Baltimore's Inner Harbor. (Photo by Unspashd user A G)
Baltimore's Inner Harbor. (Photo by Unspashd user A G)

With funding from the Open Society Foundation, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Social Work (UMSSW) and Johns Hopkins University (JHU) last winter published a report examining the impact of the War on Drugs on African American communities in Maryland. According to the report, any efforts to decriminalize drugs must include reparations for African American communities to rectify decades of racial and social injustice.

The Communal Impacts of Drug Criminalization in Maryland“ sheds light on the profound significance of addressing systemic racism. This research might resonate deeply with our collective search for understanding and continued discussion in the wake of the police-involved deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in 2020, which sparked a nationwide reckoning with systemic racism. It is a stark reminder of its ongoing impact following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in our own city.

“The research was prompted by the alarming opioid overdose epidemic, which has caused widespread devastation,” said Natalie Flath, a JHU doctoral candidate and UMSSW researcher who coauthored the report, in an email to “In response, there is a pressing desire for quick solutions. However, it is crucial to recognize that addressing structural issues requires comprehensive and systemic approaches.”

“By delving into historical and cultural recollections, our interviews shed light on perspectives that have traditionally been excluded from drug policy discussions,” added Flath, who co-wrote the study with Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS) research director Lawrence Grandpre and University of Maryland, Baltimore research project coordinator Judith Park. “These insights provide a deeper understanding of the foundation on which we currently stand and highlight the necessity of a peacemaking process to address the persistent inequalities stemming from punitive drug policies, such as the ‘War on Drugs,’ that continue to afflict us today.”

The symptoms of systemic issues (taken on in conversation by some notable Baltimoreans in our Thriving series) are evident throughout cities like Baltimore, where economic disparities, limited access to quality jobs and healthcare, disproportionate targeting and profiling by law enforcement, wage gaps, income inequality, restricted access to capital and business opportunities and disinvestment in predominantly Black neighborhoods persist. This research provides valuable insights into the communal effects of drug criminalization, further highlighting the urgent need to confront and dismantle systemic racism in all its forms.


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