Few would dispute that illicit drug use and abuse is one of the most prominent and perplexing issues facing our society. For nearly a century, the United States has been an active proponent of the punitive prohibition of illicit drugs. Unfortunately, the “War on Drugs” has been largely unsuccessful; prosecution of illegal drug consumption has filled our prisons without significantly reducing crime, decreasing homelessness, preventing overdose deaths, diminishing the spread of HIV, or undermining the illegal drug market. Many would now argue that the vision of a “drug-free” America is unrealistic. Other countries are turning to “harm reduction” policies to reduce the societal damage that illegal drug use causes. With cautious optimism, the Baker Institute Drug Policy Program pursues research and open debate on local and national drug policies in hopes of developing pragmatic policies based on common sense, driven by human rights interests, and focused on reducing the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with drug use.
In recent research, William Martin, the institute’s Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy, has written, lectured, lobbied and testified before the Texas Legislature supporting needle exchange programs, widely used in many countries but scarce and often opposed in the United States, as a proven method of reducing the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C without increasing drug use. He has also written and lectured in support of regulation and taxation of marijuana as a means to 1) reduce profits criminal cartels reap from illegal sales and associated violence; 2) enhance state and federal budgets by lowering costs of law enforcement and corrections, and raising income from taxation of the widely used drug; and 3) halt damage caused by applying criminal sanctions to people who use a drug less harmful than either tobacco or alcohol.
Other current research focuses on the injustices and enormous individual and social costs associated with a punishment-oriented approach to drug use and abuse, perhaps seen most clearly in mandatory minimum sentences that can consign drug users with no record of violent or other serious crime to decades in prison, at great financial cost and with little evidence of efficacious consequences.
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