The United States not only imprisons more people than any other nation in the world, but also criminalizes entire communities with an over-reliance on aggressive policing and other criminal justice tools to solve social problems. This system causes a great deal of harm to families and communities, impacting many people who have never been charged or even arrested for a criminal law violation.
These policies create and funnel millions of Americans into a permanent second-class status due to a broad range of collateral consequences of criminal justice system involvement. People with a criminal or even an arrest record for drugs face lifelong barriers to housing, employment, parental rights and permanent immigration status.
Since the 1970s, drug war practices have led to the marginalization of millions of Americans – disproportionately poor people and people of color – while failing to reduce problematic drug use, drug-related disease transmission, overdose deaths, or the violence associated with some drug markets. Criminalizing millions of people for drug offenses has created public and for-profit systems of punishment that have bankrupted us morally.
The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to identifying and promoting health-centered alternatives to harmful, punitive drug laws. We are working to remove criminal penalties for drug possession and use, improve police-community relationships and end aggressive law enforcement practices, reverse draconian sentencing laws that result in discriminatory outcomes, and eliminate life-long barriers to social participation faced by people with even a minor drug conviction.
Eliminating the criminal penalties for drug use and possession is a critical step to reforming the criminal justice system. We should treat problematic drug use as a health issue, not a criminal one.
Mass Incarceration & Criminalization
Sending people to prison is a terrible consequence of our unjust drug laws – but the criminal justice system has many harmful effects that extend far beyond prison walls. Our misguided drug laws and culture of punishment criminalize and marginalize millions of Americans, particularly people of color, even outside the formal criminal justice system.
Race & the Drug War
The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups. We need to end discriminatory policies that target people of color.
Women, LGBTQIA+ People & the Drug War
Many victims of the drug war are women and LGBTQIA+ people. Drug laws disproportionately punish and neglect the needs of these communities. We must push for policies that respond to their particular needs.