Decriminalizing Addiction, Decriminalizing Marijuana
Discoveries being made by research and science point towards addiction as being a disease. In the last article, we explained why it’s important for society to get on board with these discoveries and begin to see addiction for what it is–an illness, not a moral failing. This would align society’s views with scientific truth, and that’s a good enough reason to change our views on addiction, but there are other reasons too.
For one, attitude changes would cause diffuse changes to happen in the in areas of public policy, the penal system, and personal relationships. These are the sort of changes society needs in order to get a handle on addiction. Shame doesn’t work. It simply adds to the already long list of problems the addict is confronted with as soon as he sobers up, and giving an addict another problem to deal with when he or she gets sober isn’t exactly a good way to motivate him or her to quit.
It appears that we in the U.S. are finally starting to wake up and smell the coffee, or at least our judicial system is. Changes are afoot, with sentencing reforms and Assembly Bill (AB) 109, a/k/a “realignment” in California. The realignment and reforms that are underway will, among other things, amount to a new system for assessing what are currently called felony and misdemeanor drug offenses. These nonviolent offenders, many of them suffering from addiction, will now be given alternatives to prison.
Prison Doesn’t Help People to Quit Using Drugs
The reason behind the 2011 federal court ruling that state prisons in California must remove some 30,000 inmates by December of 2013 was that prisons were dangerously overcrowded and couldn’t provide adequate mental or medical treatment. Given that reason, we can surmise that California prisons aren’t exactly providing top-of-the-line addiction treatment either. Prison alternatives are therefore a positive change if they funnel addicts into facilities or programs that are better able to deal with addiction. This could make a serious difference in the lives of California’s realignment offenders. For instance, in the California county of San Mateo, “over 90% of realignment offenders arrived with drug problems.”
Sentence Reforms Have the Potential to Show Drug Users a Better Way to Live
Again, the goal of many of these sentencing reforms, specifically AB 109, is not drug treatment but reducing prison populations. Therefore, as California realigns inmates from prisons to local counties, there must be a commitment at the county level to implement and maintain drug treatment programs. This is the wild card in the equation; some counties have created innovative drug treatment programs while others have simply used the extra dough to enlarge county jails.
The possibility to make a difference in addicts’ lives exists, but counties must be willing to participate fiscally and otherwise. As Michael Dhar of thefix.com says, “California’s realignment, together with sentencing reform, have the potential to show the US a new way to treat drug offenders—and to show hundreds of thousands of addicts a new way to live.” Potential is the key word, but overall we can see that changes are taking place in the justice system. And these changes have resulted in large part from society’s changing views on drug addiction, which have resulted from discoveries about made by research. Dhar concludes, in his article, that these reforms give the U.S. an opportunity to go back to the way we viewed addiction pre-War on Drugs, “treating substance abuse less as a criminal than a social problem.”
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