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"Communities Rising" to end the drug war rally in front of San Francisco City Hall on June 17, 2011 (Photo: Bill Hackwell)

"Communities Rising" to end the drug war rally in front of San Francisco City Hall on June 17, 2011 (Photo: Bill Hackwell)

US Public Ready To End 'Devastating' War on Drugs

National poll finds growing numbers favor decriminalization, treatment, and shift away from mandatory minimum sentences

Sarah Lazare

U.S. attitudes towards the War on Drugs appear to be shifting away from prosecutions and incarcerations, towards decriminalization and treatment.

This is according to a Pew Research Center national survey conducted February 14 to 23 among 1,821 adults and released Wednesday. According to the poll's findings, 67 percent of U.S. respondents say the government should prioritize treatment for people who use drugs deemed illegal, including cocaine and heroin. This is compared to 26 percent who think the government should focus on prosecuting drug users.

"There's a lot of hope in the shift in common sense away from the racist, destructive, divisive 'law and order' rhetoric that goes hand-in-hand with devastating effects of police policy, sentencing, and imprisonment that has wreaked havoc on communities for past 30 years at least," said Isaac Ontiveros of prison abolition organization Critical Resistance in an interview with Common Dreams.

According to the survey, 63 percent of respondents say it is a "good thing" that some states have shifted away from mandatory minimum sentences for people with nonviolent drug convictions. Just 32 percent say this shift is a "bad thing." This is a big change from 2001, when the U.S. public was nearly evenly split on the issue.

Mike Riggs of Families Against Mandatory Minimums told Common Dreams, "Pew’s report reflects the fatigue Americans are feeling after decades of indiscriminate tough-on-crime sentencing policies" that he says "have broken up and destabilized countless families and communities."

The poll also reflects growing support for marijuana legalization. Four years ago, 41 percent of respondents said marijuana use should be legal, while in this most recent poll, 54 percent said they favor legalization. Furthermore, three in four respondents said the nation-wide legalization of marijuana is inevitable. And over three quarters of respondents say that if marijuana use is not made legal, those convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana should not have to serve a jail sentence.

According to Ontiveros, the public shifts reflected in this poll have been hard won by the organizing of impacted communities who "have been at the forefront of fighting against the violence of imprisonment and have been organizing to bring loved ones home and provide community-led and based re-entry."

He added, "I'm hopeful these shifts in common sense can translate into continued organizing work and not only create shifts in opinion but shifts in power."

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