Poll: War on Drugs Did More Harm than Good

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The vast majority of Americans—83 percent—believe the war on drugs has been a spectacular failure leading only to increased drug-related harms and prison overcrowding, according to a new poll.

The poll also revealed 66 percent of Americans support “eliminating criminal penalties for drug possession and reinvesting drug enforcement resources into treatment and addiction services.” In addition, 64 percent of Americans support repealing mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, and 61 percent support commuting or reducing the sentences of people incarcerated for drugs. The numbers—which are strikingly similar across all political persuasions—indicate Americans not only are ready for a new policy direction but also want to address failed current policies retroactively.


June 17 will mark fifty years since President Richard M. Nixon declared drugs “public enemy number one,” sparking the infamous “war” that has cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion and incarcerated tens of thousands of people for marijuana offenses that now are legal in most states.

“Today, drug possession continues to be the number one arrest in the United States, with more than 1.35 million arrests per year. Every 25 seconds, a person is arrested for possessing drugs for personal use, with Black people disproportionately targeted by this over-policing,” said Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU’s Justice Division. “It’s time to adopt a new approach that treats substance use as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice one.”

Other poll revelations included 67 percent of Americans believe the war on drugs “overcrowded our prison systems, drained resources, and diverted needed funding from more effective programs like rehabilitation and treatment;” 57 percent believe the drug war “worsened the problems of addiction and problematic drug use;” and 73 percent believe “the war on drugs has not made America safer or healthier.”

The poll was conducted in May by Bully Pulpit Interactive on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy Alliance.