Decades after the United States began a campaign to hamper drug use in the country, it is pretty clear that the war on drugs has been a failure. Intense policing coupled with harsh sentencing may have worked on other crimes, but in the case of cannabis, this approach only ensured that certain communities were punished harshly for cannabis-related crimes while others weren’t.
The nationwide campaign to decriminalize drug use may have gained a major supporter after the head of a top federal drug agency criticized America’s policy of treating drug use as a criminal problem rather than a public health issue.
The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (“NIDA”) Nora Volkov has in the past made it clear that she isn’t a big supporter of the country’s anti-drug laws. This time, she wrote an essay, titled “Addiction Should Be Treated, Not Penalized,” for the “Journal Health Affairs” where she argued that the time has come for the U.S. to stop handing out long sentences to individuals with low-level drug offenses. Although Volkov doesn’t explicitly endorse decriminalization, she made it clear that the current policies don’t work, especially for communities of color.
Most studies have found that Black and Latino communities are much more likely to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses compared to white communities despite similar usage rates. The drug policies that are currently in place have led to disproportionate enforcement against communities of color, Volkov says, and rather than hamper drug use, these policies can even increase the risk of overdose deaths. Punishment, especially the kind of punishment proffered in American courts, does not reduce the occurrence of substance use disorders, she writes. Rather, it increases an individual’s risk of experiencing a drug overdose once they are released from prison.
Despite the fact that we have decades’ worth of evidence proving that addiction is a medical problem not a criminal matter, the U.S. continues to criminalize drug addiction. In the interest of both “health equity and population well-being,” the U.S. must approach drug addiction as a public health issue,” Volkov notes. Not only will this allow people who are afflicted with substance use disorders to get the help they need, but it will ensure that communities of color aren’t the victim of disproportionate enforcement any anymore. Volkov writes that the country desperately needs to research public health-based alternatives such as drug courts, diversion programs and legislation decriminalizing drug possession.
In the meantime, she says, NIDA will double its focus on addressing substance use and addiction in minority communities.
If the voices of such high-ranking federal agency officials are heeded and cannabis policy reform is implemented at the federal level, the regulatory landscape within which industry actors such as Hero Technologies Inc. (OTC: HENC) operate will become much more clear.
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