Drug Use and Possession in the United States: A Twenty-First Century Proposal for Federal Decriminalization Efforts
Larson, Jessica M.
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For decades, the United States has waged a moral crusade against illicit drugs and people who use such drugs, responding with criminal penalties. This punitive response to illicit substance use has increasingly been refuted by medical experts, policy makers, and the public. The effects of a 50-year War on Drugs have pushed illicit substance users further into the shadows of society, destroying families and communities, while wasting over one trillion dollars of taxpayer funding. Despite harm reduction efforts taking form in the country, irreparable damage has already led to over 841,000 drug overdose deaths since 1999. Additionally, drug usage statistics have come full circle since 1979 and there are more self-reported illicit drug users in the U.S. than ever before. If drug prohibition has accomplished anything, it is proving that it does not work. This paper outlines four high-priority issues encompassing a broad spectrum of the criminal justice, public health, and personal freedoms conversations that the topic of drug prohibition elicits in everyday life. Drug prohibition has taught us that illicit substance usage can mean a variety of things. For instance, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance along with heroin and fentanyl, both of which are major contributors to the 162,630 drug overdose deaths in 2019 and 2020. Conversely, there are no reported deaths from marijuana ever. An extensive background/history is provided related to drug use in America, and an evidence-based policy proposal to reform existing drug law in the U.S. through comprehensive drug decriminalization is put forth. The proposal is then evaluated qualitatively, quantitatively, and politically, with a personal recommendation closing out the memorandum.