Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union jointly called on all states and the federal government to decriminalize personal drug use and possession, instead to focus on prevention and harm reduction.
The human-rights organizations said one of every nine arrests by state law enforcement across the country is for drug possession, with some 1.25 million people arrested each year. Four times as many people are arrested for possessing illegal drugs than for selling them. At the same time, drug use has not declined, a newly released report said.
“Criminalizing drug use simply has not worked as a matter of practice. Rates of drug use fluctuate, but they have not declined significantly since the “war on drugs” was declared more than four decades ago,” the organizations said. “The criminalization of drug use and possession is also inherently problematic because it represents a restriction on individual rights that is neither necessary nor proportionate to the goals it seeks to accomplish. It punishes an activity that does not directly harm others.”
The report said the current model of criminalization does little to help those who have become drug addicted. Treatment for those who need and want it is hard to get. Instead, drug users are driven underground, making it less likely for them to seek treatment from places which are ready to devote all their time to help them.
Despite a shift in public opinion and a movement from some state governments to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, possession of the substance accounted for nearly half of all drug possession arrests in 2015, or more than 574,000 arrests. By comparison, there were 505,681 arrests for violent crimes in 2015, defined by the FBI as murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
“This means that police made more arrests for simple marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined,” researchers found.
The report found black adults are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than white adults. Black adults are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white adults.
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