Can decriminalization fix America’s drug crisis?

News & Politics

It’s no secret America has a drug problem. Last year, there were more than 100,000 overdose deaths in America, largely attributed to fentanyl. Over the past few decades, American cities have struggled to grapple with this crisis. Instead of enforcing existing drug laws and cracking down on crime, some have chosen a different path: decriminalization.

Author and podcast host Christina Dent recently joined “Relatable” with Allie Beth Stuckey to advocate for the decriminalization of drugs as a solution to America’s growing addiction crisis. Dent pushes a “health-centered approach” as opposed to a “criminal justice approach.” The former, according to Dent, addresses the root cause of addiction, while the latter could do more harm than good.

Dent’s opinion was largely formed through her experience with her adopted son’s biological mom, who was an addict. Had her son’s biological mother been imprisoned for her drug use, Dent’s son never would have had a relationship with her, and incarceration would have done nothing to help her addiction.

It’s true that throwing drug users in jail does little to help their addictions and could even harm them due to the availability of drugs in prisons. However, the ambiguous definition of “decriminalization” paired with the troubling results seen in American cities that have attempted such policies raises questions about the efficacy and safety of going this route.

Take Oregon, for example. In 2020, voters overwhelmingly passed a resolution that decriminalized possession of hard drugs. Last month, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek (D) signed a bill that reversed this measure and re-criminalized possessing small amounts of hard drugs, making it a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. The original measure failed largely due to botched implementation of mental health and treatment services, sparks in overdoses due to fentanyl, increased homelessness, and worsening public drug use. A recent report shows Oregon is one of the top ten most dangerous states in the country — it’s hard to imagine public drug use did not play a part in Oregon’s worsening crime.

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