Monday, July 14, 2014

Why investing in drug use prevention is important

“The state is no longer wasting law enforcement time on marijuana use,” according to a recent Seattle Times opinion piece about I-502, the initiative that decriminalized and legalized marijuana. 

In 2004, a Seattle Times article about Seattle’s Initiative 75, which made marijuana the lowest enforcement priority for police, reported similar results.  Statistics for the first six months of 2004 show that the city has prosecuted just 18 cases of marijuana possession compared with roughly 70 during the same time period last year.  In other words, de-facto decriminalization worked to reduce the number of people arrested and prosecuted for marijuana offences. 

According to a recent report from the National Academies of Science (NAS), the rise in United States incarceration rates can be attributed to “significantly increased sentence lengths, required prison time for minor offenses, and intensified punishment for drug crimes.”  Racial disparities in incarceration rates are exacerbated by sentencing laws, such as three strikes and mandatory minimums, and by “law enforcement strategies associated with the war on drugs.”  In other words, how laws are enforced and how people are sentenced are the primary factors leading to high incarceration rates. 

Authors of the NAS report offer specific suggestions for reducing incarcerations rates:
  • changing sentencing policies, especially those having to do with the enforcement of drug laws;
  • changing prison policies;
  • addressing social policies especially those addressing “economic insecurity, low education, and poor health that are associated with incarceration in the nation’s poorest communities.  Solutions to these problems are outside of the criminal justice systems, and they will include policies that address school drop-out, drug addiction, mental illness, and neighborhood poverty – all of which are intimately connected to incarceration.”  

That’s where youth drug use prevention comes in.  Preventing the onset of drug use among teenagers prevents school drop-out, drug addiction, some mental illnesses, and supports healthy youth development.  To be most effective, multiple community partners must join together to prevent teen drug use.  Parents and schools are only part of effective drug use prevention strategies.  Organizations concerned with economic insecurity, health, and the justice system also have stakes in keeping kids drug-free. 

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