Poll: Abandon the war on drugs and decriminalize
For 50 years, the so-called “war on drugs” that President Richard Nixon declared on June 17, 1971, devastated entire communities, exacerbated racial inequality, and helped propel the United States to the world’s highest incarceration rate. It is a war which in all respects has been lost. Abusive and discriminatory police tactics, long prison terms and the myriad collateral consequences of criminal convictions have destroyed lives, while doing nothing to combat drug addiction or the epidemic of overdose deaths.
These destructive policies of criminalization are also unpopular.
A new national survey from Data for Progress and The Lab, a vertical policy of The Appeal, found that more than seven out of ten voters (71 percent) believe that federal drug policies are not working and that reform is needed. Voters no longer want to treat public health issues like drug use and addiction as crime and law enforcement issues – they support the decriminalization of both drug possession (59% support) and small quantity drug distribution (55% support), while transferring regulatory authority over drugs from the Drug Enforcement Agency to the Department of Health and Human Services (60% support).
Many of these reforms are part of the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA), ad yesterday by Reps Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO). The DPRA would eliminate incarceration as a punishment for drug possession, retroactively erase possession convictions, invest in alternative harm reduction programs, and place drug classification power within DHS.
The DPRA is also urging state and local jurisdictions to decriminalize drug possession and invest in alternatives to incarceration, reflecting the momentum towards decriminalization already growing at state and local levels. In November 2020, Oregon past a measure decriminalizing low-level drug possession at all levels and in four other states—Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota–voted for decriminalization marijuana, joining 11 other states and Washington, DC. At the local level, county attorneys like Philadelphia cream and Austin have policies to dismiss a significant number of possession charges.
The DPRA is based on the Reinvestment and Elimination of Marijuana Opportunities Act (MORE) which would decriminalize marijuana and which the house passed in December 2020, although the Senate has yet to vote on it.
Complete survey results
We have also found that various arguments for reforming federal drug policy resonate with voters, including that the War on Drugs has led to ineffective and discriminatory policies and counterproductive results:
- 60% of potential voters find it convincing that current federal drug policies are unfair and too harsh, exacerbating racial inequalities rather than healing communities;
- 70% of potential voters find it convincing that ‘war on drugs’ policies do not improve community safety by not tackling drug addiction or crime;
- 68% of likely voters find it convincing that outdated ‘war on drugs’ policies focus too much on politics and sanctions;
- 67% of likely voters find it convincing that punishing people for drug use is ineffective in helping individuals and communities.
From May 21 to 23, 2021, Data for Progress conducted a survey of 1,250 probable voters nationwide using respondents from a web panel. The sample was weighted to be representative of likely voters by age, sex, education, race and voting history. The survey was conducted in English. The margin of error is ± 3 percentage points.