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Major human rights campaigners are taking a stand for drug users, urging the American government to rethink their current drug policies, after publishing a report earlier this week outlining the issues faced by those prosecuted under drug offences. The damning document outlines a wide range of issues with regards to drug policy in the US and the consequences of criminalization.
Lead author, Tess Borden argued, “these wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people”. Every 25 seconds yet another user is taken into the criminal justice system, often for nothing more than having a small amount of drugs found on their person. The number of people (in America alone) who now create an unnecessary burden on tax-payer-funded resources as prisoners is in the triple digits, and over 570,000 people were arrested last year alone, for possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use.
The majority of these people are from impoverished backgrounds and are unable to pay for bail. Many wait anxiously in cells for months to be seen by a judge, who will be asked to make a decision that will affect the rest of their lives and future prospects. After serving whatever sentence they are handed, the victims of the criminal justice system are then further disadvantaged when they are released with criminal convictions. Thus, the cycle repeats.
The loss of liberty, time, reputation and dignity experienced by these unfortunate citizens is a disgrace. To be imprisoned in modern America is to be forcibly confined with fraudsters, manipulators, sexual offenders, violent criminals, degenerates and gang members. The idea that putting a non-violent, otherwise law-abiding citizen into a situation of this nature somehow benefits society is utterly absurd. Responsible, adult citizens should not be fined, harassed, or forced into confinement with violent criminals, purely on the basis of what they have chosen to consume. But the US and UK governments (among countless others) still insist upon ‘treating’ the issue of drug use through imprisonment.
One particular case within the state of Louisiana is that of Corey Ladd, who is serving a 17-year sentence for being caught with a mere half an ounce of marijuana in his possession. Louisiana is currently known to be one of the harshest states when it comes to punishment for drug use. In this state (and others like it), anyone caught 3 times with any quantity of drugs -no matter how minuscule- can face a 20-year life sentence in prison. This fact is made even more surreal when you consider that in Louisiana, you can face as little as 5 years in jail for forcible rape.
With more than 1.25 million arrests being made annually, this means that more than one in every nine arrests made by the police is for drug possession. Although some states in America have already legalized the use of cannabis, the differences across state lines are staggering, and the federal government (which has the power to over-ride state law) still lists cannabis consumption as a criminal offence. We feel, and perhaps others will agree, that states like Louisiana should face severe scrutiny and lawful, peaceful opposition from their more enlightened citizens, while every attempt should be made to overturn these wrongful convictions. It is very easy to look purely at the positive changes being made in regards to legalization, but we must not become complacent towards those like Corey, whose lives have been shattered: not by cannabis, but by the ‘justice system’.
The human rights report put forward earlier this week calls for the decriminalization of illicit drugs and a move towards realigning public health services to treat users, rather than imprison them. They argue that governments should re-focus their efforts on creating treatment plans for those with destructive issues which may affect their health and long-term well-being. “criminalization drives drug users underground; it discourages access to emergency medicine, overdose prevention services, and risk-reducing practices such as syringe exchanges,” the report has said. The report also goes on to outline a similar concept as to the one implemented in Portugal a decade ago.
Legislators in Portugal decriminalized possession of all illegal drugs in 2001. This has eliminated any potential for non-violent drug offenders to face sentencing for minor indiscretions. Unsurprisingly, this has made users more receptive to the idea of seeking help with drug-related issues and has been hugely successful in this regard. The rates of drug use amongst the population staying roughly the same. However, preventable diseases (such as AIDS) have also seen a huge decline in Portugal over the last decade, alongside deaths from overdoses.
According to the U.N: “Portugal’s policy has reportedly not led to an increase in drug tourism. It also appears that the number of drug-related problems has decreased.” Portugal continues, however, to use their criminal justice system to prosecute unwanted drug traffickers, which is actually a very sensible idea in our opinion, as much of this money is used to fund much darker criminal operations.
With election day today, we feel it may be worth giving a quick political analysis, explaining how we see each presidential candidate panning out in terms of their stance on marijuana. With Obama in office, there has been little top-down change (which is a little ironic, given his entire political platform ran with the slogan ‘CHANGE we can believe in’). Recent advances in legalization have been due to grass roots efforts, although the Obama administration has said previously “we cannot arrest our way out of a drug problem”.
In our opinion Hillary Clinton will be no different, she is likely to run over the same grooves worn by Obama, and stick to the status quo. She will talk a lot (like Obama) but do very little (again, like Obama). It's also important to remember that much of her campaign has been paid for by corporate lobbyists, many of whom are opposed to cannabis legalization.
Gary Johnson of the libertarian party appears to be the strongest proponent of legalization reform, openly showing his support for the recreational and medicinal use of cannabis and even relaying his own personal experience in cannabis use. That being said, Johnson plummeted in the polls recently and seems highly unlikely to make it into office.
So what about Trump? Well, Trump (previous to his campaign) has been a vocal critic of the war on drugs stating: “We’re losing badly the war on drugs … You have to legalize drugs to win that war’. That being said he has folded somewhat in recent years and seems to have avoided the subject to some degree during this campaign. It seems probable that, in order to gain a strong base of support from the republication party (and conservatives in general) he has chosen to keep his position on drug legalization off the table for now. That being said, he seems quite passionate about decriminalization the medical use of marijuana, and if anyone is going to smooth-talk the right wing into giving up some ground on this issue, it’s going to be him. Given all this, combined with the fact his campaign is self-funded (no corporate lobbyists!) it seems like Trump is the best bet on this issue.
All this aside, the American government has made important steps towards legalization over recent years, with all presidential candidates supporting state-level medical marijuana programs, and most wanting cannabis removed from the schedule 1 category which places it in the most dangerous category, alongside heroin. Things are changing quite quickly these days, but for those serving lengthy sentences similar to that of Corey Ladd, not quickly enough.
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