By the numbers: About 1.6 million people were arrested on drug-related charges in 2017, roughly 85% of which were possession-related.
- Another 45% of incarcerated people in federal prisons have been arrested on drug-related charges in 2019.
- Racial disparities in arrests are present as well. Black people nationwide are 2.39 times more likely to be arrested on drug charges than white people. Police are also disproportionately deployed in minority communities despite similar rates of drug use.
- President Nixon triggered the codification of tough-on-drugs policies en masse. Local police departments were rewarded hundreds of millions of dollars through new programs.
- Mandatory sentencing laws were created to punish drug-related crimes with harsh penalties. In 2016, 53% of people convicted of a drug offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty faced at least 10 years in prison as a result.
- Authorities were enabled to seize cash, cars and real estate and flip those assets into new necessities for police departments.
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.