrent effect on this violence (Alexander, 2020).

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Scholars of the history of African culture have analyzed this dynamic for decades. One of the

most insightful theorists of why historical violence towards people of African descent relates to

their current vulnerability to violent death is former City University of New York professor Amos

Wilson. In his seminal work titled “Black-on-Black Violence: The Psychodynamics of Black Self-

Annihilation in Service of White Domination”, Wilson makes the argument that individuals in the

Black community that commit homicide should be viewed as the externalization of a suicidal

impulse, writing:

“The rites of passage through racist White American-dominated society is extremely

stressful for Black youth. This is more so the case for the Black male since he receives the

bnint of the White supremacist attack against Black America. Stripped of appropriate male

support, guidance, protection, education, and other important coping skills by a White

racist system which fears his Afrocentric competence, he is lefi vulnerable to the thousands

of little nicks and burns, physical and psychological insults, which cumulatively push him

toward self-annihilation. Not allowed the privileges and status of full and unfettered

manhood by White racist male domination, a significant number of African American males

are miniaturized or are often led to express their “manhood” in self-destructive ways: in

ways harmful to other Black males and the Black community in general. Immaturized by

White racist oppression, void of overarching and long-term Afrocentric goals which

provide them with maximum and healthy control over their impulses (including impulses

to kill themselves) they may commit suicide. Without Afrocentric self-definition, possessed

by an introjected alien identity, and racked by neurotic and psychotic conflict, the Black

male readily becomes subject to White racist psychopolitical, psychopathological

promptings and persecutions. Consequently, he may come to think that the only efi‘ecfive

solution to his problems lie in physical or mental self-abnegation.

To be an African American male in White America is to live with anger and hostility, to

feel the need to attack, to violently retaliate, to even the score. These murderous feelings

without appropriate catharsis, sublimation, channeling, or targets yet in need of outward

expression are often turned inward resulting in self-annihilation. White racist American

society, harboring a poorly concealed death-wish against its Black captives, generally

leaves but a few outlets for the release of societally provoked Black male rage: all

inappropriate! They include the abject submission to oppression, narcosis by drugs or

religion, deliberate ignorance, unending, unrewarding protests, futile sub rosa grumbling,

over- compensatory status striving, criminality, and homicidal attacks on other Black

males or on himself suicide). Having internalized white racist values and attitudes, having

been possessed by his introjected white racist demon, the suicidal African American blames

his victimized self. Identified with his implanted alien spirit, he harbors a death-wish

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against the victims ofWhite racist oppression amongst whom he himself is numbered.

Looking at the world through jaundiced white racist eyes, he sees the enemy:

And the enemy is himself.” (Wilson,1990).

Analysis of Black suicide rates have revealed that the Black suicide rate, far lower than the

rate of suicide in the white community, is nearly made up by a high number of Black homiciderelated

deaths. Though correlation is not causation, the relationship between these two rates fits

perfectly into Wilson’s theory (NPR, 2013). This insight not only places homicide rates in the

Black community within the proper historical context, it presents a path towards solutions to the

issue, one that, coincidentally, mirrors Kambon’s research on drug use. Creating institutions which

can address internalized self-hatred through the establishment of psycho-social integration within

the Black community and African identity. Schiele presents ideas on how policy could address

these dynamics, specifically among Black young people. Arguing that human social service

interventions which center on spiritual work can address violence, writing:

“The fundamental recommendation that ensues from the latter discus-sion is to alleviate

and eliminate spiritual alienation from the sociocultural fabric of the United States. Most

of these activities would have to occur in the macroarenas of human service work, but there

is an important role for microlevel human service interventions as well. First, major

knowledge validation and information dissemination institutions in the United States

should reexamine concepts of the inherent nature of human beings. Institutions such as

religious organizations, schools, and the media need to reexplore the value in promoting

the pessimistic, inherently mischievous image of humans and the implications it has for

fostering unfavorable and antagonistic human relationships. This, of course, requires these

institutions to reevaluate some of the core values of Eurocentric culture and their

contribution to an extraordinarily violent society.

In regard to young people, these institutions must be particularly sensitive to youths

because they are impressionistic and because they represent the hope of improving society.

One strategy that might be used to alleviate spiritual alienation in these institutions is to

encourage a more holistic, spiritual, and optimistic concept of human beings and for adults

to serve as greater behavioral models of this notion. This can be achieved by promoting

and teaching holistic reasoning among youths to offset the focus on fragmented or analytic

reasoning, which some say lays the foundation for the objectification and, ultimately, the

exploitation of human beings (see Ani, 1994; Burgest, 1981; Schiele, 1994).

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Holistic reasoning or logic is thinking predicated on at least two properties: the first is the

union of affect (feeling) and thought (Ani, 1994; Bell, 1994), and the second is the

spiritualization of human beings. The union of affect and thought recognizes the

epistemological importance of both feelings and thoughts and that both can be seen as two

transparent and penetrable sides of the same coin. Acknowledging the interconnectedness

of feelings and thought allows youths to make decisions that more completely tap the

multidimensional makeup of their being. This allows young persons to get in touch with

latent aspects of themselves that can serve as

new avenues through which to achieve a greater capacity for positive potentiality and

change. The spiritualization of human beings is the belief that at the core of the human

being is a spiritual essence that releases vast capabilities for interconnectedness, or what

Nobles (1980) calls "spiritual oneness." Bringing youths into spiritual oneness helps them

(1) to understand that they are spiritually, socially, and mutually connected to others; (2)

to acknowledge the sacredness of all human life; and (3) to appreciate the many shades

and variations of human beings and human experiences. This transformation from

materialistic/individualistic thinking to spiritual/holistic thinking among those who seek

professional help can be brought about by a therapeutic process known as the Belief

Systems Analysis (see Myers, 1988).

Although this helping/healing process can be conducted through direct, one-on-one

practice, it should be noted that the Afrocentric paradigm of human services invariably

views the broader society, in which the individual exists and in which the Eurocentric

worldview prevails, as being the primary target for change.

There also is a role for human service workers who are policy practitioners. The

government, at the federal, state, and local levels, can promote holistic logic and spiritual

wellness by supporting and enacting legislation that speaks more to meeting the holistic

and spiritual needs of citizens as well as their material needs. One of the reasons for the

existence of spiritual alienation is the downplaying or repudiation of a holistic concept of

humans by governmental agencies that place substantive emphasis on material and

physical needs. Although these needs are certainly important, this predominant focus

communicates, though subtly, to the citizen that needs of the soul and interpersonal

relationships are less critical. The domain of social welfare policy has been too restricted,

and social welfare policy analysts and practitioners should work more to reconceptualize

the meaning of "welfare" to highlight human needs that speak more to spiritual and

interpersonal development. Using their skills as analysts and practi--

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tioners, these human service professionals should then endeavor to interject this

conceptualization into public and social legislation by influencing the thinking of elected

officials, executives, and the larger citizenry. The roles discussed by Jansson (1994) can

be applied to achieve this objective. (Schiele, 2013)

It is these sorts of Black-led interventions that center on spiritual elements of psycho-social

integration which should be researched as the solutions to addiction and the violence so often

associated with drug addiction and the illicit drug trade. It is understandable that researchers might

not want to tie their research outcomes to explicit recommendations as there is a risk of

confirmation bias. But it is important researchers explicitly study the degree to which community

capacity to address issues like addiction and violence has been so deeply disrupted by systemic

poverty and the War on Drugs. Researchers must also study roads these communities could take

to reverse this structural deracination. One researcher who does this well is Todd Clear. He has

attempted to demonstrate, through data analysis, that hyper incarceration undermines community

capacity to build civil society because it leads to increased crime. It might be useful to look further

into the footnotes of Clear’s work to see if there are other researchers who give recommendations

on how to quantify the ways hyper incarceration impacts civil society in targeted communities.

Clear’s work is useful in that it describes the ability of social organization, social cohesion, and

community stability in having a protective effect in deterring crime. Though it appears that his

findings have not been applied specifically to addiction nor have they been analyzed from an

African-centered research perspective, which accounts for anti-Blackness. Such an approach

would challenge Clear’s use of the logic of mainstream criminology. For example, the viewing of

social institutions as being necessary because they produce “informal social control”, a frame

which centers on the elimination of crime and not the flourishing of community as the goal of

public policy.

Finally, it is necessary that research study historical precedents in the context of

decriminalization in the United States. In the earlier mentioned discussions of the

decriminalization of cannabis and traffic infractions, Wood describes the decriminalization of

sodomy as an example of the need to account for expanding the frame of decriminalization. He

also expands his analysis on the limitations of decriminalizing traffic violations by citing an

example of judicial decriminalization being rolled back by a state legislature, writing:

“In 1971, Colorado was the fourth state to follow this approach.77 An important feature

of Colorado’s repealed antisodomy law was that it included a solicitation provision78

against oral copulation, which made LGBT civilians vulnerable to over-policing in public

settings.79 Through established vice squads in major police departments (including the

Denver Police Department), police officers conducted concentrated police surveillance,

sting operations, and raids in public places and establishments known to attract LGBT

people. These aggressive tactics not only encouraged police harassment against LGBT

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people in public and commercial establishments, but also fuelled their arrests for

solicitation even when no act of oral copulation occurred.80

After Colorado repealed its antisodomy law, one would expect that police regulation of

same-sex affection and intimacy would decline. Yet, it increased.81 One motivating factor

for this increase was that when the Colorado legislature repealed the antisodomy law, it

simultaneously passed a public indecency law that criminalized (1) making a “facility”

available to be used “for or in aid of deviate sexual intercourse,” and (2) ”lewd fondling

or caress of the body of another person.”82 Police invoked these new criminal provisions

to harass LGBT people by raiding gay and lesbian establishments and arresting clientele

simply for holding hands or kissing. As William N. Eskridge has explained, the effect of the

new provisions changed little more than the technical crime it was that LGBT people were

harassed and arrested under.83 In Denver, police harassment against LGBT civilians was

so rampant after the repeal of Colorado’s antisodomy law that hundreds of members of the

main Denver gay and lesbian organization—the Denver Gay Coalition—protested at

Denver City Council meetings.84 In 1973, the coalition filed a lawsuit against the police

department for a pattern of harassment and the selective enforcement of Colorado’s public

indecency law, which was settled the following year.85 In the settlement, the city agreed

that Denver police officers (particularly, officers in the department’s vice squad) would

stop raiding gay and lesbian establishments and initiating arrests for “kissing, hugging,

dancing, [and] holding hands.”86 Nevertheless, arrests doubled within a year of the

settlement.87 In addition, police regularly stood outside of Denver’s most popular gay and

lesbian bar and issued jaywalking tickets to clientele.88

This example can be interpreted in at least two ways—the second of which more clearly

speaks to the gap between pure decriminalization and policing. On one hand, Colorado’s

simultaneous repeal of the antisodomy law and creation of the public indecency crime

arguably reflected legislative intent to constrain same-sex affection to the domestic private

realm. Some evidence supports this view. For instance, as Eskridge has discussed, the

Colorado legislative committee justified the provision aimed at same-sex caressing on the

grounds that it considered those acts a “gross flouting of community standards.”89 Under

this view, the legislative reforms did not serve to constrain aggressive policing of LGBT

people in the public and commercial realms. On the other hand, the Colorado reforms

illustrate the limits of confining the force of pure decriminalization to the domain of

sanctions. Colorado’s pure decriminalization of sodomy eliminated possibilities for the

state to punish LGBT people for private consensual sexual conduct. At the same time, the

reform failed to capture many significant aspects involving how police used the antisodomy

law in practice to harass LGBT populations and to regulate same-sex affection and

intimacy in public settings. Therefore, the example further illustrates the high stakes that

the gap between pure decriminalization and police authority involves, especially for overpoliced

minority communities…

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Notably, the trial and appellate courts decided the case on Fourth Amendment and state

constitutional grounds. The Supreme Court of Washington, however, stressed that it need

not address the complexities of the constitutional issues because it had a statute at its

disposal delineating police authority during civilian detentions based on noncriminal

traffic offenses.283 Therefore, the court was able to prevent the pedestrian’s noncriminal

traffic violation from serving as a gateway into the criminal justice system in light of this

existing statute. As explained infra Part V.B, expanding conceptions of decriminalization

beyond sanctions to capture police authority might open possibilities for more of these

types of Restrictions.

Unfortunately, the decision of the Supreme Court of Washington had the opposite effect.

After the court’s decision, the Washington Legislature amended the statute to permit

officers to “check for outstanding warrants” during stops involving any traffic

infraction.284 After the amendment, courts upheld the authority of police officers to check

for outstanding warrants against the backdrop of both noncriminal traffic violations

involving vehicles285 as well as the noncriminal jaywalking violation.286 Thus, on one

hand, the amendment illustrates the unwillingness of some lawmaking bodies to restrict

opportunities for police to control civilians through access to personal information in ways

that have possible criminal ramifications, in spite of decriminalization efforts…


Washington state’s efforts to decriminalize serves as a warning to researchers. Even when it seems

that successes have been achieved without addressing the social infrastructure around prohibition,

short term policy victories face the possibility of producing net-widening effects and even being

rolled back in its entirety. Colorado shows that a police force motivated by a desire to enforce laws

in a discriminatory manner can find justification even in the face of decriminalization. As net

widening effects will likely dull enthusiasm for decriminalization, the effects should be studied

and analyzed in-depth. If the presence of net widening in Prince George’s County in regards to

cannabis decriminalization were mirrored in Baltimore City or other Maryland jurisdictions,

researchers might do well to analyze what this could mean for the possibility of the

decriminalization of other drugs in Maryland. This may be a fruitful avenue for further research.

At a fundamental level, researchers should understand that, despite the seductive desire to

fall into the standard model of decriminalization research, an issue as comprehensive as the history

of the carceral state of violence requires comprehensive analysis. There is no one African-centered

research paradigm, nor is there a static set of findings that research using these methodologies

must produce. Researchers must use all the tools at their disposal to provide the most accurate

information available on the topics they set out to understand. More than anything, the Afrocentric

research paradigm argues that existing methodologies, despite their illusions of objectivity, are

woefully lacking in their attempt to provide comprehensive analysis of issues. Despite

mischaracterizations of African-centered research paradigms as being dangerously “non-

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objective,” they are essential to correct the bias tacit embedded within the current system. It is

understandable that researchers might want to project the Portugal decriminalization experiment

in the most positive light possible, but our understanding of the dangers of applying this model to

the United States shows how necessary African-centered research is as a corrective to the bias

within contemporary research. Researchers must remain humble in the face of addressing such a

complex issue, willing to adjust and readjust their preconceived notions in relation to their research

process. More than anything, the admonition of scholars of African descent that all research is

political must be remembered. This may feel like a daunting realization for researchers acclimated

to the belief of themselves as dispassionate arbiters of objective data. Researchers should put this

realization into context: white supremacy is a global system of control which precedes the

contemporary era by at least 500 years. A recognition of the political role of research is not a

demand to address whtie supremacy in its totality with complete accuracy. Such thinking actually

over-estimates the role of the research, positing them as holding the responsibility to “save”

oppressed communities with their research. The goal of the researcher is to do their small piece to

produce knowledge which explains to the world how white supremacy has inhibited the ability for

communities to save themselves and to use data, coupled with intense analysis, to present

advocates and lawmakers with the tools to help restore that capacity. The hope is that this analysis,

and the tools presented herein, can set researchers on the path towards achieving this goal.

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