Jay Z Calls War on Drugs An 'Epic Fail'
The New York Times recruited Jay Z to write and narrate their new short film, A History on the War of Drugs: From Prohibition to the Gold Rush. Set to vivid illustrations by artist Molly Crabapple of the legal and social ramifications of the war on drugs in New York City from the late 1980s to present-day, the film shows the harsh realities and double standards that exist for drug dealers, especially those of color, and white entrepreneurs getting rich off today's growing marijuana business.
"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 says in the film, touching on the Nixon administration and Rockefeller laws. "Drugs were bad, fried your brain and drug dealers were monsters -- the sole reason neighborhoods and major cities were failing." Dream Hampton -- filmmaker and co-author of Jay Z's book Decoded -- set the project in motion when the social agency she works with, Revolve Impact, sought to tackle the contradictions presented in Michelle Alexander's 2014 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by illustrating the effect the war of drugs has had in African-American communities.
The hip-hop mogul -- who has been criticized for rapping about his drug-dealing past -- hits out at the discrimination against men of color who push drugs in the film. "Young men who hustled like me became the sole villain and drugs addicts lacked moral fortitude," he says. He goes on to reveal how in the 1990s, incarceration rates in the United States were at an all-time high, "more than any country in the world" including Cuba, Iran, Russia and China.
Judges were dishing out life sentences on grounds of possession and low-level drug sales, Jay Z continues. "Even though white people sold and used crack more than black people, somehow it was black people who went to prison," he says. "The media ignore actual data to this day. Crack is still talked about as a black problem."
"People are finally talking about treating addiction to harder drugs as a health crisis, but there's no compassionate language about drug dealers...," he says before taking a look at the booming legal weed business in Colorado versus Southern states like Louisiana that continue to give out sentences for dealing marijuana.
Shawn Carter then sheds light on the hurdles for cashing in on the weed gold rush. "If you're entrepreneurial and live in one of the many states that are passing legalized laws, you may still face barriers participating in the above-ground economy. Venture capitalists migrate to these states to open multi-billion dollar operations but former felons can't open a dispensary. Lots of times, those felonies were drug charges, caught by poor people who sold drugs for a living but are now prohibited in one of the fastest growing economies. Got it?"
Jay Z, who has rapped about getting high on songs like "Allure," then issues a call for action. "Forty-five years later, it's time to rethink our policies and laws. The war on drugs is an epic fail," he says.
Watch the full short film below.