Background


On February 3, 2014 Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee asked for and was granted permission to address the United States House of Representatives for one minute regarding the unprecedented incarceration rates in the United States.
What she said was absolutely shocking.

“Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, and President Obama for joining with voices, particularly those of the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans and Democrats, and acknowledging that the United States is comprised of only 5 percent of the world’s population, but we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.”

“While the entire U.S. population has increased about one-third over the last 30 years, the Federal prison population has increased at a staggering rate of 800 percent, currently totaling nearly 216,000 inmates and currently operates at a 33 percent overcapacity. One-half of those Federal prison populations are drug offenses. While some of them are truly dangerous persons, as Deputy Attorney General Cole said, many of them are first-timers, and by possession only, wound up under Federal laws, the crack cocaine laws, in the Federal system”, she said.

“Today, I stand to support the clemency offering that is being offered by the Department of Justice, as well as to reduce barriers in housing and access to health care. I ask my colleagues to join me in working to ensure that we get word out to these individuals and their families to make sure that this clemency works and works in the right way, Mr. Speaker.”, said Rep. Jackson Lee (source: Congressional Record http://thomas.loc.gov/).

Rep. Jackson Lee serves as a member of the powerful Homeland Security Committee in Congress.


Assignment 1


After viewing "The Drug Years":

1. Describe the american drug-using population's attitude toward drugs in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
  • Remember that America isn't a monolithic entity--different regions may respond differently.
  • Remember that decades may not be the best periodization--feel free to come up with new date ranges that work better.
2. Describe the American government's response to drugs in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
  • Keep the above advice in mind.
  • Identify key figures in the "War on Drugs" -- who launched it? who benefitted from it? who continued it?
  • Identify possible reasons for why the federal government launched the "War on Drugs"
3. Given your understanding of the history of drugs in America, was the "War on Drugs" a reasonable response to the drug situation in America?

Assignment 2


After viewing "The House I Live In", write a brief reflective essay examining, relating and reflecting on the issues raised by the video.

(This is intentionally broad... take it in whatever direction you wish.)

Assignment 3


Resolution 1: The federal and state governments' War on Drugs is a failure in terms of dollars spent and lives ruined, and should be ended.

Resolution 2: Washington State's decision to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes will have negative effects on society and should be reversed.

You and your debate partners will be arguing the affirmative or negative position on both resolutions. This means you will need to establish a comprehensive understanding of the topic.

Potentially helpful sources:

Freakonomics: Drugs
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Blogging Heads Debate: Marijuana Legalization
The Cato Institute: War on Drugs
Legalizing Marijuana Won’t End the War on Drugs
Is It Time to Scale Back the 'War on Drugs'?
Debate.org: Should America end its war on drugs?