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Criminal conduct or someone in need of treatment?

For decades, Michigan law enforcement has viewed drug use as primarily one of criminal conduct, deserving of punishment for violating the law and societal norms. Much of the force of criminal law is based on a rational weighing of costs and benefits. You can rob a bank and enjoy the "profit" of your robbery until you are caught and sentenced to prison. That "cost" outweighs the temporary benefit for most people.

Drugs are different. Many people believe they will never become addicted, that their rational thoughts can overcome the chemical reaction that takes place in their brain. The jails and prisons of Michigan are full of individuals who believed this. The danger with any drug use is that no matter why someone began using, once they are addicted, they no longer have the ability to control their use.

Looking at this issue in the U.S., it has become clear that many drug problems that are subject to criminal prosecution really ought to be viewed as a public health problem. The crushing weight of the cost of prisons and the tremendous burden of incarceration on many parts of the state have begun to convince even prosecutors and courts that many of the offenses are not "solved" by sending people to prison.

The opioid epidemic that has struck Michigan has highlighted the weakness of the punitive model of drug enforcement. Prescription opioid use and the significant increase in heroin use has crossed all socio-economic lines, exposing many more people to this issue, and forcing police and prosecutors to recognize that a minor drug possession charge should not turn into a death sentence for someone unfortunate enough to be gripped by addiction.

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Michael A. McInerney, PLC
312 Fulton St. E.
Grand Rapids, MI 49503

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