A Pew poll out yesterday revealed that a majority of Americans agree it’s time for a new approach to drug use.
Rather than a continued emphasis on trying to arrest our way out of the drug problem, a majority of people think we should focus on treatment. In fact, 67 percent of Americans think treatment, not prosecution, is the best approach to people who use illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin.
This news comes at a pivotal time in drug policy reform – as it becomes increasingly clear that the “tough on crime” war on drugs hasn’t worked, more states are looking to strategies that reduce drug use AND relieve our overstuffed criminal justice system – helping people get better and saving taxpayer money at the same time.
In Seattle, the trailblazing LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program is diverting drug users out of the criminal justice syste.
Just down the road in Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin has recognized that it’s time to treat that state’s opiate problem as the public health issue that it is.
Even the federal government is shifting its approach, re-examining sentencing guidelines because, as Attorney General Eric Holder put it:
Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.
Unfortunately, Maine’s Governor LePage has yet to embrace these smart reforms. Instead, in response to Maine’s heroin crisis, he introduced a piece of emergency legislation that would pumping $3 million into more law enforcement, prosecutors and judges and makes no mention of treatment or prevention programs.
Legislators have since proposed an amended version of the bill that makes some concessions – it includes $1.5 million for more enforcement and $750,000 for treatment and prevention. While the amended version is slightly better than the original, it does not go nearly far enough in shifting the war on drugs paradigm.
Maine simply cannot afford to take this backward approach. If you agree with the large majority of Americans who believe it’s time for a new approach, call your legislators today and tell them to reject all versions of LD 1811, the war on drugs bill.