Jay Z Declares The War On Drugs 'An Epic Fail'

By Seth Ferranti 09/16/16

In a new animated short film, Jay Z narrates a brief history of the drug war's impact on African-American communities. 

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Jay Z Declares The War On Drugs 'An Epic Fail'
Photo via Drug Policy Alliance/YouTube

Shawn “Jay Z” Carter narrates a New York Times op-ed in video form, slamming the War on Drugs and pointing out the glaring differences between how whites and minorities are affected by discriminatory policing and drug laws.

Sentencing reform advocacy groups like Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and the November Coalition have been fighting this battle since the early 1990s. President Obama has been attempting to make a difference, but more celebrities like Jay Z need to stand up and be leaders.

“In 1986 when I was coming of age, Ronald Reagan doubled down on the War on Drugs that had been started by Richard Nixon in 1971,” Jay Z narrates. “Drugs were bad, fried your brain. Drug dealers were monsters and the sole reason that neighborhoods and major cities were failing ... Young men like me who hustled became the sole villain and drug addicts lacked moral fortitude. In the 1990s incarceration rates in the U.S. blew up, and today we imprison more people than any other country in the world.”

Still from The War on Drugs: From Prohibition to Gold Rush

The history lesson starts with President Nixon declaring the War on Drugs in 1971, then highlights New York’s tough Rockefeller drug laws, the crack/cocaine sentencing disparities, and ends with the legal marijuana industry. Jay Z points out how marijuana is making beaucoup money for white "ganjapreneurs" in Colorado, but in states like Louisiana, minorities are still being arrested and locked up at alarming rates for weed.

Still from The War on Drugs: From Prohibition to Gold Rush

With more entertainers taking up the fight and raising awareness through projects like this—which was a collaboration with the Drug Policy Alliance and Revolve Impact—we can only hope that a more sensible policy evolves and we end this war on American people once and for all. 

The four-minute videoThe War on Drugs: From Prohibition to Gold Rush, addresses racial discrimination, mass incarceration and how the drug war has negatively impacted people of color. Celebrated artist Molly Crabapple brings Jay Z’s words to life with her vivid illustrations, striking colors and distinctive style. 

“Jay Z and Molly Crabapple’s groundbreaking video will educate millions of people about the devastation wrought on the African American community because of the drug war,” said Asha Bandele from the Drug Policy Alliance. “That it is offered at a moment when policymakers are finally joining advocates in demanding an end to the architecture that actually incentivizes biased policing and police violence makes it especially timely.” 

Jay Z's narration notes that rates of drug use are still as high as when Nixon declared the War on Drugs in 1971, despite the millions of people that have been incarcerated since then: “The War on Drugs exploded the U.S. prison population disproportionately locking away black and Latinos. Our prison population grew more than 900%.”

“Long after the crack era we continued our War on Drugs," he narrates. "Judges' hands were tied by tough-on-crime laws and they were forced to hand out mandatory life sentences for simple possession and low-level drug sales ... Forty-five years later, it's time we rethink our policies on the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs is an epic fail.”

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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