New Hampshire: Voters Strongly Support Decriminalizing Drug Possession
A substantial majority of New Hampshire presidential primary voters support decriminalizing drug possession, according to a new poll released by the Drug Policy Alliance. Sixty-six percent of voters in the first-in-the-nation primary, including half of all Republicans and 68 percent of independents, think people caught with a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use should be evaluated for drug issues, offered treatment but not be arrested or face any jail time.
These findings come in the midst of escalating overdose deaths across the country and unprecedented focus by presidential candidates on alternatives to harsh, ineffective drug policies. Eighty percent of New Hampshire primary voters consider addressing prescription drug and other drug abuse and the recent surge in overdose deaths an important or urgent issue. Sixty-nine percent, including 56 percent of Republicans, say drug abuse should be treated primarily as a health problem rather than a criminal justice problem.
“Now is the time for policymakers to show leadership by laying out clear plans to move our country from a failed criminal justice approach to drugs to a health-based approach,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Their goal should be reducing the role that criminalization and the criminal justice system play in dealing with drugs and drug use as much as possible.”
Support for ending the criminalization of drug use and possession outright is gaining traction in the U.S. More than 1.5 million drug arrests are made every year in this country – the overwhelming majority for possession only.
High-profile endorsers of not arresting, let alone jailing, people for possessing small amounts of any drug include the American Public Health Association, the World Health Organization, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the Organization of American States, the National Latino Congreso, the NAACP, the International Red Cross, and Human Rights Watch.
Other results of the poll include:
• 73 percent, including 57 percent of Republicans and 76% of independents, support eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
• 72 percent of voters, including 55 percent of Republicans, think health insurance should include treatment for problems people have with drugs.
• 66 percent, including half of Republicans, think New Hampshire’s drug possession laws are too harsh.
• 41 percent would be more likely to support a candidate for president who promised federal support for drug overdose prevention (research, public education and funding local efforts).
• 37 percent of primary voters have been personally affected by prescription drug abuse, heroin abuse or overdose (themselves or someone they know).
Support for ending mandatory minimums comes as Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) is under pressure to co-sponsor the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, a bill to reduce mandatory minimums for drug offenders.
“The American people are tired of the failed war on drugs and want new approaches,” said Bill Piper, senior director of National Affairs for the DPA. “Voters want action – overdose prevention, decriminalization, reform of mandatory minimums – and candidates would be wise to deliver. Drug policy reform is an issue that people across the political spectrum agree on; policymakers at the local, state, and federal level need to get it done.”
The poll of 695 New Hampshire primary voters was conducted January 22-24 by Public Policy Polling.
Photo by Spencer Platt