Poll Shows Americans Prefer Treatment Over Jail For Drug Abusers

By McCarton Ackerman 04/07/14

The change in attitude toward drugs and drug users was spurred in part by a more relaxed view on marijuana, though most still don't want it in their community.

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As American attitudes towards drug use continue to shift, a new poll has confirmed the trend by indicating that the majority of Americans prefer treatment over jail time for drug abusers.

The Pew Research Center polled 1,821 adults and found that 67 percent supported treatment for drug users, while 26 percent were in favor of prosecution. Two-thirds of those polled also wanted to do away with mandatory sentences for minor drug crimes while reducing prison time for non-violent crimes; in 2001, less than half of those polled supported reduced prison time.

But perhaps the poll's most interesting findings were related to marijuana users. An overwhelming majority of Americans thought the drug should be legal to some degree, but didn’t want it in their community. Thirty-nine percent of those polled supported legalizing marijuana for personal use and 45 percent wanted it legalized for medical use. Only 16 percent felt it should be illegal across the board. The numbers have shifted from as recently as four years ago, when a separate Pew Survey found that 52 percent of Americans thought pot should be illegal and 41 percent felt it should be legal.

Pew researchers wrote that the new findings indicate “the public appears ready for a truce in the long-running war on drugs.” But despite the more relaxed attitudes towards marijuana, 63 percent would be bothered by people smoking it in public and 41 percent objected to having marijuana sellers in their neighborhood.

The more relaxed attitudes toward drugs also haven’t stopped people from thinking that drug addiction is still a major public crisis. More than half of those polled felt drug abuse was a “serious problem” and 32 percent called it a “crisis.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.