Pubdate: Fri, 26 Feb 2016
Source: Asbury Park Press (NJ)
Copyright: 2016 Asbury Park Press
Author: Randy Thompson
Note: Randy Thompson is founder of Help Not Handcuffs. He lives in Asbury Park.


New Jersey's Fiscal Year 2017 budget should prioritize reversing our 
state's recent expansion of the failed "War on Drugs" and the 
intentional use of collective violence on drug using populations. 
Despite talking points of "reclaiming lives from addiction" and 
"reducing prison populations" the state has endured a 30 percent 
increase of drug possession arrests in the last few years.

The current proposed budget calls for $64 million to expand the Drug 
Court program, an additional $127 million to increase provider rates 
for substance use treatment and retrofitting Mid-State Prison as a 
monolithic treatment center.

The focus on "treatment" is a deflection from the state's commitment 
to the failed "War on Drugs," because it fosters stereotypes casting 
people who use drugs as inevitably becoming involved with the 
criminal justice system and in need of drug treatment - factually 
inaccurate beliefs. This approach is based on a belief that any 
illicit drug use is criminal or depraved.

This policy ignores fact-based information from reputable 
institutions such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services 
Administration, which shows that while nearly half of Americans have 
used illegal drugs (e.g., heroin, cocaine, marijuana, non-medical use 
of prescription drugs) - the overwhelming majority do not go on to 
regular use, let alone form a substance use disorder.

Additionally, significant drug-using populations do not commit 
crimes. In 2014 more than 42,000 people in New Jersey were forced 
into the criminal justice system simply because of prohibition policy 
despite doing no harm to person or property.

People arrested for drug possession face disproportionately harsh use 
of force and violent risk exposure, including arrest-related deaths, 
police brutality, as well as deaths, sexual assault, physical assault 
and exploitation in jails and behavioral health facilities. This is 
in addition to the intentional harm caused by arrest and criminal 
conviction, which engenders barriers to employment, housing and education.

Programs like Drug Court are driven by a violent, dangerous belief 
that the constant threat or use of force and the accompanying violent 
risk exposures are appropriate and healthy. Many behavioral health 
treatment providers rely on individuals being put into their programs 
under the threat of force and benefit financially from prohibition 
policies - effectively commodifying human beings for profit. It is 
important to note that this use of arrest and coercion meets the 
World Health Organization's definition of collective violence.

Another consequence of prohibition is seen when people who do not 
have a substance use disorder are forced into treatment and people 
who ask for help are denied access. Budgeting more money for 
treatment will not alleviate the institutional bias. Increasing drug 
possession arrests will only continue to fill treatment spaces 
requested by willing participants. Meanwhile, simple life supports 
such as housing, which are at an even more critical deficit, are ignored.

This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy publicly reinforcing the 
"treatment instead of incarceration" mantra, which still sanctions 
the same "War on Drugs," criminalizing populations that have 
committed no harm but have only used a drug that is politicized. 
Instead of brutalizing New Jersey residents with arrest and forced 
treatment, New Jersey would be wise to consider the successes of 
other states and nations, which have moved away from prohibition, 
empowered individual choice and focus on drug regulation and safety.

Colorado has taken responsibility for its marijuana market by 
regulation. Overnight, Colorado has nearly eradicated arrests for 
marijuana possession. Canada's InSite, a supervised injection 
facility, allows people to inject drugs on site, preventing 
blood-borne disease transmission and overdoses. Individuals who visit 
InSite often willingly go into treatment and recovery, and over the 
years, InSite has had more than 2 million people inject drugs with 
zero drug overdose deaths.

Maryland recently introduced legislation that would decriminalize all 
drugs, allow drug consumption rooms and create poly-morphine program 
- - all proven models of harm reduction.

With so many budgetary and fiscal crises in our state, why we 
continue to fund the "War on Drugs" demands questioning. Prohibition 
policies harm our communities by sanctioning collective violence via 
arrest and forced treatment, and continue to empower criminal actors 
such as cartels, gangs and drug dealers.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom