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Report suggests alternate approaches to drug laws

People in Maryland who are facing charges for selling substances that are similar to the drug fentanyl, also known as fentanyl analogs, may continue to face charges for selling Schedule 1 drugs if the government decides to renew an emergency order of the Drug Enforcement Agency. The order will expire in February 2020 if it is not renewed. Law enforcement says the order makes it easier for them to investigate and prosecute drug sellers, but critics say it disproportionately targets low-income people, people of color and users who are only selling a small amount.

A report by the Drug Policy Alliance has called for law enforcement to try a different approach to dealing with drug users and sellers, looking at the root causes of selling and using drugs. According to a UC Davis Law Review paper, drug laws primarily are aimed at people selling small amounts and do not tend to catch major distributors.

The DPA report says law enforcement should shift their priorities to crimes that physically harm people. The report also suggests that when people are detained for drug possession, unless there is some evidence of substantial financial gain, law enforcement should not press additional charges. The report also says drug-induced homicide laws should be repealed. Already, some prosecutors are trying to find other ways to help people with substance abuse.

Despite some of these proposed changes, people should not assume that charges related to possessing a small quantity of drugs are not serious. Individuals who have been taken into custody on drug charges may want to consult an attorney to discuss the charges and how to proceed. The attorney might make sure that any searches were conducted legally and that the person's rights were observed in other ways. It may be possible in some cases to get the charges reduced.

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