Two prominent human and civil rights organizations are calling on the U.S. government to decriminalize all drug use and possession in a new report which finds that the so-called war on drugs has caused “devastating harm.”
The joint report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that there were 574,640 arrests for marijuana possession nationwide in 2015, outnumbering arrests for all violent crimes combined, and that the massive enforcement of drug laws takes a toll at every level, from the individual to the institutional—ruining lives and pulling families apart, discriminating against people of color, and undermining public health.
In fact, the groups found, in the U.S., someone is arrested for low-level drug offenses every 25 seconds.
“Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use,” said the report’s author and HRW/ACLU Aryeh Neier fellow Tess Borden. “These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence.”
The long-term impacts of drug law enforcement range from the separation of families to lifelong discrimination, the report states. People arrested for drug use can be excluded from employment opportunities, housing and welfare assistance, and the right to vote, among other things. The organizations interviewed hundreds of drug users, family members of those prosecuted, government officials, defense attorneys, activists, and service providers, and analyzed data from Texas, Florida, New York, and the FBI.
One woman interviewed in the report, “Nicole,” whose name was changed for privacy, was held pretrial for months in Houston, Texas away from her three children and eventually pled guilty to her first felony—possessing an empty baggie with heroin residue. The conviction cost her student financial aid, employment opportunities, and the food stamps she used to feed her children.
“The felony conviction is going to ruin my life…I’ll pay for it for[ever]. Because of my record, I don’t know how or where I’ll start rebuilding my life: school, job, government benefits are now all off the table for me,” she states in the report. “Besides the punishment even [of prison]…It’s my whole future.”
SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT