According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 67% of Americans say that the government should focus more on providing treatment for those who use illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine, while 26% believe that the government's priority should be prosecuting users of hard drugs.
Public support for a treatment-based approach now spans nearly all demographic groups, the survey reports. And although Republicans are less supportive of the policy than Democrats and Independents, 51% of them favor it.
Among the survey's other findings:
• Alcohol is widely viewed as more harmful than marijuana, in terms of people's health (69%) and its impact on American society (63%)
• 54% support the legalization of marijuana, up from 32% a decade ago
• 63% oppose mandatory sentences for non-violent drug crimes, up from 47% in 2001
As Pew notes, these findings come 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. Separately, the United States Sentencing Commission is expected to vote soon on a proposal to lessen the federal sentence for drug dealers.
More and more states are acting to revise drug laws: Between 2009 and 2013, 40 states took some action to ease their drug laws according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data provided by the National Conference on State Legislatures and the Vera Institute.