Americans Favor Addiction Treatment Over Criminal Prosecution
American attitudes toward drugs and drug users are changing. A few decades ago Americans wanted stiff mandatory sentencing for drug users and dealers. This has led to crowded prisons, strained state budgets and little headway in terms of changing drug behavior. A recent poll revealed that two-thirds of Americans are in favor of drug treatment rather than criminal prosecution.
Jail Or Rehab?
The Pew Research Center has polled the country on this subject and says that Americans would rather see offenders with no history of violence get help as opposed to jail time. Pew talked to 1,821 U.S. adults, finding that 67 percent felt the emphasis should shift toward treatment, just over 26 percent advocated for a continued focus on punishment and seven percent said they could not decide on which course was best. The poll was conducted for one week in February 2014.
The two-thirds majority felt mandatory sentencing should not be applied to small scale crime, especially if it was marijuana-related. This is a significant shift in public opinion since as recently as 2001 more than half of polled Americans still supported strong penalties and prison sentencing for drug offenses, including marijuana.
The President and his administration have been lending voice to the move away from harsh mandatory sentencing. Prosecutors show less support for the idea, but so far President Obama has enjoyed Congressional support from both sides of the aisle when he suggests eliminating most mandatory sentences.
The poll discovered that 49 percent support the legalization of medical marijuana use, and 39 percent support legalizing recreational use. Just 16 percent maintain that marijuana should continue as an illegal substance in this country. But nearly all those polled, on both sides of the issue, expressed the belief that marijuana will eventually become a legal substance in America.
This is a notable change in public sentiment. Back in 2010 Pew reported that 41 percent supported legalization, while a majority – 52 percent – still thought the drug should be illegal. The new poll is essentially a flip of prior attitudes. At the moment medical marijuana use is legal in 20 states and recreational use is legal in two.
The prevailing attitude among Americans seems to be that a person should be free to use marijuana as long as they do it in the privacy of their own home. Even though they favor loosening the laws surrounding marijuana use, Pew reported that 63 percent did not want people to use it in public, and 44 percent did not want to have a dealer present on the street where they live.
Americans appear ready to give up on the fight against marijuana, but they still have some misgivings. Many are concerned that when marijuana is more available more young people will be likely to give it a try. And even though the country is moving away from sending drug sellers and users to prison, they still think drugs are an issue. Over 50 percent of those polled said they thought drug abuse was a “serious problem,” and just over 30 percent said drug abuse is a “crisis.”
From the White House to ordinary households, the feeling in America seems to be “let’s put small scale drug users into treatment, rather than prison.” On the one hand Americans are ready to allow fellow citizens free access to marijuana, but at the same time they worry about where that policy may lead. The majority of Americans seem to feel that fear of punishment has not been effective in reducing drug abuse and are ready to try a new approach.