Philadelphia Makes Controversial Decision to Try Drug Decriminalization Policies

Drug abuse and deaths related to opioid addiction continue to skyrocket.  As the country faces daunting statistics, psychologists, and law makers alike are beginning to ask if the war on drugs has been successful?  In view of this, many are beginning to look for other methods of addressing illegal substance use.  Decriminalization policies stir up controversy with proponents on each side arguing about whether these policies will help or enable addicts.

In Philadelphia, new methods are new being considered as the city takes measures to develop a law that favors decriminalization of drugs found in small amounts.  These new policies favor treatment instead of criminalization.  If the policies are implemented, Philadelphia would be the first US city to try this innovative approach.  Opponents of the new policies argue that such a thing would only encourage crime as possession would no longer be harshly punished.

Proponents of the medical model of addiction feel that these laws could be helpful in addressing the drug issues in the US without giving addicts a criminal record that leads to a further downward spiral.  It is this view that supports a policy of people who are caught possessing small amounts of drugs the alternative consequence of completing community service, paying fines, and/or completing a drug rehab program.  Those who oppose this decriminalization feel that the issue is being looked at as black and white, either medical or criminal, when in reality it is a bit of both.

Drug discrimination seeks to heal the underlying problem of addiction, while reducing the overall cost to society.  Each year taxpayers provide funds to house thousands upon thousands of non-violent drug offenders within our prisons.

Philadelphia has been a leader in implementing such policies since 2014 when it was the first major US city to pass laws that favored decriminalization.  Policies were put into place that fined a person found with 30 grams (less than one ounce) of marijuana in the amount of $25 instead of sending them to jail.  As research continues to recognize the medical implications of addiction on the brain, it becomes clear that jail time is not effectively dealing with the problem, but only further wounding the wounded.  These new policies would protect non-violent offenders who are suffering from mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders to be sent to treatment instead of the criminal justice system.

Those who oppose this line of thinking continue to cite concerns that such policies send a message that drug use isn’t that serious and may encourage use and lack of personal accountability.

It is clear this debate will continue as other states push to criminalize mother’s who are drug addicted during pregnancy.  The US is at a crossroads with drug policy, seeking to reign in the nations drug epidemic.  It is clear, there are simple, easy answers.  Only time will tell if new policies will be effective.