Time to Change – Tina, Grade 10

Time to Change – Tina, Grade 10

This argumentative essay is written by one of my grade 10 students. She persuasively argues that all drugs need to be decriminalized and points to some of the successful models from around the world as proof. She has included many facts, examples, and statistics, which make her piece a very convincing essay. Finally, as her so-what statement, she urges Canada and the US to reconsider their approach to reducing drug addiction. 




Time to Change

In 2001, Portugal decided to decriminalize the possession and usage of drugs decades after drugs were introduced to the country in the early 20th century. At first, they dealt with the problem of addiction by using harsh and punitive policies, led by the criminal justice system, to control addicts. However, studies have shown that this method was not the most effective as Portugal had the highest drug-related AIDS and deaths in the European Union in 1999. The country took a surprising turn in 2001 when the government decided to decriminalize all narcotic drugs. This gesture turned out to benefit Portugal greatly when the drug use rates decreased dramatically. Decriminalizing drugs will reduce drug use and drug-related deaths, allow the criminal justice system to focus on serious crimes, and lastly, decrease institutional racism and economic inequality. The success of Portugal’s policy is a reminder for other countries, such as the U.S. and Canada to consider the idea of decriminalizing drugs.

Decriminalizing drugs reduces drug use and drug-related deaths. Since the fear of “arrest” will be lifted when a country decides to decriminalize drugs, people are more likely to be treated for their addiction in treatment programs. Therefore, instead of imprisoning a person when he or she is caught in the possession of drugs, he or she is sent to treatment programs and support groups. A 2009 Cato Institute report found that people with drug abuse in Portugal are more likely to seek treatment services since they do not have to worry about penalties. Not only is this type of treatment less costly, but also it is more efficient.  Portugal averages three drug-related overdoses per million people, which is lower than the average of 17.3 per million people across the European Union. Addiction rate between 15-64 year-olds has dropped significantly from 45% in 2001 to 25% in 2012. Decriminalizing drugs lifts the heavy weight of penalty off drug users’ shoulders, which creates a more efficient treatment process, decreasing drug-related deaths.

Apart from reducing drug use and drug-related deaths, decriminalizing drugs also allows the criminal justice system to shift its focus to other harmful social crimes. The criminal justice system was not designed to deal with addicts of drugs; rather, its purpose is to keep the general population safe and control dangerous criminals. Drug abuse should be regarded as a health issue instead of a criminal one. Annually, the U.S. criminal justice system arrests about 1.5 million people for drug law violations, more than 80 percent of whom are arrested simply for possession of drugs. This is a huge number of people, who should be regarded as victims, not criminals. The system should shift its focus to other serious crimes like murder, assault, rape; immoral crimes that can tremendously impact the society. Decriminalizing drugs is the first step to solve the flaw in the criminal justice system and will help transition the justice system and the police to concentrate on handling serious crimes.

Another reason as to why decriminalizing drugs can be beneficial is that it helps to decrease economic inequality and racism. Criminalizing drugs can harm families and communities by denying millions of people the opportunity to support themselves. For example, on a normal day in the U.S., at least 133,000 people are in jail for simple drug possession. 63,000 of those people are held pre-trial, meaning they are locked up because they cannot get the money to bail themselves out. Besides, criminalizing drugs also raises severe racism when black people are discriminated and viewed more as heavy drug users compared to the other races. In the U.S., use of drugs among black people is at a similar rate as the other groups, but they make up a higher percentage of the people arrested for drug-related offences. Discriminatory enforcement in the criminal justice system produces racial and ethnic disparities. Additionally, criminalizing drugs can cause deportations and detentions. Noncitizens and legal permanent residents can be deported immediately if found in the possession of any amount of any drug. From 2007-2012, 266,000 people were deported after violating the drug laws, 38% of whom were deported simply for possession of drugs. Most of these people had jobs and families, who had been living in the U.S. for a long time without any problems. The statistics prove that it is safe to say decriminalizing drugs can reverse and reduce social problems, such as economic inequality and racism.

Decriminalizing drugs is proven to have beneficial outcomes, which include the reduction in drug use and drug-related deaths, the transition to a more focused criminal justice system, and the removal of racism and inequality. Taking Portugal as a successful example, countries like the U.S. and Canada should really consider the option of decriminalizing drug use to solve the issue of drug addiction among youth and adults.