Drug abuse cannot be stopped with handcuffs, illegality or repression. Regardless of the potential threat these substances impose on the individual and society, the policy focus must shift to rehabilitation for any form of progress to actually take place.
According to the Justice Policy Institute, the state of Virginia spent more than $94 million dollars on drug arrests in 2011 and in 2014, more than 37,000 drug arrests were reported in Virginia – 61.4 percent of which were for Marijuana-related charges.
Most first time offenders for Marijuana charges are given an alternative consequence to incarceration, the First Offenders Program. The program requires six to 12 months of probation, Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP) classes and a six month license suspension.
After the First Offenders Program requirements are met, the charge is dismissed but cannot be expunged from your record. One would assume the inability to expunge the charge would deter drug users from continuing to use, but that is not necessarily true.
This money could be far better spent on rehabilitation for users of more dangerous drugs such as heroin than on consequences for the casual marijuana smoker.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch released a special report on opiate and heroin use in Virginia. In 2015 alone there has been about 882 deaths from opiate overdose (334 from heroin, 548 from prescription opiates).
In 2016 WTOP also stated that the number was expected to rise with 100 to 200 overdose deaths still being investigated. So far, these drugs have killed more people in the state of Virginia than guns or cars.
The current probation system does little to encourage sobriety, but rather feels like something along the lines of a prolonged high-school health class. There is no value in arresting these individuals, nor is there value in wasting money on their incarceration.
In terms of help for addicts there is no state mandated rehabilitation program, the only one supplied by the state is the same one given through every First Offender’s Program in Virginia (that’s right, the same one for marijuana).
The First Offender’s Program is unable to provide users with the tools necessary to successfully fight their addiction. Patient demands for programs like these are high, and dropout rate has shown to be low.
A program tailored to addiction would keep addicts out of violent drug crime related activities and cuts costs for the criminal justice system.
Phillip Koehncke, Contributing Columnist