Drug Policy

Someone Is Arrested Every 25 Seconds for Drug Possession in the U.S.

A new report by Human Rights Watch and ACLU calls for the full decriminalization of drugs, citing the drug war's "staggering human rights toll."

|

Randy Pench/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Someone is arrested for drug possession or use every 25 seconds in the U.S., according to a strident joint report on the drug war by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union released Wednesday. As a result of the 1.25 million people who come into contact with the criminal justice system every year for drugs—more than all annual arrests for violent crime combined—the two civil rights groups are making an unequivocal call for the full decriminalization of personal drug use.

There are 137,000 men and women on any given day serving time in jail or prison for drug charges other than trafficking, according to data analyzed by the report. Despite the recent wave of decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, more than half of those arrests were for possession of pot. Besides facing jail time, they risk diminished job, housing, and education prospects, often leading to a downward spiral of poverty.

"These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence," says Tess Borden, the author of the 190-page report, who interviewed more than 300 people across the country who have been arrested, prosecuted, or incarcerated for drug possession.

Citing the "staggering human rights toll of drug criminalization and enforcement in the U.S." displayed in the report, the two civil rights groups call for full federal and state-level decriminalization of personal drug possession and use in the report.

"While governments have a legitimate interest in preventing problematic drug use, the criminal law is not the solution," the report says. "Criminalizing drug use simply has not worked as a matter of practice. Rates of drug use fluctuate, but they have not declined significantly since the "war on drugs" was declared more than four decades ago. The criminalization of drug use and possession is also inherently problematic because it represents a restriction on individual rights that is neither necessary nor proportionate to the goals it seeks to accomplish."

Borden says one thing that shocked her in the course of her research was how much of the "huge carceral state and the massive machinery of enforcement" was used to prosecute people for miniscule amounts of drugs. One person Borden interviewed in Texas received 15 years in prison for possession of trace amounts of methamphetamines so insignificant that the drug lab couldn't even assign a fraction of a weight to it.

His case was not an outlier. More than 78 percent of people sentenced to incarceration for felony drug possession in Texas in 2015 possessed under a gram—roughly the weight of a paperclip.

Across the country, the report says, the criminalization of drugs subjects people to humiliating police encounters, leaves them with the stigma of an arrest record at best, coerces guilty pleas, adds draconian sentencing enhancements, and keeps those with drug addiction churning through the system over and over until they end up facing years in prison.

"I remember when they said I was guilty in the courtroom, the wind was knocked out of me," Jennifer Edwards, told Borden from jail in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. Edwards faced a minimum of 20 years to life in prison for possessing a small amount of heroin. "I went, 'the rest of my life?' … All I could think about is that I could never do anything enjoyable in my life again. Never like be in love with someone and be alone with them… never be able to use a cell phone… take a shower in private, use the bathroom in private… There's 60 people in my cell, and only one of us has gone to trial. They are afraid to be in my situation."

The report also found, like many other statistical surveys of drug arrests, wide racial disparities in who is targeted by the drug war. In the 39 states where there was sufficient data to analyze, the report found black adults were more than four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as white adults, despite roughly equivalent rates of use.

Instead of criminalization, the report argues, resources should be funneled away from the massively expensive war on drugs to public health and drug treatment.

"HRC and and the ACLU are not condoning and encouraging drug use," Borden says." We're saying when someone chooses to put something in their body, that's a personal choice, and the state shouldn't be intervening if they're not hurting other people. The truth is most jails and prisons aren't providing the medically required treatment for drug dependence that people deserve. It flies in the face of liberty to say you should be incarcerated to get treatment."

Here's another case study from the report:

Neal had cycled in and out of prison for drug possession over a number of years. He said he was never offered treatment for his drug dependence; instead, the criminal justice system gave him time behind bars and felony convictions—most recently, five years for possessing a small amount of cocaine and a crack pipe. When Neal was arrested in May 2015, he was homeless and could not walk without pain, struggling with a rare autoimmune disease that required routine hospitalizations. Because he could not afford his $7,500 bond, Neal remained in jail for months, where he did not receive proper medication and his health declined drastically—one day he even passed out in the courtroom. Neal eventually pled guilty because he would face a minimum of 20 years in prison if he took his drug possession case to trial and lost.

There are many, many more such interviews and examples in the report.

Reason has been on the case for ending the drug war since, well, pretty much as long as Reason has existed. Watch this ReasonTV doc on how President Obama's drug war affects immigrant families:



Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

110 responses to “Someone Is Arrested Every 25 Seconds for Drug Possession in the U.S.

  1. I’m getting real sick of the government grabbing all that pussy.

    1. I’m drowning in all this liquidity.

      1. These pretzels are making me thirsty!

    2. My co-worker’s step-sister makes $97 hourly on the laptop . She has been out of work for six months but last month her paycheck was $14100 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Go this website and click to tech tab to start your work… http://tinyurl.com/hhwe4zl

  2. Cops love any excuse to initiate violence on people. Especially if they are too stoned to fight back.

    1. Cops only use violence on people who aren’t able to fight back. If they’re able to fight back the cops are usually hanging back for a while.

      1. Using violence on people who might fight back is a violation of the zero tolerance policy on things that might jeopardize officer safety. That might get a cop fired.

  3. War is the health of the State
    War on Drugs is the health of the State on steroids.

    1. Lindsey Graham / Jason Chaffetz 2020! Because war, war never changes…

      1. Handsome Jack/Wilhelm 2028!

  4. “While governments have a legitimate interest in preventing problematic drug use, the criminal law is not the solution,” the report says.

    What other tool does government have?

    1. Lindsey Graham?

    2. No, governments do NOT have a legitimate interest in preventing problematic drug use.

      1. Government is Congress, which is 99/100% lawyers. Lawyers want you out on bond or in jail wishing you were out on bond.

    3. It’s all within the realm of slaves and witches.

      We may live longer and technology is nifty, but not much is different than it was 2,000, or 400, years ago.

      1. ^this^

        I will go further. Morally and intellectually, we’re still at the pre-civilization level.

    4. While governments have a legitimate interest in preventing problematic drug use

      Umm, why?

      1. It’s problematic. The assumption contains the imperative for a solution.

      2. The criminalization of drug use and possession is also inherently problematic because it represents a restriction on individual rights that is neither necessary nor proportionate to the goals it seeks to accomplish.

        Would it matter even it it were “necessary” or “proportionate”? Talk about begging the question.

    5. What, exactly, constitutes ‘problematic drug use’?

      1. Using in your own home and not harming anyone.

      2. No permission from the state.

      3. When you get all hopped up on reefers and ax your family to death.

        1. When you get all hopped up on reefers Jesus and ax your family to death, like Deanna Laney, Dora Tejada, Andrea Yates, Tamara Butler, Harry Anslinger…

      4. Someone, somewhere, being happy.

    6. Mandated inpatient treatment centers. Which are totally not like prison.

    7. Well, treatment programs for one. At least you don’t walk away with a criminal record and can still go about other parts of your life.

      Though I wonder what they’ll do when someone blows off their mandatory treatment. And of course people who use drugs in a safe and non-destructive way will still get swept up in the system. But it’s still less bad than what we currently have.

      1. “At least you don’t walk away with a criminal record and can still go about other parts of your life”

        Yeah, because it’s not like they will create some lists that do basically the same thing, or anything like that.

        1. Don’t let good be the enemy of less bad.

          1. Don’t define getting a sharp stick five inches in your right eye versus six inches in your left eye as “less bad”.

  5. When they start arresting people every 10 seconds, then it will work.

    1. That’s called progress, duh! We’re finally winning the WOD!

  6. Nope. Decriminalization is not good enough.

    Legalize and fuck off.

    1. A study in semantics, but I’ve always felt that “legalization” connotes being ALLOWED to do it while decriminalization means the Puritans don’t have an interested position in the first place. That is, your given a positive right from the collective versus the collective butting the hell out.

      Maybe there’s a different interpretation.

      1. I have no fucking idea what “decriminalization” even means. Something is either illegal and a “crime” or it is not.

        1. “Decriminalization” just means no criminal charges. The fucking State can still license, fine, whatever the fuck they want to do.

          Which is why the ‘fuck off’ part is so important.

          1. I guess I’ve seen it the other way, hence the semantics. That making something “legal” has always come with the trailers of “then regulate it and tax it”. In the end, it is much clearer to simply invoke it’s all nobody’s business.

      2. The distinction evades me, as well. I suspect the intended difference is legalization = no mention of pot in the law at all v decriminalization = regulated (more or less like alcohol).

        If this is the intent, then legalization ain’t never gonna happen.

        1. Decriminalization means if your caught using you don’t go to jail. It still leaves sale and distribution to the black market so we still get to enjoy all of the gang violence as does Mexico and South America. Of course those south of the border escape theirs by coming here illegally.

      3. You’re right, and this goes back to the Rudebarbs cartoons of the 1970s. Example: Portugal decriminalized heroin a decade ago and the country is now preferred for banking, just as everyone in it prefers safer drugs, like beer. You cannot register a corporation to stock vending machines with smack just the same. In Colonial America Europeans sold themselves into indentureship, but These States simply refused to enforce the contracts. Decriminalization works.

    2. Legalize. Not decriminalization. Not regulation. Not taxed to death.
      Legal as in no law at all.

      1. There are no abortion laws in Canada. There’s another example. Most immigrants into Canada are women. Yet the GO-Pee platform does not demand we nuke Ottawa as the nerve center in a conspiracy for systematic extermination of all babies. Decriminalization works!

    3. Why do you hate the good people who just want to open some treatment centers as an ‘option’ for you? I mean, surely most of your income and getting on a lifetime list that takes away most of your rights is better than the rape cage, right? It’s nice we have such a benevolent government that is offering that choice…. oh wait…

      1. Exactly. And if they catch you with say cocaine in your system on a random drug test given not to test for impairment but to drag you into rehab, you will now not only give up coke but alcohol and any other substance on the list. It’s such bullshit. But hey, you know drugs are Satan.

  7. “Someone Is Arrested Every 25 Seconds for Drug Possession in the U.S.”

    Is that “someone” named Cheech Marin?

    1. Right. Chong got arrested for making paraphenalia.

    2. Yes, but they only detain him for a few seconds. It allows them to inflate their numbers.

    3. That’s 1.25 million potential LP voters a year. Texas and most other states do NOT impair voting rights for those “convicted” by a jury of their GO-Peers. In the 45 years the LP has existed that’s 56 million voters minus the ones the cops beat to death. So howcum God’s Own Prohibitionists and the other prohibitionists got 60 million votes? Does everyone WANT to be branded a felon and become a Second Amendment unperson over victimless bullshit?

  8. Just think of how bad it would be if they WEREN’T arresting all those people. Drug use would be at 100% or even higher!

      1. This drug use goes to eleven.

        1. Why not just make the 10 higher?

          1. like, on drugs?

  9. Unarmed Tulsa shooting victim was high on PCP

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireS…..d-42733904

    1. Does having PCP in the system necessarily mean he was feeling the effects at the time? How persistent is it in the body?

  10. “the two civil rights groups are making an unequivacle call for the full decriminalization of personal drug use”

    And it will be unequivocally ignored by the powers that be. For the children and for public safety, or some bullshit like that.

    I’m not sure what Trump would do, but I’m not optimistic. Hillary will not double, but triple down on the WOD, 100% certainty.

    1. Well Hillary has to make sure that Superpredators are kept off the street. Predators are hard enough to spot as is. Predators on on weed makes their tell-tale shimmer even harder to see.

      Unlike the rest of us, where weed just compels us to watch Adult Swim.

      1. Adult Swim ban coming soon, ‘encourages drug use by unsuspecting adults’.

        1. Dope will get you through times of no teevee better than teevee will get you through times of no dope.

      2. Rick and Morty. Fuck ya!

    2. You’ve got that right, and with a recently successful weaponized media the sympathetic stories will dry up. If you like to do the pot, or do the whatever, there are dark days ahead.

  11. Good. It will take time but hopefully something comes of it. I don’t like forcing people into treatment programs and spending public money on all kinds of prevention and treatment programs, either, but it’s far better than throwing them in jail. One step at a time.

    1. It was pretty damn hilarious when Brazil decided to do that. I like watching mobs of people running away from the cops on Globo to escape the government trying to help them, lol.

      1. Globo talked about a deadly heroin epidemic in America, then mentioned Gary, then went on about gateway drugs, marijuana and heroin some more. The news is broadcast on Jornal Nacional Socialista, and the expression “help them” is the same as “shoot them.” There are magazine articles on the Dems keeping abortion legal, but Brazilian teevee NEVER mentions that abortion is legal in the US and Canada and that the Dems want to keep it that way.

  12. Something tells me they’d still go after dealers, even if they soften up on users.

    1. Of course they will. Your protectors will bust your kneecaps if you dare to make a profit without giving them their cut. Since it is illegal for dealers to give them their cut, they have no choice but to go after them.

    1. 91% of Hihn’s erections go flaccid after 25 seconds.

  13. Let’s not allow the abominable to become the enemy of the execrable.

  14. In 1981 a friend of mine and I spent a week fishing in Canada at some lakes I’d fished before. about 2 hours past Kingston. We took a bag of weed packed in our cooking ware. Crossed at Detroit at 1 A.M. A couple questions,where we are going and doing. Then have a good time. Today I would never attempt that.

  15. Something tells me they’d still go after dealers, even if they soften up on users.

    If you grow your own, you’re a dealer.

  16. The Drug War creates jobs
    Drug users commit other crimes
    Drug users lose ability to contribute to society
    Poor and other undesirables don’t know how to use drugs responsibly (unlike say The President)
    Illegality is the only thing keeping us all from being heroin addicts.

    Unfortunately, people believe this crap.

  17. Remember head shops??? For you youngsters, that was a thing in the seventies. For a while there I thought we were on our way to something like sanity. Boy was I wrong.

    1. Funny story. When I bought my first pipe at a head shop back in the 80s, the woman at the counter asked “Would you like a bag with that?”

      I was a nervous teenager so I declined and ran away. A month later they got busted for selling pot. My loss.

      1. Thats good. Some shops in vt seemed on the edge, but i never needed to run that risk.

      2. When I bought my first pipe the guy threw in some screens, which saved me a shit load of embarrassment when I showed up at the girls house to smoke with her, cause I didn’t know u needed them. I’ll be forever thankful to that guy

    2. They’re still around. Hell, a friend of mine runs a glass blowing shop that sells pipes *for tobacco use only*, and adult novelties, marketed under names like The Gusher.

      1. In vt they seem to be exclusively hookah and “tobacco” pipes. They will kick you out if you even whisper bong.
        I was told i was “very awkward” when i went to the first one in colorado.

        1. In jersey city there are whole blocks in certain neighborhoods where you can go into just about any type of store and get hookahs or bongs.

          1. I was in Yunnan province and guys were sitting around smoking bongs. With big-budded pot growing everywhere, vacant lots full of it, I was really surprised that they were smoking tobacco.

        2. Yeah, they still have them, even in Texas. They sell glass pipes, purely for tobacco usage. They even sell grinders in case your pipe tobacco was all clustered up or something.

          But nobody is smoking weed, no-sir-ree-bob. And if you want to smoke some weed, the clerks might just have to report you to the authorities. And that has nothing to do with the cops sniffing around the head shops looking for pot smokers.

    3. Yep,Down the Rabbit hole ‘ in Athens Ohio.

      1. Metamorphosis in BG. Bought a nice brass stash pipe there, my brother borrowed my car and had it confiscated when they saw it laying in the console, but that was it. A couple months later at the county fair, there’s the sheriff’s office display of a bunch of the paraphenalia they’ve seized and there’s my pipe. I so wanted to ask if I could look at it for a minute – I’m sure they had no idea what a stash pipe was and that there was a couple grams of some sweet black icky-sticky in the barrel of that thing.

  18. One of my prog friends who is voting hillary and makes fun of me being a libertarian is in an uproar because he has to take a drug test after his company just merged.
    I feel bad cause he’ll probably fail, but the asshole in me is all schadenfreudey.

    1. Maybe we shouldnt link health care and employment? Maybe drugs shouldnt be a national law?

      1. You mean people should buy their own ‘ Medical Insurance’ to cover unexpected expenses? Like car home and life insurance? Are you some kinda monster? Then there’s this whole letting people use drugs just like they do alcohol. Why do you hate children?

        1. When i was a liftee at a ski resort, our lift ops locker room had a sign that said “you have 137 hours a week that you own. Do whatever you want then.”
          Not that the rule was followed, but i liked it as a guide.

  19. I am making $89/hour working from home. I never thought that it was legitimate but my best friend is earning $10 thousand a month by working online, that was really surprising for me, she recommended me to try it. just try it out on the following website.

    ===> http://www.NetNote70.com

  20. Bryce . even though Samuel `s story is unbelievable… on tuesday I bought a great Peugeot 205 GTi after making $4790 this – four weeks past an would you believe $10k last month . it’s definitly the most-comfortable work Ive ever done . I actually started 4 months ago and right away startad earning more than $85 p/h . find more info

    ……………. http://www.BuzzNews10.com

  21. my Aunty Lillian recently got a nine month old Chevrolet Volt from only workin on a pc at home
    see more at———–>>> http://tinyurl.com/Usatoday01

  22. I don’t see why governments should have any legitimate interest to control drug use, problematic or otherwise, in the first place. Drug use isn’t a public health issue. When it becomes a health issue at all (and for most users, it doesn’t) it’s an intensely personal one. Not your problem unless you make it your business.

  23. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….

    …….. http://www.jobprofit9.com

  24. Peyton . even though Billy `s report is cool… on monday I got a gorgeous Maserati after I been earnin $8985 thiss month and even more than ten k lass month . it’s certainly the easiest work Ive ever had . I started this 9-months ago and practically straight away started bringin home at least $78 per-hr . look at this now

    ……………. http://www.jobhub44.com

  25. Matthew . I can see what your saying… Bobby `s storry is surprising, last saturday I got a brand new Land Rover Defender since I been making $4556 this past 5 weeks and more than ten-grand this past-month . this is definitely my favourite-job I have ever had . I began this 4 months ago and immediately made more than $71 per-hr . More Info
    ????????> http://www.factoryofincome.com

  26. Bella . I can see what your saying… Jesus `s blurb is good, on wednesday I bought a new Lotus Elan after making $9196 this last 4 weeks an would you believe 10/k lass month . this is really the nicest work I’ve ever done . I started this 5 months ago and almost straight away brought home minimum $73.. per hour . read
    ????????> http://www.factoryofincome.com

  27. Liliana . if you think Lawrence `s blog is incredible, I just purchased a new Honda after earning $5741 this – 4 weeks past and also 10 grand lass month . it’s by-far the most-comfortable job I have ever done . I started this four months/ago and almost immediately began to make minimum $85… p/h .

    see this……………. http://www.BuzzNews10.com

  28. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….

    ……………… http://www.jobprofit9.com

  29. Liliana . if you think Lawrence `s blog is incredible, I just purchased a new Honda after earning $5741 this – 4 weeks past and also 10 grand lass month . it’s by-far the most-comfortable job I have ever done . I started this four months/ago and almost immediately began to make minimum $85… p/h .

    see this……………. http://www.BuzzNews10.com

  30. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….

    …….. http://www.jobprofit9.com

  31. Liliana . if you think Lawrence `s blog is incredible, I just purchased a new Honda after earning $5741 this – 4 weeks past and also 10 grand lass month . it’s by-far the most-comfortable job I have ever done . I started this four months/ago and almost immediately began to make minimum $85… p/h .

    see this……………. http://www.BuzzNews10.com

  32. While coming to education, the technology has brought many advantages to students and as well as teachers. showbox For example, students can do their homework or assignment with ease and can complete it faster by using the Internet.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.