WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — In a national survey that shows the American public is ready for a truce in the ongoing war on drugs, a two-thirds majority of U.S. adults (67 percent) say that the government should focus more on providing treatment for people using drugs such as heroin and cocaine instead of jail time.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that just about one-quarter of Americans (26 percent) think the U.S. government should focus on prosecuting users of hard drugs. Treatment-based programs, rather than imprisonment, are favored more by Democrats and independent voters, but a majority of Republicans (51 percent) agree that the government should direct its efforts towards a treatment approach.

A nearly two-to-one ratio of the American public surveyed says it is a positive thing that some states are moving away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

According to FBI data, police made one marijuana arrest every 42 seconds in 2012. There were an estimated 1,552,432 arrests for drug-related crimes in 2012 – a slight increase from the 1,531,251 drug arrests in 2011.

Marijuana offenses accounted for 48.3 percent of all drug arrests, a slight decrease from 49.5 percent in 2011, which itself was the highest rate since before 1995.

And as several states in addition to Washington and Colorado move toward legalizing recreational use of marijuana, three-quarters of the U.S. public (75 percent) – including both those for and against the legal use of marijuana – agree that the sale and use of marijuana will inevitably become legal nationwide.

And by wide margins, Americans view the drinking of alcohol as a more harmful habit on both a personal health and societal level.

Sixty-nine percent of Americans say alcohol is more harmful to people’s health, in contrast to just 15 percent who say the same of marijuana use. And 63 percent of Americans surveyed said they view alcohol as more harmful to society, in comparison to just 23 percent who say the same of marijuana.

The data represents a larger, major shift in attitude toward marijuana use.

“As recently as four years ago, about half (52 percent) said they thought the use of marijuana should not be legal; 41 percent said marijuana use should be legal. Today those numbers are roughly reversed – 54 percent favor marijuana legalization while 42 percent are opposed,” reads the Pew report.

Fourteen percent of Americans said that both are harmful to people’s personal health, and 11 percent said both are harmful to society.

The Pew Research Center survey was conducted Feb. 14-23 among 1,821 U.S. adults.

“The Pew Research Center’s report on U.S. drug policy comes at a pivotal moment in the national debate over how best to deal with drug abuse. There is a new bipartisan effort in Congress to give federal judges more discretion in low-level drug cases and reduce mandatory sentences for some drug crimes,” reads the report.

Between 2009 and 2013, 40 states took at least legal steps toward easing drug laws, according to Pew analysis date from the National Conference on State Legislatures and the Vera Institute.

However, a large majority of survey respondents say that drug abuse is either a crisis (32) percent, or a serious problem (55 percent).

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88 percent were for simply having marijuana.

— Benjamin Fearnow


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