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Should drug policy become one of public health, not crime?

 

Drug crimes still make up a large portion of the work of the criminal justice system. In Minnesota, as with many states, a significant portion of the inmates are there on drug crimes. In the federal system, it is even worse, with almost 50 percent of the total prison population serving time on a drug charge.

And this comes more than 40 years after the commencement of the "war on drugs," suggesting that war has been less than successful. However, one nation has announced that it will alter how it treats their drug problem, and it won't be by building more prisons.

 

Ireland is moving towards viewing the drug problem as one of public health and not as a crime issue. The change would remove criminal penalties related to drug use and possession while retaining the penalties for making and selling illegal drugs.

The hope is that by eliminating the threat of criminal prosecution and incarceration, addicts will be more willing to accept treatment. The fear has always been that by decriminalizing drug use, a country could encourage drug use.

Portugal has not found this to be the case and has not seen increases in drug use. That nation also increased treatment options along with decriminalization. It is suggested that the U.S. could benefit from this example, as the number of deaths from opioid painkillers and heroin increases.

The criminal justice system is poorly equipped to deal with those suffering from substance abuse issues. The war on drugs has not had a significant effect on reducing the availability of illegal drugs in this country and inhibits those individuals from seeking treatment, due to the fear of criminal sanctions and prison time.

Treating those addicted to drugs as a public health problem could also mean reduce drug use and diminish the market for those drugs, effectively reducing other criminal activity related to the sale and manufacture of those drugs.

Source: vox.com, "Ireland's radical new plan to treat drug addicts like addicts instead of criminals," German Lopez, November 3, 2015

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