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To: Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

From: Jordan Hass


December 1, 2016
Introduction
The United States of America is in a time of great trouble. We are home to 5% of the worlds
population, but contain close to 25% of the worlds prison population. Mass incarceration is an
issue that is brought up in modern politics consistently, yet we have not discovered a solution to
this ongoing problem. I am writing to you to propose a solution that will be our nations starting
point at reducing our prison populations. That solution is to decriminalize the possession of all
illegal drugs on a federal level. Decriminalization will allow us to allocate resources into more
effective departments at to reduce the use of drugs. It will also prevent families from being torn
apart by the harsh criminal system that puts these non-violent offenders behind bars.
Problem

Since the 1970s, the number of people who are incarcerated has skyrocketed. When president
Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, our spending on law enforcement increased to
numbers it has never seen before. Our criminal justice system cracked down on drug users and
forced them to serve a certain amount of time in prison regardless of the severity of the crime.
Just under half of the people who are incarcerated in federal prisons across the nation are in for
drug offenses (Roeder, 2015). The problem is that we have classified these drug users as
Source: The American Prospect

criminals rather than people who have a health issue. This allowed the government to increase its
spending on law enforcement and the prison system to numbers that no country has ever seen
before. Families are torn apart because parents are arrested for simple possession charges when
all they had was a small amount for personal use. The strict laws that have been put in place
against all drugs have divided our country, and that needs to change. It needs to change to bring
families back together. It needs to change to show our citizens that we are here to help them, not
punish them. It needs to change so that we can finally become a united nation.
Proposed Solution
The solution to this consistently growing problem of mass incarceration is to decriminalize the
possession of all illegal drugs. I will add that this does not mean that it will be legal to
manufacture and sell these drugs, but people who are found with drugs that have a small amount
for personal use should not be locked behind bars. They should be placed into health care
facilities and chemical dependency programs that teach them the negative consequences
involved in doing these drugs. Punishing someone by throwing them in prison for a set number
of years does not teach a lesson. In 2010, the cost that was incurred per inmate was over $30,000
(Henrichson and Delaney, 2012). That means with every person that is locked up, it costs the
taxpayers more money to house these criminals. Instead of using this money to put people in

prison, it should be allocated to programs that are designed to help people curb their addiction
and teach them the consequences of certain drug use.
Research and Counterarguments
One country that attempted decriminalization is Portugal. They decriminalized all illegal drugs in
the year 2001, and their numbers of drug users and incarcerated peoples have astoundingly
decreased. All the problems associated with the use of drugs such as drug related deaths,
continuation of drug use, and HIV infection rates have all declined in the 15 years since
decriminalization. A study that was published in 2010 also found that there was an increase in the
number of visits to health clinics that deal with addiction and disease (Aleem, 2015). These
statistics are something that the United States should take into consideration, because Portugal
was going through very similar drug problems that this nation is going through now. They
attempted to lock people up and strengthen their law enforcement just like the United States, but
it did not make the change they were hoping for. Decriminalization of these drugs has. America
can follow their lead and make a big difference in current drug use across the country. Real
positive change could be the result.

Some people may disagree with this solution that I have proposed because they think that it
would lead to an increase in the use of drugs across the nation. If drugs are decriminalized,
people believe that the crime rate would go up as well as the death toll. But if we look at how
other countries such as Portugal have performed since their decriminalization, then that
counterargument cannot be taken into consideration. Their drug use numbers, drug related

deaths, and crime rate have decreased since they enacted the new law.

In Portugal

They are a great country to view as an example because they were right where we are in relation
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the problem
of drug use across America. They realized it did not work and they tried another
alternative, and it worked. If all drugs are legal and we simply educate our citizens, they will
understand the consequences of using drugs and will seek additional help from chemical
dependency programs and health clinics that have earned additional funding.
Necessary Resources
To ensure the success of this new law, we must have the necessary resources in place when
decriminalization is approved. We need to increase the funding of health clinics and programs
that will assist people with their addiction problem. These are the most important resources to
put in place following the decriminalization.
For this to work successfully, our education systems also need to do a better job at informing
students the actual statistics of drug use and some of the consequences that can result from
excessive use of drugs. If more people are simply aware of the bad side effects of these drugs,
then they can begin to gain their own self-control and resist the temptation when the opportunity
comes around.
As well as educating our citizens, providing high quality health clinics and chemical dependency
programs will be vital to assisting those already deep in addiction. If those resources are more
readily available, more people will take advantage of them for their benefit.
Costs

Like I said earlier, since it costs a little over $30,000 per year to keep someone in prison, we can
allocate that money into those health and education programs since we will have less people
filling our prisons. Decriminalizing drugs will not cost our nation more money because we are
not paying for anything. We are simply legalizing drugs and allocating the excess cash from mass
incarceration into more beneficial areas of assistance. Of course, there will be labor costs
included involving these health care clinics and government entities who work to enact these
laws. But if it is done quickly and in an efficient matter, our nation will reap the benefits.
Completion Schedule
It will most likely take at least a year to draft a bill and get it passed through the House and
Senate and signed by the president. It is best if we get started as soon as possible and get a large
amount of people to agree with the new bill so it has a great opportunity of being passed. After
the bill gets passed, we can aim at altering our health care clinics and education systems in under
2 years to adapt to the new situation and figure out the best way to use the available resources.
Overall, we expect to see positive change within the next five years.
Reasoning and Conclusion
Our countrys incarceration rates have increased nearly 700% since the 1970s. It is clearly a
huge problem and it is something that is beginning to spark conversations in the political world.
Many Americans believe it is a problem and that something needs to be done. I strongly believe
that the decriminalization of all illegal drugs will put our country on the right path towards
cleaning out our prisons and bringing American families back together.
We shouldnt be punishing people for wanting to use these drugs as long as they do not harm
others. We need to be educating and proving that the consequences can be detrimental to anyone
who chooses to take that route. If we offer places for them to go to fix their problem and talk
about what can be done to improve themselves, we can surely reduce the number of people who
use drugs as well as the number of people who are incarcerated year in and year out. Fixing our
problem of mass incarceration is a key step to progressing forward as a united nation, and
decriminalization will prove to be a vital asset in that change.
I very much appreciate your time and look forward to attacking this important issue in our
country.

References
Aleem, Zeeshan. "14 Years After Decriminalizing All Drugs, Here's What Portugal Looks Like." Mic.
N.p., 04 Oct. 2016. Web. 09 Nov. 2016.

Roeder, Oliver. "Releasing Drug Offenders Won't End Mass Incarceration." DataLab. N.p., 15 Mar.
2016. Web. 09 Nov. 2016.

Vera Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved November 09, 2016, from https://www.vera.org/publications/theprice-of-prisons-what-incarceration-costs-taxpayers


Bodenna, C. (2016, April 18). Should All Drugs be Decriminalized. Retrieved November 09,
2016, from http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/04/should-the-government-giveheroin-addicts-a-place-to-shoot-up/478710/
Henrichson, C., & Delaney, R. (2012, February). The Price of Prisons. Retrieved November 09,
2016, from https://www.vera.org/publications/the-price-of-prisons-what-incarcerationcosts-taxpayers