Penalties for Possession of Commonly Abused Drugs

Thursday, March 12, 2020
Penalties for Possession of Commonly Abused Drugs

Washington, D.C.—Prison Fellowship®, the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, is releasing results of The Drug Report: A Review of America’s Disparate Possession Penalties. The report was prepared by criminal justice experts at Prison Fellowship.

“The Drug Report reveals the broad discrepancies in penalties for possession of marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl—commonly abused drugs—across different jurisdictions and explores the resulting public policy challenges and promising approaches,” said James Ackerman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Prison Fellowship. “When a person is arrested for possession of an illegal drug, we should make every effort to move them away from continued drug use. Doing this, will reduce addiction, death, and the descent into crime that often occurs with addiction.”
“The Drug Report is a significant contribution to the national debate about drug policy because it illustrates the origin of the failures in our drug policy in America,” said Craig DeRoche, Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy of Prison Fellowship. “Our country has spent the past 40 years working on the supply side of drugs and Prison Fellowship hopes that we start to focus on the demand side as well. Therefore, we focus on the laws related to possession in this report. This report does not address the issues of dealing, manufacturing, or other aspects of drug use—only possession.”
“The Drug Report, which took a year to compile and analyze, reveals how vastly different statutory responses to possession of the same drug were across the nation,” said Chelsea Friske, Legislative Research Manager of Prison Fellowship and primary author of The Drug Report. “It also sheds light on the harshness of penalties on the books despite research showing how beneficial alternatives like drug courts have been.”

Executive Summary

Criminal justice experts at Prison Fellowship, a leading advocate for restorative reform, prepared The Drug Report. The report analyzes the variation in penalties for possession of four controlled substances within the first two schedules defined by the Controlled Substances Act—marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl—and under state and federal laws.

Detailed case studies in the report for each drug demonstrate the wide disparities in language, classifications, and penalties for the common offense known as “possession of a controlled substance.” The report features ways that some states are creatively responding to drug possession through alternatives to incarceration. Additionally, the report captures how states could creatively respond to drug possession in ways that produce more effective outcomes and avoid a criminal record where possible.

Prison Fellowship
Prison Fellowship is the nation's largest outreach to prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, and a leading voice for criminal justice reform. With more than 40 years of experience helping restore men and women behind bars, Prison Fellowship advocates for federal and state criminal justice reforms that transform those responsible for crime, validate victims, and encourage communities to play a role in creating a safe, redemptive, and just society.