Principle #2: End the War on Drugs


i. Keep People Out of Jail for Drug-Related Offenses

Years of experience with aggressive yet ineffective drug laws and the latest medical research on addiction suggest that treating drug use as a public health issue, as opposed to a criminal justice issue, is a more effective approach to reducing harm. Locally-elected prosecutors should adopt the following policies or engage in the following actions to reduce the number of people in jails and prisons for drug-related offenses.

  • Never ask for incarceration sentences for defendants charged with simple possession.

  • Where dismissal is not possible, create and expand cite-and-release and diversion programs for drug offenses, including drug possession, possession of drug paraphernalia, and distribution of small amounts of drugs.

  • Refrain from charging defendants with possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance based solely on quantity or packaging.  

  • Adopt a policy prohibiting the prosecution of individuals as habitual felons or seeking sentencing enhancements whenever one or more of the underlying charges is for simple possession of a controlled substance.

  • Publicly support legislation that reclassifies all drug possession offenses as misdemeanors.


ii.  Treat Opioid Addiction as a Public Health Problem

The opioid crisis claims tens of thousands of lives every year, and has shown few signs of abating. Prohibitionist policies did not win the war on drugs, and they will not end this crisis. Prosecutors can play an important role in ending the crisis, but only if they treat addiction as a public health crisis, rather than a criminal justice concern.

  • Adopt an office-wide policy stating that drug overdoses will not be prosecuted as homicides cases except when there is sufficient evidence of intent to cause death.

  • Publicly support the creation of supervised injection facilities.

  • Adopt an office-wide Good Samaritan policy stating that individuals who call the police in response to an overdose will not be prosecuted.

  • Make diversion the default path of prosecution in cases where the criminal charges stem from the defendant’s drug addiction.