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Date of Award
Brady P. Baybeck
How much does racial framing of a drug problem contribute to the type of drug law lawmakers enact to address a widespread drug problem? Federal drug laws in the United States are widely criticized for being racially biased against African Americans. Critics argue that the racial framing of the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic as a Black drug problem resulted in lawmakers enacting punitive drug laws that called for lengthy and disproportionate imprisonment of African Americans. Most recently, critics argue that the racial framing of current opioid epidemic as a White drug problem has resulted in lawmakers enacting a preventive drug law that calls treatment.
Using word cloud and content analysis on legislative statements and testimony of policy-relevant actors, I examine whether racial framing of the drug problem is a contributing factor to the type of drug law enacted by lawmakers. In most of the cases, my findings were consistent with what the critics argued. First, when policy-relevant actors racially framed the drug problem as Non-White, lawmakers enacted punitive drug laws. In contrast, when policy-relevant actors racially framed the drug problem as White, lawmakers enacted a preventive drug law. In the cases when my findings were not consistent, I still found that racial framing of the drug problem was a contributing factor to the type of drug law enacted.
My findings suggest that critics of drug laws are on to something when they argue that racial framing plays a significant role in how lawmakers formulate and enact drug laws to address the nation’s drug problem.
Higgins Jr, Calvin Joseph, "The Making Of Federal Drug Policy: Is It Black, White, Or Something Else?" (2019). Wayne State University Dissertations. 2324.