Abstract in her speech at Columbia University “It’s a

Abstract               This paper will look at laws that were passed and have lead up to our current problem with prison overcrowding.  It will give the opinions of advocacy groups for legalizing drugs and advocacy groups against legalizing drugs.  Portugal took a different approach to legalizing drugs; this paper will look at that and several other approaches.  Different solutions will be offered to the problem with the war on drugs.  Legalizing drugs may not be a good solution, but it is a different option.  Introduction               The American prison system currently has over 2 million people incarcerated.  The Federal Bureau of Prisoners website quoted that 46.3% of inmates are in prison for drug offenses (BOP Statistics: Inmate Offenses. n.d.).  Hillary Rodham Clinton quoted in her speech at Columbia University “It’s a stark fact that the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population.  The numbers today are much higher than they were 30 to 40 years ago despite the fact that crime is at historic lows” (Clinton, Criminal justice reform 2015).  When almost half of the prison population is incarcerated for drug violations and 80% of the violations are from drug possession alone, that tells us we need to change the system.               Where do we start to fix the incarceration rates and what happened to cause the rates to jump in the past 50 years?  We need to look at changing the laws that are causing the problems and make new laws that will work.  The old laws have put more drug offenders in jail and created more repeat offenders.  Legalizing drugs may not be a good solution to the war on drugs, but it is a different option.  Several countries and U.S. states have legalized marijuana with successful outcomes.  Portugal legalized all drugs in 2001 and instituted treating addiction as a disease not a crime.  They changed the system to help drug offenders, not punish them and have had great success in prison rates going down.  The war on drugs is ineffective and a waste of taxpayer money, the justice system is overworked keeping up with prosecuting offenders.  Legalizing marijuana could be a step in producing the change we need for the war on drugs. Public policy               What major laws caused the current problems with incarceration rates of drug offenders?  First, the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 provided greater structure in sentencing guidelines for each offense (Sessions III 2012).  The second, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, required mandatory prison sentences for drug possession.  Offenders caught with the intent to distribute, faced a minimum ten-year prison sentence.  Offenders caught with smaller amounts face a minimum five-year sentence (Judge, “For the Record.” 1990).  The final contributing factor was the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, also known as the “3 Strikes and You Are Out” rule (“10 Reasons to Oppose “3 Strikes, You’re Out”. n.d.).  The law that put more drug offenders in jail and created more repeat offenders was the Anti-drug abuse Act of 1986 (“Mandatory Minimums.” 2017).                It is now up to the states to find a workable solution.  Many states currently have laws that reduce mandatory sentencing, drug courts, and in prison rehabilitation treatment programs.  Several states have legalized the consumption, possession, and sale of marijuana.  But, do these state laws work on reducing the prison population for drug offenders?  According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, if they can keep offenders out of jail and have them go through addiction treatment programs, 75% of the graduates remain arrest-free at least two years after leaving the program (“Drug Courts Work.” 2010).               Drugs do not affect just the user; they affect everyone the user comes in contact with, especially his or her family.  It creates mental, emotion and physical effects and can affect their sense of self-worth and self-purpose.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug use can cause many different health problems like heart disease, strokes, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C, and mental disorders.  Women who use drugs during a pregnancy can cause harm to the fetus, known as neonatal syndrome or NAS.  NAS causes the baby to go through drug withdrawal after birth.  The children of those users could also have problems in developmental areas such as behavior, attention, and thinking (NIDA, Addiction and Health n.d.).  Advocacy/Related Programs               According to the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (Vision 2002), the USA’s war on drugs is ineffective.  They say if we bring drug use out into the open, we are eliminating the black market for drugs.  In British Columbia, they stated InSite, a supervised injection site that oversees drug users.  They make sure the users do not overdose by providing medical personal onsite.  This creates a safe and sterile facility to combat the diseases and risks associated with drug use (Deines 2011).  InSite reported that it provided 214,898 visits to 8,040 individuals and 1,781 overdose interventions in 2016 with no fatalities (Insite user statistics 2017).  If there is always a fear of prison time, how can a user take advantage of a facility like this?               Another advocate for more relaxed drug regulations is the Drug Policy Alliance, founded in 1987.  Their vision and mission statement states that they envision a society in which the use and regulation of drugs are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.  People are no longer punished for what they put into their own bodies but only for crimes committed against others.  Their mission is to advance those policies and to promote the sovereignty of individuals over their minds and bodies (“About Us.” 2013).  When DPA was founded, it was in conjunction with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.  In 2000, DPA became the leader on drug policy reform and is working to help change laws and eliminate wasteful spending fighting the war of drugs.  They state that the federal government supplies money to fight the war on drugs but neglects to help the offenders.  DPA thinks education and treatment programs are more cost-effective and successful when dealing with substance abuse (“Making Economic Sense.” 2017).               Drug Free American Foundation, Inc. advocates against legalization of drugs.  DFAF was founded in 1976 by Betty S. Sembler.  She was treating people for drug addiction and went on to establish DFAF to help combat drug abuse.  DFAF’s mission and vision statement states that they are a drug prevention and policy organization.  They are committed to developing, promoting and sustaining policies and laws that will reduce illegal drug use and drug addiction.  The DFAF’s vision statement is a nation that creates an environment where citizens live lives free of illicit drugs (“About Us.” 2017).Law/Legislation               Lawmakers have outlawed drugs, which has made drugs a more lucrative and profitable business.  It has driven the drug trade underground where no rules apply or solutions to the problem.  DPA is advocating the end of drugs being illegal and treating drug use as a health issue, not a criminal issue.  DPA was a major player in the promotion and legislation of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA).  FSA was enacted August 3, 2010 and it reduced the statutory penalties for crack cocaine offenses.  It eliminated mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine and increased statutory fines (“Congress” 2015).Film Depiction               The video, The War on Drugs: From Prohibition to Gold Rush, by Jay Z and artist Molly Crabapple, related to this paper by exploring the history on the war of drugs.  It depicts the history from the time it started during the Nixon administration through present day laws.  It shows why in the 1990s’ incarceration rates exploded because judges were forced to handed out tougher sentencing for simple possession and low level drug sales.  45 years later, the crack era ended and  people started treating addiction as a health crisis but drug use rates are no lower now than when Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971.  The final statement that sums up the video and this paper is: the war on drugs is an epic fail (Crabapple, The War On Drugs 2016).Discussion/Call to Action

While the United
States was cracking down on drugs and spending billions of dollars to
incarcerate users, Portugal took a different approach.  They legalized the use of drugs or
decriminalized it, and treated the addiction as a disease, not a crime.  They still sent drug dealers to prison but anyone
caught with less than a 10-day supply of any drug gets mandatory medical
treatment.  They go for counseling with
government sociologists, who then decide whether to refer them to drug
treatment centers.  The Portugal
government provides clean needles which has caused the number of HIV cases to
go down.  Drug overdose deaths are three to every
1,000,000 citizens (Ingraham 2015). 
Portugal has shown great success with their program.

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            By legalizing drugs, we
decrease our prison population.  Portugal’s
drug offensive imprisonment rate when from 43% to 24% when they decriminalized
drugs, now they only imprison dealers and
traffickers, not users (ROSENBERG 2015). 
Legalizing drugs would allow the criminal justice system more
time for other cases to be heard and in a timely manner and our police officers
would not take the risk they currently take today.  New tax revenue would be made for the states
and government from the production and sale of legalized drugs.  The taxes made on these sales could be used
to fund more treatment counselors or treatment centers.  With the restrictions on production,
purchased amounts, and retail locations, we could control the drugs and help
prevent the spread of diseases.

Conclusion

In conclusion, our current
laws are not working; the justice system is overworked trying to keep up.  Our prisons are overcrowded and records are
being made that will follow the offender for life.  We need different options than the laws we
currently have, legalizing all drugs might not be a solution but it could be a
different option.  If we legalize drugs,
we need to make sure we have an addiction support system in place to help the
users, letting them know they are not alone and someone is willing to
help.  Without the constant
threat of jail time there would be more chances to help the users and change
the mind of potential users.  We also
need to make sure people understand that there will be some good along with
some bad as with any new policy.  If we start out small by legalizing marijuana, that
could provide the change we need for winning the war on drugs.  It could be a better solution than the one we
currently have.