A large number of people in Florida’s jails and prisons are there for drug crimes. Many of them have been convicted of simple drug possession. A report details how extensive the prosecution of people for minor drug offenses is in the U.S. and points to the need for decriminalization.
The report, which was released by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Watch, contains disturbing information. According to the report, 1.25 million Americans are charged with drug crimes every year, meaning that one person is arrested every 25 seconds for drug offenses. Four people are arrested for drug possession for every one that is arrested for drug sales. Almost half of the arrests for possession were for marijuana in 2015.
Law enforcement officers focus on drug possession crimes because they are easy to catch. Because many police officers have arrest quotas they have to meet, they may focus more on arresting people for possessing drugs than on crimes that are more difficult to investigate and solve. The report found that officers often use questionable search tactics in drug offenses. Prosecutors also tend to over-charge people in order to try to secure pleas so that they can win convictions without having to go to trial. Courts sentence drug offenders to disproportionately long sentences and assess heavy fines.
As the report indicates, the need for the decriminalization of simple drug possession in the U.S. is clear. Despite the heavy sentences and enforcement efforts, the rates of use have not gone down. A different approach is needed. In the interim, people who have been charged with drug possession might want to get help from a criminal defense lawyer who may be able to identify constitutional problems with the way in which the officer conducted the search that led to the seizure of the drugs.