By John Smithmeyer
America has lost the war on drugs, and this isn’t new news by any means. However, how long will the judicial and penal system keep repeating the same mistakes before they realize something needs to change?
The war on drugs wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. Not to mention the cost to the Black community has been so much more — thousands of lives were lost and Black people rotted away behind bars for minor drug offenses.
The criminalization of drugs and penalization of both dealers and users alike has not proven to be worthwhile for America as a whole. It’s very apparent that something needs to change if we are to properly address social issues, such as gang violence and addiction. The current tactics failed long ago.
However, radical steps toward changing the approach to the way drugs are handled in American society have recently been taken by the state of Oregon with Measure 110.
Last year, Oregon passed Measure 110, a bill that decriminalizes all drug use. Under Measure 110, the possession of small amounts of any and all drugs is punishable by a fine of no more than $100. In lieu of the charge, the person can complete a health assessment at an addiction center.
Oregon’s new law is similar to the national decriminalization of all drugs in Portugal that took place in 2001. The Portuguese measure was also a decriminalization of all drugs, not a complete legalization. However, I still feel this radical decriminalization is not enough, and the politics surrounding drugs still needs to be heavily reevaluated.
What has taken place in Oregon and Portugal were only measures to decriminalize, rather than legalize. However, I feel legalization is the next step in truly addressing the public health issue of addiction; that’s what addiction is — a public health issue.
The war on drugs treated this health issue as a public nuisance or extreme crime that needs to be quelled rather than treated.
Complete legalization is the best option. It takes addicts out of the shadows and into the forefront of the discussion about addiction as a disease, as opposed to a blight on society. Legalization could solve many of these negative side effects addiction has on both the individual and society.
Making treatment more accessible and addiction itself less stigmatized is the first issue with addiction that legalization would address. By making drugs legal, and even government-regulated, the stigma behind addiction would be lessened. It would become a less taboo subject within popular society, and treatment would be more accessible as social workers and treatment facilities would work in close contact with dispensaries.
Also, the tax revenue state governments make from dispensaries could go toward setting up treatment facilities and paying social workers who are equipped to help addicts with their disease. Theoretically, it would also help take money away from those criminal organizations that highly benefit from the prohibition of drugs.
Additionally, legalizing drugs could bring about a decrease in overdoses. Indulge me for a moment: envision an America that has dispensaries for what are currently illegal substances.
Heroin at a dispensary would be cleaner and purer because it would be government-regulated. There could be rooms with sanitary beds and clean needles, providing a safe environment for drug users. However, first and foremost, dispensaries could have addiction specialists on site in order to provide therapy and offer opportunities to treat their disease on a more long-term basis.
Decriminalization is a step in the right direction, but after a decades-long war on inanimate objects and wasted taxpayer dollars, there needs to be a leap in the right direction rather than a mere step. Prohibition of drugs pushes people into the shadows: people who need help and have personal issues that need to be addressed rather than stigmatized.
Legalization of drugs would be able to bring people from the shadows and into the light of day where their disease can be recognized, addressed and treated. Prohibition only demonizes these people and their conditions, thereby forcing them to continue their habits in secretive and dangerous ways. In the long run, it makes it so much harder for these people who are in need to get the help they require.