War on Drugs: how much support has it really got?

Wagoner County might not be the most famous place in the US, but it provides us with an interesting litmus test that shows how Americans view the War on Drugs – at least from an official perspective.

Thee prospective sheriffs were asked questions on a range of questions at a public debate – and the War on Drugs was among the issues addressed. Even the most informed response was evasive, indicating that many Americans see the War on Drugs as a “good thing” despite its failure to produce any positive results other than stuffed prisons and a massive cost.

Only one of the three candidates actually noted that the War on Drugs had been a “war we are losing”, and even he could think of nothing better to say than that diligent work with the DA’s office was necessary. How that offers a solution to a “lost war” remains unclear, but it was certainly a more realistic answer that that given by the other two candidates who both declared that they’d be upping the ante and cracking down on drugs even harder.

Do Americans really support the War on Drugs?

It’s a debatable question, and it seems to depend on who you’re talking to, when you do it, and where you do it.  The Pew Research Center recently conducted a nationwide poll, and seems to have found that the majority of ordinary Americans have an opinion that differs from that of the sheriff candidates we looked at earlier. Far from calling for tougher enforcement, the public seems to prefer a gentler approach from the one that has been used up to now.

The report found that:

  • 67% of Americans felt that addicts should be helped rather than punished.
  • Only 26% of Americans believe that cracking down on users of hard drugs would be an effective strategy.
  • An incredible two thirds of survey respondents said that possession of drugs should not result in criminal prosecution.
  • 63% said that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences should be abandoned.
  • More than half (54%) said they supported the full legalization of marijuana.
  • 75%said that they thought marijuana would be legalized nationally in the long run.

Helping addicts creeps into the conservative ethos

If one takes political affiliations into account, it’s not only liberals who are saying that addicts need treatment more than they need punishment. 51% of Republican Party supports said that they believed treatment would be the best option for drug offenders who are addicted.

As for supporters of the Democratic Party, support for rehabilitation over incarceration was even higher – a change from the days when “Just say no” was the watchword and promises of an even tougher War on Drugs was a great way to get more votes.

It’s fine to use Marijuana in the privacy of your home

The same study found that only 15% of Americans are bothered by the thought of people using marijuana in the privacy of their own homes. While only 45% are concerned by the thought of a marijuana business opening its doors in their neighbourhoods. However most people (63%) said that they didn’t like the idea of public marijuana use.

The study notes that marijuana opinions have been turned upside-down compared to what they were just a few years ago. Then, a minority of people thought it should be legal, or at least not criminal, but now the figure has flipped over, and almost the same amount of people who used to be anti-marijuana legalization are in favour of a more relaxed approach.

Marijuana less dangerous than alcohol

This argument has been raise on countless occasions when discussing Marijuana’s legal status. Now Americans seem to have been won over. The majority of participants in the Pew study said that alcohol caused more harm to individuals and society than marijuana did and 69%of Republicans an 79% of democrats said that they didn’t think possession of a small amount of marijuana warranted a jail term.

The research results are well-timed. US legislators are re-considering mandatory minimum sentences. A proposal to have these reduced has already been tabled, and the vote will no doubt reflect and be influenced by public opinion.

The war on drugs shouldn’t target drug users

The Pew Research Center’s findings show overwhelming support for the idea that drug use and drug addiction should not be seen as crimes. Given the huge percentage of prison inmates who have been incarcerated for drug use, there currently seems to be a huge disparity between what the law is doing and what the American public thinks it should be doing, and this needs to be addressed.

The harm that drugs cause to society needs to be taken seriously, but among these harms are the consequences of incarceration and a criminal record for addicts.