Senator Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, has introduced a bill in California that would make it a misdemeanor to possess narcotics such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines for personal use. Possession for sale still will remain a felony. The purpose of this proposed law is to ease the overcrowding in our prisons and to save close to $2 billion over the next 10 years. Plus, says the Senator, there’s no evidence to suggest that longer custody time deters the use of these drugs.
I would argue that longer sentences not only fail to deter, but are a waste on a true addict. By definition, an addict is someone that can not control his or her overwhelming desire for the drug of their choice. Rational and logical thought has nothing to do with the addict’s choice to use drugs. It’s a need, an urge that is almost impossible to control. Thoughts of the length of prison sentences do not enter into the mind of an addict. The only consideration is where and how to get the drugs. Getting the drug is a need, not a result of a decision making process where the addict weighs the pro’s and con’s of what he or she is about to do. They will lie, cheat, steal, and sometimes hurt others in order to get a fix. What the addict needs is treatment not more punishment.
Some may argue that we will be sending the wrong message to kids, that longer prison sentences may deter the first time user from ever trying and thereby getting addicted to the drug. This maybe so for some. But, I think, those that may be deterred by longer time in custody will be deterred by less time in custody as well. Most that would otherwise try the drug will still do it despite the longer sentence. How many kids will refuse to try the drug if the punishment is three vs one year? I would think that this thought does not even enter their minds. In fact, considering the consequences of one’s actions is purely an adult concept.
What we need is more education. We should continue to enlighten kids to the horrors of these drugs. We also should continue to treat those that are addicted. Money saved by this proposed law should be applied to treatment. This money will do a lot more good educating than feeding and housing addicts in prison.