Drug possession is a common criminal charge in the U.S., and more than 1.25 million people are taken into custody for possession every year, a number that many civil rights organizations believe is far too high. An October 2016 report, released jointly by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, has sparked a new debate regarding the importance of drug law reform. The report focused on incarcerated individuals in four states, including Texas, who were serving lengthy sentences for simple drug possession.
In 2015, more people were incarcerated for marijuana possession than several violent offenses, including rape, murder, aggravated assault and robbery, combined, according to the report. This high number is costly both to states and to the individuals who have been convicted on drug charges. Individuals with a drug possession charge on their record, especially a felony, often lose employment and future work opportunities as well as eligibility for social programs such as student aid and public benefits like food stamps.
Additionally, fighting drug charges is typically expensive and includes court costs, legal fees and fines. The social and financial burdens placed on individuals who are charged with drug possession is unacceptable, according to the report’s authors, who believe that drug possession should be completely decriminalized in every state and at the federal level.
Proponents of decriminalization emphasize that it is not the only step towards helping those with a drug problem. Rather than incarceration, a focus on improved public health and human services may be more beneficial to those convicted of simple drug charges. Until full decriminalization becomes reality, however, individuals who have been charged with drug or paraphernalia possession may wish to seek advice from an attorney who has experience in state drug laws.