The Dangers of Ignoring a Minor Drug Offense

The United States and Britain are rethinking the way police should handle minor drug offenses.

Punishment for a minor drug offense in the United States and Britain will soon be phased out thanks to a shift in how police are handling offenders.

On July 16, President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit a federal prison. During his visit to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma, the president said in a brief question-and-answer session that what struck him most during his visit was that many of the inmates “are young people who made mistakes that aren’t different than the mistakes I made.”

Before his visit to the prison, he shortened the prison sentences of 46 people convicted for nonviolent drug crimes. (Listen to Stephen Flurry discuss this at 17:00.)

The United States spends roughly $80 billion annually to keep the world’s largest population of criminals locked up. President Obama said at a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp) speech in Philadelphia in mid-July that part of the problem is America has “locked up more and more nonviolent drug offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before. And that is the real reason our prison population is so high. In far too many cases, the punishment simply does not fit the crime.”

The high conviction rate means there are more drug users. It also means police are keeping a good eye on the situation. However, after prisoners have served their time, or paid a fine, it’s difficult for them to integrate back into society because they now have a criminal record. An 18-year-old black male commented after the president’s naacp speech: “It would change a lot for our community if you didn’t get a record just for having a dime bag of weed.”

The danger of President Obama’s statements, and the shortening of sentences for 46 people, is that it sends a message to young drug users: Smoking weed isn’t a big deal, all young people make mistakes, and you won’t be punished as harshly for it, if at all. That sort of message will not reduce the number of drug users. And if laws against cannabis are weakened, expect drug crimes involving cocaine and heroin to follow.

Now take a look at Britain, where police have taken more blatant measures to relieve drug offenders of punishment.

In Durham, a city in north England, police have publicly admitted that they will take no action against people who grow marijuana for personal use. The city’s police and crime commissioner, Ron Hogg, says the city needs to focus resources on organized gangs who deal drugs, rather than the lone, casual user.

“It’s about keeping people out of the criminal justice system and reducing costs; it’s about being more productive with the way we approach things,” he said.

According to the Times, “Mick Barton, the chief constable of Durham, argues that prosecuting addicts wastes police time. He has called for the decriminalization of heroin and cocaine, saying that if they were supplied on the nhs [National Health Service], addicts would not need to commit crime to buy drugs.”

Other cities in England are doing the same as Durham but have not been so open about it.

“The real harm that Mr. Hogg has done,” writes Times columnist Melanie Phillips, “is effectively to talk down the risks from cannabis and thus talk up its use.”

Both the United States and Britain are taking a dangerous approach to handling their drug problems. The war on drugs appears to be all but over. These countries are winning, not because they’ve ridden their cities’ streets of drugs, or convicted every drug grower or user, but because they’ve simply chosen to ignore the law. By ignoring minor drug offenses, less people will have criminal records, less crime will be recorded, and, on paper, crime rates may initially diminish.

According to Britain’s nhs, in the past year, one in 15 teenagers and young adults has tried marijuana. In the United States, the polling service Gallup, recently released a survey that found more than four in 10 Americans have tried marijuana.

What’s the solution to America’s and Britain’s drug problem?

Countries give a lot of support to institutions like prisons, rehabilitation centers, counseling facilities and schools to help misguided people get back on track. However, most of these institutions deal with people after a problem has manifested itself.

The one institution that can ensure young people never get into drugs in the first place is the family institution. Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote in “The Modern Romans”: “History shows that the strength of any nation depends on the strength of its families. Family is the rock-solid foundation on which a country’s superstructure is erected. That was the case for both America and Britain.”

For more information on this subject, listen to Stephen Flurry’s recent Trumpet Daily Radio ShowTrue Education Begins in the Home.”