Historically, the possession of illegal substances has been met with harsh penalties. Often dubbed “the war on drugs” a more accurate description maybe the war on addicts. Medical research continues to support the idea of chemical addictions as a disease. As views shift from vilifying the addict to helping the addict, a new movement has developed known as drug decriminalization.
Over the years, a frightening picture has developed of addicts receiving harsh sentences, often with punishments more severe than other more serious offenses. This has led to a huge taxpayer burden, overpopulated prison cells, and hopelessness. Due to the impact of addiction on the brain, most addicts that are released immediately return to drugs, resulting in a vicious cycle with no hope.
Even worse, addicts are released with criminal records which may include felony charges, making it nearly impossible for them to secure meaningful employment. This cycle of poverty and despair easily leads this population back into the black market of drug dealing. After years of ineffective results, many states across the country are beginning to consider if there could be a better way. A way to lead to lasting healing and hope instead of recidivism.
It is important to note, however that decriminalization is NOT legalization. Rather, it is a system that focuses on taking away prison sentences for non-violent offenders who are in possession of or using an illicit substance. Drug criminalization programs often allow for the possession of a substance to result in a simple fine (similar to that of a speeding ticket) and mandatory drug treatment. Thus, the addict can receive the help they need with the hope of breaking the cycle of addiction permanently, leading to their successful reintegration back into society. Despite this, this does not mean that there is no punishment for more severe drug crimes but instead, this policy focuses on penalties for dealers and violent offenders, not those charged with simple possession.
Statistically speaking, nearly half of United States prisons are filled with no violent drug offenders. The cost to society is great as taxpayers foot the bill for every single inmate to have room, board, and healthcare. Drug decriminalization solves the root of the problem, instead of simply applying a band-aid. Thus, allowing for taxes to be utilized in more helpful ways or possibly in the form of tax cuts. While these policies are still in their infancy, many states are considering legislation, with Oregon becoming a forerunner in implementing drug decriminalization. Only time will tell the effectiveness of this innovative idea; although one thing remains clear, we have nothing to lose as the nation’s drug problem continues to spiral rapidly out of control.