POLITICS
12/18/2013 07:35 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Americans Against Legalizing Hard Drugs, But Also Against Jailing People For Using Them

Few Americans favor legalizing drugs like cocaine and heroin, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. But a majority of Americans also think first-time offenders caught with small amounts of those drugs should not face prison time.

According to the new poll, only 9 percent of Americans believe using heroin should be made legal, 11 percent think the use of cocaine should be legal and 9 percent think using crack should be legal.

Opposition to legalizing these drugs comes in contrast to views on marijuana legalization. Several polls conducted over the past year, including by The Huffington Post, the Pew Research Center and Gallup, have shown that a majority of Americans now favor legalizing marijuana. Harder drugs like heroin, cocaine and crack are viewed in a different light, the new poll shows.

At the same time, though, few respondents to the latest poll said that they think jail time is an appropriate sentence for first-time drug offenders.

For example, 13 percent said that heroin possession by a first-time offender should be punished by a fine or no punishment at all, while another 40 percent favored probation or court-ordered treatment, but no prison time. Nine percent favored less than a year in prison, 14 percent said 1-5 years, 3 percent said 6-10 years, and 10 percent said heroin possession should be punishable by 10 years in prison or more.

Strikingly, views of the appropriate sentence for possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine, and crack were almost identical, in contrast to federal sentencing laws that require a much stiffer penalty for possession of a small amount of crack. A five-year mandatory minimum sentence is required for anyone convicted of possessing 28 grams of crack. By contrast, someone would need to possess 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same mandatory minimum sentence.

The sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine has long been criticized for producing racial disparities in sentencing and for leading to prisons overcrowded with low-level drug offenders. In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced new Justice Department guidelines that would prevent listing drug quantities in many indictments to avoid triggering mandatory minimums.

The new poll is not the only one showing many Americans are fed up with the status quo on drug laws. A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted in January found that only 19 percent of Americans think the war on drugs has been worth the cost.

Another recent HuffPost/YouGov poll found that only a third of Americans favor mandatory minimum sentences. The same poll found that 38 percent of Americans think the sentences usually given for drug crimes such as possession or sale of illegal drugs are too harsh, while a combined 43 percent said that those sentences were generally too lenient (23 percent) or about right (20 percent).

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Nov. 23-24 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling.

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