Three young people walking near stairs.

Rethinking and Reducing Punishment of People in the Drug Trade

Most people agree that drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a crime. Yet many still support harsh punishment for people who sell drugs because of stigma and fear. The Drug Policy Alliance is advocating for new responses to drug sales that improve public health and safety while reducing punishment.

What It Means to Rethink People in the Drug Trade

The current approach to the drug trade has failed. It mostly targets people with minor roles in sales, many of whom also use drugs themselves. To truly promote health and safety, we must propose solutions that give people access to support, training opportunities, and good jobs.

Low-Level Sellers Are Targeted

People with minor roles in the drug supply chain are most likely to be criminalized. Many are experiencing poverty and selling drugs for survival. They are easily replaced, and drug selling continues.

Source: U.S. Sentencing Commission

People Who Sell, Use

The latest research shows that 87.5% of people who reported selling drugs also used drugs. Additionally, 43.1% met the criteria for a substance use disorder. People need support, not punishment.

Source: American Psychological Association

Mandatory Minimums Trap People

One-third of all people arrested for drug sales are sentenced to mandatory minimum prison terms of 5 years or longer. Black and Latinx people are targeted due to biased enforcement.

Source: USSC
Three young people walking near stairs.

What DPA is Doing: 

  • Working at the local level on various task forces aimed at changing policies related to people who sell drugs.
  • Working with prosecutor offices to develop policies aimed at reducing arrest and incarceration of people who sell drugs.

Learn more about rethinking punishment of people in the drug trade

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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