Starting in the 1980s, US states like Wisconsin began criminalising drug delivery. These new laws have been gaining traction recently in many states because they allow prosecutors to punish drug dealers for overdose deaths.
Dealers who sell heroin that kills a user can be charged with a drug related homicide and could face up to 25 years in prison in Wisconsin. Other states like Washington, Pennsylvania and Minnesota have also enacted similar laws to in an attempt to target dealers and stop drugs before they reach vulnerable users.
While many anti-drug campaigners and law enforcement officers praise these new laws, some people feel the new rules are too heavy handed. This is because the laws judge people by outcomes rather than an individual’s intent. In other words, drug dealers have no intention of killing their customers but they are still taking the blame when a customer dies.
Other people see these new laws as a way to possibly decriminalise drug users which could help them get treatment. If selling a drug were a crime but using was not, more people with addictions would be able to come forward for help without fear of repercussions.
By targeting dealers rather than users police are also hoping to crack down on higher level drug kingpins. The idea is that a low level dealer will be more likely to give up their upper level contacts in exchange for a plea deal if that dealer is facing serious prison time.
Dealers might also think twice about returning to dealing if they know their chosen profession could cost them a decade or more in prison.
Currently, these laws are used predominantly to target heroin dealers. This may be because heroin is one of the more deadly drugs or because of its high rate of addiction. Targeting heroin could also be part of a concerted effort to cut down crime in general.
A recent study found that heroin users committed more crimes than people using other drugs.
In any case, US lawmakers are hoping these new laws will help solve their heroin problem.
To learn more about heroin, check out the Life Works Heroin Knowledge Centre.