It’s not unusual for proponents of legalized marijuana to argue for a change in federal law that currently lists cannabis among the United State’s worst illegal drugs. It’s not even unusual for some groups to call for decriminalization of drug possession and use.
But in its new report this month, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) details why drug laws in the U.S. should change and provides a roadmap to “unwind our failed drug war.”
The Drug Policy Alliance has a national office in Washington, D.C., and state offices in California, New Mexico, Colorado, New Jersey and New York. The entire report can be read here. What follows are some highlights.
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The report calls the War on Drugs a “catastrophic failure.” The Drug Policy Alliance argues that the war involves punishment and coercion, and has filled jails and prisons with millions of “otherwise law abiding civilians” now branded as criminals.
Statistics from the report include the following.
- Law enforcement in the United States makes 1.5 million drug arrests every year, more arrests than all violent crimes combined.
- 80 percent of those arrested are for possession and involve no violent crime
- On the average night, 133,000 people in the U.S. are in jail for drug possession.
- People convicted of drug possession can also lose federal financial aid, get evicted from public housing and lose the right to vote.
- While black people make up 13 percent of the population, they represent 35 percent of those held in state prisons for drug possession.
Argument for Decriminalization
The DPA argues that decriminalization of drugs at the federal level would have an immediate, positive impact on a number fiscal, health, social and safety issues society faces.
Here are some of the impacts the DPA projects would happen with decriminalization.
- A drastic lowering of the incarcerated population with vast savings to taxpayers.
- A criminal record for drug possession limits employment opportunities, often leaving nonviolent offenders unemployed and dependent on government aid.
- Decriminalization would free up aw enforcement to focus on serious violent and property crimes.
- Treatment results in much better outcomes for the individual and the community compared to arrest, incarceration and a lifetime criminal record.
- Improved relations between police and the communities they protect.
Efforts that worked.
The DPA points out that some states have decriminalized marijuana possession while others have reduced possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Hawaii has created a commission to study decriminalizing drug use and possession entirely.
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Other countries have taken the lead in this area. Portugal decriminalized most drug use and possession in 2001. Numbers from the DPA show drug use has dropped across all age demographics in the years since.
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