Many people went through the DARE program while they were in grade school. In this program, students were taught certain aspects of drug laws that were taken as gospel at the time. They may have learned that drug convictions led to a significant amount of jail time and stiff financial penalties. They may have also been taught that marijuana is a gateway drug and that the side effects of many of these drugs could result in death.
Recently, public attitudes regarding many drugs, specifically marijuana, have changed. Fortunately, the criminal justice system may also, slowly but surely, be catching up with this important development.
The "Tough on Crime" Era
For the past couple of decades, the judicial attitude towards drugs was called the "Tough on Crime" era. Starting with President Clinton, the idea was to impose stiff penalties on people who were convicted of drug crimes. This led to a lengthening of prison sentences and stiff financial penalties for anyone involved. The hope was that the stiffer penalties would lead to a reduction in crime; however, this wasn't the case. What happened was that prisons become overcrowded and the country saw a rise in drug use anyways. When the authorities started to realize that this didn't work, the attitude towards drugs started to change.
A Relaxation of Drug Laws
Over the past few years, the public perception towards drugs, especially marijuana, has started to change. Most people have heard that a few states have actually legalized recreational marijuana. Many states have also legalized medical marijuana for debilitating conditions, such as cancer. This has numerous benefits for the state because it allows them to both regulate marijuana to ensure that it is being used safely while also collecting a large amount of tax revenue from the sales. While this represents a shift in the public's attitude towards drugs, the judicial branch still needed to catch up.
A Shift in Sentencing Guidelines
What needed to change was that people needed to stop being forced to sere inordinately long prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. Fortunately, this has also started to change. President Obama pardoned an unprecedented number of prison sentences while also commuting the sentences of numerous others. This leniency has carried over to people currently facing charges more generally, at both the state and federal levels. Many other people facing drug charges have wound up serving significantly lighter sentences or avoiding prison time altogether. The idea has been to focus on education and rehabilitation instead of punishment.
While the general attitude towards drugs has changed significantly in recent years, nothing can be taken for granted. For this reason, anyone facing a drug charge should consider hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands how the attitude surrounding drugs has changed. This awareness allows an attorney to best use this attitude to the advantage of their clients.