CLEVELAND—The massive enforcement of laws criminalizing personal drug use and possession in the United States causes devastating harm, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a joint report released today. Enforcement ruins individual and family lives, discriminates against people of color, and undermines public health. The federal and state governments should decriminalize the personal use and possession of illicit drugs.

“More people are arrested for simple drug possession in the U.S. than for any other crime. Harsh drug possession laws need to end,” said Mike Brickner, senior policy director for the ACLU of Ohio. “The long-term consequences of such laws can separate families; exclude people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, voting; and expose them to discrimination and stigma for a lifetime.

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“Treating personal possession of drugs as a crime clearly isn’t working,” Brickner said, “It’s time we acknowledged drug dependence as a public health problem both in Ohio and nationally. Federal and state governments should invest resources in programs to decrease the risks associated with drug use, and provide voluntary treatment options for people struggling with drug dependence.”

“State legislatures, police, prosecutors, as well as the federal government have an opportunity to reform drug possession laws before they cause more harm to our communities.” Brickner said. “The policy changes presented in this report will also address the criminal justice system at large, including how the decriminalization of drugs will reduce mass incarceration rates.”