However, situation has been changed to a large extent in the past few years. The negative impact of drug laws on people and victimization of the weaker section of the society made people believe that there is a need for decriminalization of drug use. Drug user lobbyists and organizations reject the drug user accountability measures. They believe that this is interference in one's personal rights to use drugs. They advocate the permissibility if illicit drugs for people and urge the government and the law enforcement authorities to soften their stand on drug use.
A majority of Americans now support decriminalization of drug use and even the legalization of drugs such as opiates and cannabis. They think that people should not be punished heavily for simple possession of drugs. Instead, they could be fined. “According to a 2003 Zogby survey, forty percent Americans say, the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and only make it illegal for children” (Burrows, 2005). Among all the drugs, marijuana is widely used among Americans. It gets a special place in the US criminal law.
“Near about 90 percent of the drug related crimes are only the simple possession of drugs. It is being felt that there is a need of decimalization of drug use. Even the foreign-born US residents feel the heat of the drug laws. They can be deported for a drug offense even if they have lived in the country for a long time. The Federal Higher Education Act prohibits young people convicted of any drug offense, from getting student loans” (Friedman, 1993). Such restrictions on people are definitely an infringement in their rights. Necessary steps must be taken in the best interest of people.
There are still a large number of people who reject the liberal approach about drug use and stick to the conservative approach. They argue that decriminalization of drug use will expand the use of drugs and it will have negative impact on the society. They are concerned about the health hazards that may arise after the decriminalization of drug use. They believe that crime rate will rise further if drug use is legalized. That will result in an increase in prison population. Both the liberal and conservative approaches on decriminalization are strong and there is a need for more debate and discussion.
Prison overcrowding with non-violent Drug Offenders “According to the Justice Department, the number of imprisoned American adults has been increased surprisingly, thanks to the stricter laws on drugs” (DEA, 1994). The mandatory minimum sentencing laws and the three strikes laws are among the drug laws that are responsible for the increase in prison population. These laws are being questioned because of prison overcrowding. The main objective of the drug laws was to stop the crime and punish the violent drug offenders.
However, it has been noticed that in most of the cases, non-violent drug offenders get the punishment and land in jails. Instead of nabbing the drug dealers and kingpins, the system sentenced the low-level non-violent drug offenders. These laws put tremendous pressure on people and their families. The overcrowding prisons forced the authorities to build new prison, which is a burden on the tax payers. A reform in the drug laws within the justice system will definitely augur will for the society and the government. The main focus should be on the well being of people.
Punishing the non-violent offenders will only aggravate the problem. Reform of Drug Laws in the current Political Environment Although the majority of people want the existing drug laws to be reformed, it is yet to be seen whether the current political establishment will allow it to happen or not. The Bush administration has so far maintained a strict policy on drug use. Its fight against drug abuse expanded beyond the US to Asia and Latin America. However, several states in the US have bowed to the public pressure and are taking measures to legalize drug use and reduce the punishment.
“Oregon, Alaska and Montana are among those states. According to reports, Alaska is all set to become the first state to decriminalize drugs like marijuana. There are at least nine states that have adopted laws for the medical use of marijuana. These states are California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Vermont, Alaska, Oregon and Washington” (Marijuana Policy Project, 2004). “Recently, there was a proposal to stop the federal government from prosecuting people found using marijuana for medical reasons in the states that allow it. That proposal was defeated in the US House.
This issue will be heard by the Supreme Court soon. Even the politicians are divided on this issue. Tom Golisano, the conservative candidate of the Independence party, campaigned heavily on the decriminalization of drug use during the 2002 gubernatorial campaign in New York” (Burrows, 2005). Leading Republicans and some Conservative party leaders support the medical marijuana bill produced before the New York legislature. On the issue of reforms in drug laws, the White House has been directly pitted against the states. Majority of the states want the drug use to be legalized.
“It is believed the anti-drug sentiments in the US are the creation of politicians. To garner support of people, they fabricated stories and spent a huge amount of money on anti-drug advertisement campaigns. Their drug war speeches motivated a substantial number of people to turn against drug use” (Friedman, 1993). Now the public mood has been changed to a great extent. A majority of people support the decriminalization or legalization of drug use. It has forced a section of political establishment support the popular mood. Although there may not be any fundamental changes in the drug laws, some sort of amendments will definitely be made.
There is a consensus among the supporter of drug use and the anti-drug campaigners on one point. They all agree that there should be reduction in the supply of drugs. Although the law enforcement authorities are apprehensive about the positive outcome following the reduction in supply of drugs, this will be a welcome step considering the differences of opinions among people. Also, the government will be forced to take adequate measure to stop the overcrowding of prisons which is responsible for the unnecessary burden on the treasury, law and order problems and human rights concerns.
These problems will be resolved only by allowing reforms in the drug laws within the criminal justice system. Conclusion Notwithstanding the debates on legalization of drugs and the abolition of strong punishment for drug abuse, one thing is clear that illicit drug use is a major problem that grappled the society. Irrespective of race, community, gender and regions, drug abuse has created serious problems everywhere. The poor and backward sections of the society always have been the victims. It is necessary to prohibit the large-scale use of drugs.
At the same time, it is the responsibility of the government and law enforcement authorities to make provisions so that people do not get heavy punishments for minor offenses. It is necessary to bring reforms in the draconian provisions of the drug laws to provide relief to common people.
Burrows D. (2005). Towards a regulated market for illicit drugs: Effects of the harm reduction model of controlled drug availability. International Journal of Drug Policy 16(1): 8-9. DrugSense MAP Inc. How Do Drug Laws Influence Crime? Retrieved November 13, 2005, from http://drugsense.org/cms/index.php