Local, state, and federal laws criminalizing addiction have wreaked massive harm on individuals, families and society at large. Rather than funding substance abuse treatment, many states and the federal government have doubled down on the enforcement of arcane drug laws that continue to have a disparate impact on minority communities.
The report, “Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States,” finds that enforcement of drug possession laws can cause significant harm to communities across the nation. Just some of the long-term impacts of treating substance abuse as a penal issue rather than health issue include the separation of families; excluding people from job opportunities, lack of access to welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and exposing addicts to a lifetime of stigma.
Despite a decades long assault on addicts through Nixon’s failed war on drugs, the fact remains that drug use and abuse is at its highest levels ever. The statistics also indicate that by preventing people from receiving treatment for their substance abuse issues, many addicts have turned to unsafe practices that have caused other public health crisis, including the spread of communicable diseases.
Despite claims that drug laws are used to combat drug distribution, four times as many people are arrested for possessing drugs as for selling them. Half of those arrested for possession are charged with nothing more serious than possessing marijuana for personal use. In 2015, according to data analyzed by the groups, police made 14 percent more arrests for simple marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined.
Until society and governments come to terms with the fact that substance abuse treatment is more effective than incarceration, we will continue to fight a battle with the wrong enemy and using the wrong weapons.