Are there any special considerations for people with histories of substance use disorders who violate us drug laws?

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposes criminal drug prohibition. Not only is prohibition a proven failure as a drug control strategy, but it also subjects otherwise law-abiding citizens to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate for what they do in private. By trying to enforce drug laws, the government violates the fundamental rights of privacy and personal autonomy that are guaranteed by our Constitution. The ACLU believes that unless they harm others, people should not be punished, even if they harm themselves.

There are better ways to control drug use, ways that will ultimately lead to a healthier, freer and less crime-ridden society. If a person tests positive for drugs, they will be considered a current drug user, as long as the test is accurate. What would change with decriminalization is not so much the availability of drugs as the conditions under which they would be available. While this military approach continues to devour billions of tax dollars and send tens of thousands of people to prison, illegal drug trafficking thrives, violence intensifies and drug abuse continues to weaken lives.

Not only has drug prohibition failed to curb or reduce the harmful effects of drug use, but it has also created other serious social problems. While it is impossible to predict exactly how drug consumption patterns would change with a regulated manufacturing and distribution system, the strictest prohibition rules are that illegal markets are controlled by producers, not consumers, and prohibition encourages the sale and consumption of more potent and dangerous forms of drugs. These laws also support artificially high prices and ensure that commercial disputes between drug traffickers and their customers are not resolved in the courts of law, but with automatic weapons on the streets. The EEOC has defined “current” in the sense that illegal drug use occurred recently as to justify the employer's reasonable belief that drug use is an ongoing problem.

Hundreds of thousands of other law-abiding people have been arrested and imprisoned for drug possession. Allocating huge sums of money to law enforcement reduces the funding available for drug education, preventive social programs, and treatment. An employer cannot discriminate against a person who has a history of drug addiction but who is not currently using drugs and who has been rehabilitated. Without the ban, it would be easier to provide help to drug addicts who would like to quit their habits, because the money that is now being wasted on law enforcement could be used for preventive social programs and treatments.

Inner-city communities suffer most from both the problem of drug abuse and the consequences of drug prohibition. For example, according to government estimates, only 12 percent of drug users are black, but nearly 40 percent of those arrested for drug-related crimes are black. As crack use increased in the late 1980s, millions of dollars were spent fighting street drugs and incarcerating tens of thousands of low-level offenders, while only a few public drug treatment spaces were created.

Darla Hemmeke
Darla Hemmeke

Internet practitioner. Incurable internet evangelist. Extreme travelaholic. Award-winning zombie geek. Incurable pizzaaholic.

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