The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch have called for the decriminalization of personal drug use in America. The statement comes as President Barack Obama's Administration has begun de-escalating the half-century-old War on Drugs.
“This is first time both organizations have come together and made such a strong call for [decriminalization],” said Tess Borden, who authored the report on decriminalization for the two groups, reports The Guardian. “We’ve driven drug use underground with criminalization and we’ve failed to provide communities who are dealing and struggling with dependence issues the help and the treatment that they have a right to.”
The War on Drugs began in earnest under the President Richard Nixon's Administration.
“Narcotic addiction is a major contributor to crime,” Nixon declared in a June 1971 address to Congress, according to The American Presidency Project. “Therefore, I am transmitting legislation to the Congress to consolidate at the highest level a full-scale attack on the problem of drug abuse in America.”
“I am a very strong believer that the path we have taken in the United States in the so-called war on drugs has been so heavy in emphasizing incarceration that it has been counterproductive,” Obama told a crowd in Jamaica in April 2015, reports The Washington Times. “You have young people who did not engage in violence who get very long penalties, who get placed in prison and then are rendered economically unemployable, are almost pushed into the underground economy, learn crime more effectively in prison — families are devastated. So it’s been very unproductive.”
According to Slate, Obama claimed in a July 2015 speech that “nonviolent drug offenders” are “the real reason our prison population is so high,” and vowed to pursue a less punitive approach to drug addiction and abuse.
To date, Obama has sought nearly a billion dollars in funding for opioid addiction treatment, and has commuted the sentence of hundreds of prisoners incarcerated for drug-related crimes.