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The war on drugs anchors prison profits

Marijuana plants are lined up in a driveway.
Marijuana plants lined up in a driveway. Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post/Getty Images

For-profit prison companies boomed alongside the war on drugs, which led to a 171% increase in drug arrests between 1980 and 2016.

By the numbers: About 1.6 million people were arrested on drug-related charges in 2017, roughly 85% of which were possession-related.

The backdrop:

Fast-forward: The approach to illicit drug use is shifting from criminal punishment to addiction treatment — largely due to the opioid crisis, which has disproportionately impacted white Americans.

  • President Trump recently signed a bill dedicating $6 billion in funding to the opioid crisis.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 candidate, proposed a $100 billion plan to battle the opioid crisis last month.
  • What they're saying: "I've worked in drug policy for over a decade and I've certainly seen a softening up," Theshia Naidoo, legal director of the Drug Policy Alliance's Criminal Justice department, told Axios.

What's next: The path to decriminalization might eventually shift to legalization. Marijuana is legal in 10 states and Washington, D.C., Denver and Oakland have even decriminalized mushrooms.

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