Intercept - Arrests for the possession and personal use of drugs are boosting the ranks of the incarcerated at astonishing rates — with 137,000 people behind bars for drugs on any given day, and 1.25 million every year. Possession of even tiny quantities of illicit drugs is criminalized in every state, a felony in most, and the No. 1 cause of all arrests nationwide. And while marijuana is now legal in a handful of states and decriminalized in others, in 2015 police nationwide made over 547,000 arrests for simple marijuana possession — more than for all categories of violent crime combined. These arrests are feeding people into a criminal justice system that’s rife with inefficiencies, abuse, and racism, and compounding drug users’ substance abuse with the lifelong impact of a criminal record.
The staggering numbers, detailed in a report released today by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, shed new light on the colossal impact of the criminalization of drug use, as well as on the discriminatory impact of its enforcement. These laws have done nothing to stem the public health problem of drug addiction and in the process have destroyed countless lives and cost incalculable amounts of public resources in arrests, prosecution, and incarceration, the report charges.
Nearly half a century after it was first launched by President Nixon, the war on drugs has been widely recognized to have been a failure, yet little of substance has been done to reverse its course and the catastrophic damage it continues to inflict. In fact, while piecemeal approaches to fixing some of its symptoms — like sentencing reform, marijuana reclassification, and some discussion of police abuse — have by now been embraced within mainstream politics, the drug war’s founding policy, the criminalization of the personal use and possession of drugs, has rarely been questioned.