Polls show drug policies run counter to public opinion

Minnesota residents may be interested to learn that around the country in 2016, there were more than 1.5 million drug law violations in which a person was taken into custody. The vast majority of those offenses, nearly 85 percent, were for possession. Law enforcement actions against drug users is both out of step with public opinion and disproportionately affects minorities and immigrants.

A majority of primary voters in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Maine revealed in 2016 polls that they believed people should not be detained for drug possession or use. In Maryland, decriminalization bills were introduced in 2016 and 2017. A commission in Hawaii is studying decriminalization.

Black people make up 35 percent of those in state prisons for drug possession despite being only 13 percent of the population and using drugs at the same rate as other groups. They are also nearly 30 percent of those taken into custody for drug-related violations. People in the United States who are not citizens, including permanent residents, risk automatic detention and deportation for even minor drug offenses. In some cases, there is no possibility for returning.

A number of national and international organizations have called for drug use and possession to be decriminalized. These include the Movement for Black Lives, the American Public Health Association, the International Red Cross, the World Health Organization and the United Nations.

Unfortunately, until some of these drug laws are repealed, drug charges will continue to be disproportionately aimed at certain populations and to have serious consequences. In addition to the legal problems, a person's access to federal student loans could be affected, or there might be consequences in some career fields. An attorney might examine the evidence to see if the person's rights were protected. Another option could be a plea bargain that bypasses a trial and results in a lighter sentence.

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