By any measure and every metric, the U.S. war on drugs — a constellation of laws and policies that seeks to prevent the use of certain drugs, primarily through punishment and coercion — has been a catastrophic failure. Indeed, federal and state policies that are designed to be “tough” on people who use and sell illegal drugs have helped over-fill our jails and prisons, permanently branded millions of otherwise law-abiding civilians as “criminals”, and exacerbated drug-related death, disease and suffering — all while failing at their stated aims.

This report offers a roadmap for how to begin to unwind our failed drug war. It focuses on one practical step that can and should be taken to avoid many of the harms that flow from punitive prohibitionist drug laws and to promote proven, effective health-based interventions.

Drug decriminalization is a critical next step toward achieving a rational drug policy that puts science and public health before punishment and incarceration. Decades of evidence has clearly demonstrated that decriminalization is a sensible path forward that would reap vast human and fiscal benefits, while protecting families and communities.

This report is the product of a comprehensive review of the public health and criminology literature, an analysis of drug policies in the U.S. and abroad, and input from experts in the fields of drug policy and criminal justice. By highlighting the benefits of eliminating criminal penalties for drug use and possession, we seek to provide policymakers, community leaders and advocates with evidence-based options for a new approach.

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