As we speak NJ Spends $ three Million To Implement Drug Legal guidelines And Arrest 150 Individuals | opinion

By Brandon McKoy and Jenna Mellor

Today, New Jersey will spend $ 3 million to enforce drug laws – the arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of people for sentences largely related to drug use and possession. Approximately 150 New Jersey residents are arrested today and begin a complicated, expensive, and traumatic journey through police stations, courts, and prisons.

But these arrests and prosecutions will not stop people from using drugs, and they will not save lives. New research shows that 1 in 13 New Jersey residents used a criminalized drug other than marijuana in the past year, and the overdose death rate has increased 230% over the past decade.

In the 50 years since President Richard Nixon declared the “war on drugs,” New Jersey lawmakers have used new drug laws to arrest and imprison hundreds of thousands of residents in every corner of the state. This year we took one of the most powerful steps in a generation to end the war on cannabis legalization in New Jersey. But there is much more to be done to reverse decades of criminal drug laws that aim to selectively target black and Latin American communities with disproportionate arrests, law enforcement, incarceration and militarized policing.

New Jersey has nearly 60% more drug arrests than the mid-1980s – resulting in some of the most alarming racial incarceration gaps in the country. Black New Jersey residents are 12 times more likely to be incarcerated, largely due to drug wars enforcement, even though their white counterparts consume and sell drugs at higher prices. And despite the state’s ongoing drug war, New Jersey has lost nearly 20,000 lives to preventable overdose deaths in the past decade.

We are facing an overdose crisis and our expensive and traumatic approach has not significantly reduced drug use, overdose or supply. Instead, it has succeeded in erecting barriers for people trying to gain access to drug treatment while denying them access to basic needs such as well-paying jobs, affordable housing and health care, and increasing the likelihood of people dying from an overdose.

New research from the New Jersey Policy Perspective shows how much these failed drug laws have cost us. New Jersey spent $ 11.6 billion on the drug war over the past decade, including $ 5.1 billion on arrests, $ 2.2 billion on trials, and $ 4.3 billion on incarceration . Spending on drug wars is eight times the government budget for addiction care and 27 times the budget for rental assistance, homeless shelter, homelessness prevention, and the fight against staying put combined.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

States like Oregon lead the way, where voters have decriminalized all drugs while supporting investments in harm reduction and treatment services that have been shown to save lives. Oregon is expected to reduce drug possession arrests by 90%, racial disparity in drug possession arrests by 95%, and racial disparity in court convictions by 94% – while freeing up government funding and instead funding for the treatment of Those in need direct a term of imprisonment that can destroy a life and jeopardize recovery. And in Portugal, where drugs have been decriminalized for twenty years, deaths from drug overdose have decreased by 80%.

We need the legislators to take action and reverse the policies that brought us here. We must act now to reverse five decades of harm and discrimination.

First, the New Jersey legislature should decriminalize all low-level drug ownership, use and sales in the state, while working with local leaders to determine how best to decriminalize communities that have been unfairly criminalized.

For drug laws to stay on the books, we need state courts and law enforcement agencies to regularly publish data on drug arrests, trials, and people jailed for drug offenses. Let us require all government agencies to map out where penalties are imposed for the drug war and conduct a racial impact analysis for each agency to understand the ramifications for communities.

Next, let’s divert some of the millions of dollars spent each day on drug control towards public health interventions that have been shown to work. These include fact-based drug education for young people and evidence-based care for drug users, including a pilot heroin-assisted treatment (Hebrews) program that offers alternatives and may be a path to recovery for many.

Finally, let’s put money back into the colored communities ravaged by the highest rates of arrests and incarceration caused by drug wars. We should start with community-led economic and housing development, combining it with harm reduction, drug treatment and mental health programs that put healing over punishment.

We know New Jersey will not arrest and punish its way out of this crisis. We must recognize that our state’s adoption of criminal drug laws has been destructive and costly for all of us – not just for those arrested. It is time for New Jersey to break free of counterproductive punishment and focus on just, community-centric policies that promote reparative justice and actually save lives.

Brandon McKoy is President of New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), a non-partisan think tank that drives policy change to advance economic, social, and racial justice.

Jenna Mellor is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition and a drug policy advisor for NJPP.

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