War on Drugs

I recently had my final Thesis show at California College of the Arts. This last semester has been the most intense and most rewarding semester at CCA. I am eternally grateful for having learned from so many amazing teachers throughout these four years. The subject of my thesis is the War on Drugs. This war has been going on for the past 40 years, and has proven to be a failure morally, practically, and economically. This series of 10 illustrations show various aspects or events of the war in its most recent years, and suggesting a potential solution to a very complex problem.

(Photos taken by www.jackieloart.com)


The world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs is the United States. Cocaine is grown and processed in South America, and due to its illegality, the exportation and importation process is both risky and extremely profitable. A kilogram of raw coke is worth $250. By the time it reaches the United States, the retail price has grown to $107,000 for that same kilo. That is a profit margin of 1400% enjoyed by drug cartels, banks and corrupt governments. The system of prohibition put in place by Congress impedes the rights of Americans to put whatever substance they wish into their bodies, while simultaneously making billions of dollars annually. If you do not own your body, you are slave.


Evo Morales is a politician, social activist, and the first indigenous president of Bolivia. Coca has been cultivated for 8,000 years by the indigenous people of the Andes for medicinal and religious purposes. In an effort to halt the processing of coca into cocaine, the Bolivian and US governments have been eradicating fields of coca with fire and herbicides, leading to longstanding environmental, health and socioeconomic issues in this largely agricultural nation. Morales’ Cocalero movement has helped protect the coca plant from eradication as well as the rights of the indigenous people of Bolivia.

“Jesús Malverde”

Jesús Malverde, sometimes known as the ‘generous bandit’, ‘angel of the poor’ or ‘narco-saint’, is a folklore hero of the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Legend says he stole from the rich and gave to the poor, until he was executed in 1909. This Robin Hood-like character is seen as the patron saint of drug trafficking, and if you leave an offering and prayer at his shrine, he may bless your travels over the border with safety and prosperity. Jesús Malverde is often paired with Santa Muerte (Saint Death), death often being an inevitable cost of drug trafficking.


“Poppy Fields”

Since 1992 Afghanistan has been one of the biggest producers of opium, the poppy extract used to produce heroin, despite the ban of opium enforced by the Taliban. Opium production has been steadily on the rise since U.S. occupation in 2001. 92% of non-pharmaceutical opiates originate in Afghanistan. This amounts to an export value of about $4 billion for the year. The poor farmer families earn only a fraction, while the rest goes to district officials, insurgents, warlords and drug traffickers. Opium cultivation and use goes against the teachings of the Quran, yet these farmers are forced economically to continue production. The U.S. military protected these poppy fields from Taliban forces, assuring the flow of opium out of Afghanistan.


“Fast and Furious”

In Operation Fast and Furious, ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) deliberately allowed as many as 2,000 firearms to walk into the hands of low level suspects as a tactic to track the weapons to drug cartel kingpins. Guns tracked by ATF were found at crime scenes on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border, including the scene where Border Agent Brian Terry was murdered. In the aftermath of Terry’s murder the gunwalking operation became public and revealed corruption within ATF, who claimed they never officially approved the operation.

“Mop Up”

Drug-related violence in Mexico has been occurring for over three decades. In 2006 Presidente Felipe Calderón took a more aggressive approach against drug cartels by sending Mexican Army soldiers to the state of Michoacán to end the violence there. Through the Mérida Initiative the United States has aided Mexico with funding, military training, and equipment. The violence however has only escalated. Since 2006, approximately 86,391 deaths have been recorded. These numbers include drug cartel members, police, soldiers, politicians, journalists and children.

“Prison Industrial Complex”

The War on Drugs is a war on our own people. Over the past 40 years, the war on drugs has accounted for more than 45 million arrests and has cost more than $1 trillion dollars. Today over half of people incarcerated are for non-violent drug offenses. Drug use is equal among white and black people, yet black Americans are 10 times more likely to be sent to prison for drug offenses. Today black Americans represent 56% of those incarcerated, even though they represent only 13% of the US population. The U.S. has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet it has almost 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. It costs about $129 a day to keep an inmate locked up. These numbers keep growing rapidly each year as more prisons become privatized, feeding small and large businesses whose main interests are to keep people incarcerated and exploit their labor.

“Repeating History”

Alcohol prohibition in the United States was a national ban on the sale, production, and transportation of alcohol that took place from 1920-1933. Effective enforcement of the ban proved to be very difficult. Prohibition resulted in making outlaws of millions of Americans who had no intention to stop drinking. The demand for alcohol remained, which caused the growth of underground breweries, bootleggers, and consequently violent criminal organizations such as the American Mafia. Internal corruption and violence in the streets got so out of control that the government eventually lifted the ban. Sound Familiar? The consequences of prohibition are equally present today with the War on Drugs.


Substance abuse is fundamentally a compulsive behavior disorder. The habitual use of a drug substance, whether alcohol or heroin, causes a chemical dependency, and serious withdrawal symptoms occur when the habit is interrupted. Addiction is hereditary, meaning family background and genetics play a large role. Drug abuse is often linked with psychiatric problems and disorders; it is a health issue of the mind as well as body. Addiction is extremely difficult to overcome, often characterized by frequent relapse and an unbearable hopelessness. Drug abuse should be seen as a public health issue, instead the legal system sees it as a criminal offense. The illegality of drugs creates a wide social stigma that alienates drug addicts. They are fellow human beings that have grown sick, so should be treated with empathy and compassion, not punished with incarceration.


In 1914 the consumption and distribution of cocaine and heroin became illegal. In 1937 marijuana possession and consumption became illegal. In 1951 the penalties for drug violations were increased, and increased even further in 1956. Prior to drug prohibition, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, morphine and cannabis were legally available without prescription as long as they had accurate labels with content and dosage. Pharmaceutical drugs are legally available for countless ailments. From depressants to stimulants and everything in between, drugs are legally available for consumption. The only difference is one is illegal, and the other is taxed and regulated with much safer standards. Legalizing drugs would allow for regulation, safe production and give back the freedom of choice to the American people.


Why Re-Legalize?

Re-Legalizing drugs will cause a dramatic shift in what we perceive as the War on Drugs. Making drugs legal again would dramatically reduce the number of people incarcerated so that real crimes of person and property can be focused on. Government corruption in courts and law enforcement will decrease dramatically. Violent gangs and cartels will be reduced in power and influence, ceasing the need to fight over drug trafficking territories. Eliminating prohibition laws will reduce the public cost of the drug war as well as deny the excessive wealth of those who pioneer it. Regulation will allow drugs available to be safer in both product and distribution. Treatment for drug addicts will involve education and rehabilitation, not punishment. Americans, and all fellow Human Beings are by nature created equal, and are endowed with certain unalienable Rights: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness and the Freedom of Choice.



The House I Live In http://www.thehouseilivein.org/

The Cocaine Trade: Who's Really Bumping Up Prices? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBqQqoFcwR4

American Troops Protecting Afghan Opium http://www.globalresearch.ca/are-american-troops-protecting-afghan-opium/5309922

Fast and Furious Scandal: New Details Emerge on How the U.S. Government Armed Mexican Drug Cartels http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/News/fast-furious-scandal-details-emerge-us-government-armed/story?id=17352694#.UaV1SoXDnUM

Cocalero http://www.cocalerofilm.com/

Jesus Malverde http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/drugs/business/malverde.html VICE – Mormon-Mexican Drug War http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5RRg3OvV1k