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How To Win The “War On Drugs”?

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Imprisonment is one of the first things that people think of as a way to win the “war on drugs”. Is this the best way to handle it though? In July of 2018, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, roughly 46% of prison inmates were in prison due to some kind illicit drug charge. (BOP) With our prisons close to half filled with drug users, and our prisons being so over occupied as is, does this seem like a viable option to continue with? The state of our prisons combined with our amount of drug users clearly show an issue, so could we actually add more illicit drug users to our prisons? I mean, we could try to build more prisons, but is that really the answer? The amount of money and time it would take to build more prisons would not be effective because we know that imprisonment alone is not an effective way to deal with drug users. We know that drug abuse is a part of drug addiction, and that cannot be fixed by simply locking someone up. Rehabilitative measures in prison, such as therapy and treatment, have been shown to help but they do not happen often. According to the National Institute of Health, with 945,530 meeting the criteria to receive treatment in state jail and prisons, only 121,560 received treatment. The fact that only 12% of the above people received treatment is an extreme missed opportunity.

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This is a good time to switch in to rehabilitative methods without imprisonment. When discussing cost effectiveness, it turns out that rehabilitation is far less expensive than imprisonment. According to the NIDA, $14.6 billion dollars out of $193 billion dollars went towards drug rehabilitation. That is staggeringly less than the cost of imprisonment, and has been proven to work. There are, however, some negatives that come associated with drug rehabilitation. For starts, many drug abusers cannot afford the cost of drug rehabilitation. Depending on the services that are needed, the cost can be anything from $1000 to $60000. Now, while medical insurance can help with this, many people still cannot afford to pay for treatment. With rehabilitation being the option in this section, we have to look at some other issues. At what risk are we willing to put the community at to address an individual’s drug habits and rehabilitation? I believe that, if following a rehabilitative model more than imprisonment, there should be a three-strike rule with the exception of any potential violent crimes including DUI. This gives everyone a fair shake, with the understanding of mistakes happening but not allowing any violence or anything that could potentially endanger any other citizens.

So, with all of this being said, are there any other options besides imprisonment and rehabilitation? I actually think so. Now, I understand the controversy behind this, but in my opinion, I do think that a good way to end the “war on drugs” would be to legalize marijuana while also using rehabilitative and imprisonment if needed. Now, I know that this has been said many times, but the legalization of marijuana would drop the numbers significantly. As was said previously in this research paper, there were 24.6 million illicit drug users in one month in 2014. Of this 24.6 million, 19.8 million were marijuana users. This is a staggering 80% of all illicit drug use. Now, I understand that marijuana can potentially lead to the use of other drugs, but by no means does that mean that everyone who uses marijuana is going to become a heroin addict. There may be a rise in the use of other drugs, but there is no way that those numbers would jump to the way that they are now. Also, while there are obviously negative effects of marijuana use, there are also many health benefits as well. Now, by no means am I saying that legalizing marijuana is the only thing we should do.

For starts, like I said previously, I think moving imprisonment for drug use to a three-strike rule would be beneficial for many drug users. We should also invest far more money in to rehabilitation while imprisoned. By legalizing marijuana, we could also drop a significant number of marijuana users incarcerated, which would allow for more focused help for those who need it. However, dealers would not get the three-strike rule, but rather immediate jail time or possible imprisonment. Then, we can also focus on attacking the suppliers of the drugs, so that we can attempt to eliminate as many of the extreme dangerous drugs as possible.

Throughout history we have seen resources added to rehabilitation, the attack of suppliers, and more intense punishment. While they all have their pros and cons, there are other alternatives that haven’t been used yet. Legalizing marijuana, plus continuing adding resources to rehabilitation and changes to some criminal justice system policies could go a long way in securing a future without a “war on drugs” continuing.

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