A new report on incarceration in the U.S. found that police arrest more citizens for marijuana possession than for all forms of violent crime combined.
On Oct. 12, a joint report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that there are 137,000 Americans in either prison or jail for drug possession on any given day, The Washington Post reports.
The report casts skepticism on the war on drugs, the data indicating that law enforcement’s crackdown on drug use for over half a century has not been effective.
“It’s been 45 years since the war on drugs was declared, and it hasn’t been a success,” said the report’s author, Tess Borden of HRW. “Rates of drug use are not down. Drug dependency has not stopped. Every 25 seconds, we’re arresting someone for drug use.”
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The report found that 1 out of 9 arrests in 2015 was for drug possession, a dramatic increase from 20 years earlier. The ACLU and HRW estimate that someone is being arrested for possession every 25 seconds in the U.S.
Borden also faults the criminal justice system for not providing treatment for drug addiction, and instead imposing harsh sentencing to deter people from using substances that are physically addictive.
“These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence,” Borden said, according to CBS News.
The report found that the number of people using drugs in the U.S. is now higher than it was at its peak during the 1980s, indicating that harsh sentencing and wide-scale arrests for possession have not been effective in scaling back drug abuse.
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The joint report also found that there is a racial component for drug arrests. While federal data indicates that there is little difference between how much white and black Americans use narcotics, the report found that black adults are more than 2.5 times likely to be arrested for drug possession, suggesting that they are being targeted.
The report recommends the decriminalization of all drug possession, urging the justice system to treat drug use as a matter of public health instead of criminal conspiracy.
“Criminalization drives drug use underground; it discourages access to emergency medicine, overdose prevention services, and risk-reducing practices such as syringe exchanges,” the report stated.
The report also condemned imposing harsh sentences for drug possession, referencing the case of Louisiana man Corey J. Ladd, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison just for possessing half an ounce of marijuana because he had two previous possession charges.
“Corey’s story is about the real waste of human lives, let alone taxpayer money, of arrest and incarceration for personal drug use,” Borden said.
Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration in the country. Kenneth Hardin, the public defender working for Mr. Ladd, attributes the state’s large incarceration rate to a policy of zero-tolerance toward drug possession.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” Hardin said. “We’ve been throwing these drug users in jail. Has that made the streets feel safer? Has that changed the crime rate?”
Four states have already legalized recreational marijuana possession. This election, that number could grow.
Residents in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada will have the choice to legalize recreational marijuana in their states, Policy Mic reports.