End the war on drugs? Study urges release of all non-violent criminals jailed on minor drug charges

OXFORD, United Kingdom — The war on drugs, declared by President Nixon in the 1970’s, was launched to eradicate the use of illegal drugs in the United States. Roughly five decades later however, it’s hard to call the initiative a total success. Although incarceration rates for drug crimes have skyrocketed, drug use remains a constant issue in American society. Now, a team of 60 international experts is arguing that all non-violent drug offenders currently in jail to be released. Their study also calls for these individuals to have their convictions expunged as well.

The team, which includes bioethicists, psychologists, and drug experts, contend it’s time to end the war on drugs. The group also claims the entire program is driven by racism.

”War on drugs’ has explicitly racist roots’

Additionally, researchers believe all illegal drugs should be legalized, even extremely dangerous narcotics like heroin or crack. From there, strict legislations and regulations should be put in place governing the use and sale of such substances, including age restrictions, licensing, and advertising.

Study authors analyzed over 150 prior reports and studies for this project. All that investigating led study authors to the conclusion that outlawing various substances ultimately leads to damaged communities. They add that such policies also treat African-Americans unfairly and can cause loss of life; as evidenced by the death of Breonna Taylor by police last year.

“The ‘war on drugs’ has explicitly racist roots and continues to disproportionately target certain communities of color,” lead study authors Brian D. Earp from the University of Oxford and Jonathan Lewis from Dublin City University say in a press release. “Drug prohibition and criminalization have been costly and ineffective since their inception. It’s time for these failed policies to end. The first step is to decriminalize the personal use and possession of small amounts of all drugs currently deemed to be illicit, and to legalize and regulate cannabis. Policymakers should pursue these changes without further delay.”

Drug policies singling out minorities?

The report is just the latest in a series of calls for police and criminal justice reform in recent months. This past year saw a renewed and intense focus on police interactions with minority communities and policies targeting cannabis — a substance considered just as harmful as any other illicit drug not that long ago which is now being legalized in more places across the U.S.

Study authors conclude that when drugs are illegal, people are motivated to commit other crimes, like theft, to fund their drug habits. This leads to a drop in life expectancy due to so many people ending up in prison. It also taxes the health care system through costs resulting from drug complications and overdoses.

The study finds Black and Hispanic individuals are also far more likely to be arrested on drug charges than Caucasians.

Researchers say countries that have taken a progressive approach to drug use, such as Portugal, have seen a big decline in drug-related deaths. Addicts in Portugal aren’t arrested. Instead, they’re encouraged to seek rehab and recovery.

There’s also a financial component to consider as well. Study authors estimate the U.S. government would generate $58 billion in profit by legalizing, regulating, and taxing the sale of drugs. Right now, federal, state, and local agencies spend a combined $47 billion annually carrying out the war on drugs.

The study is published in the American Journal of Bioethics.

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