After visiting inmates in New York and other states, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch released a report about the consequences of drug criminalization. The report, published on Oct. 12, focused on the harm that is caused by low-level drug charges. According to the report, there has been no decrease in drug use in decades, and criminalization may not be the answer.
Every year, over 1.25 million people are charged for drug possession, and almost half of those people are accused of possessing marijuana. Some police officers are forced to meet arrest quotas, and charging people for drug possession is one of the easiest ways to meet those quotas. For every one person who is accused of selling drugs, there are four people accused of drug possession.
From the harm that inmates may experience in prison to the loss of livelihood after they are released, the ACLU report looked at what happens to people who face low-level drug charges. According to the report, many drug possession defendants are coerced into a plea bargain after receiving relatively severe charges for small quantities of drugs. Even if defendants do not receive any jail time after pleading guilty, they could lose their job and have difficulty getting another job or renting an apartment.
People who have been accused of marijuana possession or distibution may feel that they have no choice but to negotiate for the best plea bargain. However, a defendant may want to speak to a criminal defense attorney before deciding how to plead to their charges. If the prosecution’s case against a defendant is weak or the arresting police officers did not act lawfully, an attorney may be able to help the defendant to dispute the charges.