Some New Justice and Humanity for Drug Offenders

Some of my conservative friends will object, others will not, but I am pleased that the current White House has begun a prison release program under new rules on sentencing drug offenders, for the eventual release of some 40,000 prisoners.

Our criminalization of drug possession and use were adopted a couple of decades before we really began to understand addiction, how it starts and why it ought not to be considered a moral failing or a threat to society. Today we know that by a huge majority frequent drug use and addiction begin with adolescents; that initiation of regular use, as opposed to a brief experimentation, is more apt to occur among adolescents dealing with the stresses of dysfunctional families, mental conditions such as ADHD and PTSD, or genetic vulnerabilities with which the young person’s character had nothing to do. We also know that addiction is a result of how the vulnerable person’s brain responds to certain drugs – not because of some entrapping quality of the drugs themselves. Kids see older kids use drugs without any apparent consequence. Most who use drugs, even most of those who use over a substantial period, do not become addicted to them.

Many argue that possession of drugs in quantity, especially when accompanied by such equipment as scales, quantities of syringes and of other paraphernalia mean that a suspect was selling drugs. That’s a form of violence they suggest, especially when the drug sales end up in the hands of the young. Selling on to other adult users is, of course, what many if not most addicts do in order to afford a habit that has seemingly gone beyond their control. The part of the brain that mediates good judgment and control, the prefrontal cortex, experts tell us has been hijacked and no longer functions normally for the addict.

This fact poses a thorny jurisprudential question: how harsh should punishment be for people who lack the same kind of self-control abilities of the rest of us. What they are doing when they sell to other adults is clearly against the law and so it is wrong, but we are a civilization that believes punishment should fit the crime and sticking a sick person in a federal prison with all its potential horrors, because he failed to control a symptom of his sickness, seems highly questionable both from justice and humanity standpoints.  The administration now apparently realizes this.

Those who argue users bring it on themselves and should expect to pay a penalty might ask themselves if they would feel the same way if one of their children fell into addiction.

© All rights reserved to Dave Finch October 7, 2015

Learn more at my  Reform Drug Policy Project and let me know if you want to get involved.

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