"Anyone caught here with a small amount of drugs — even heroin — isn’t typically prosecuted. Instead, that person is steered toward social services to get help.
This model is becoming the consensus preference among public health experts in the U.S. and abroad. Still, it shocks many Americans to see no criminal penalty for using drugs illegally, so it takes courage and vision to adopt this approach: a partial retreat in the war on drugs coupled with a stepped-up campaign against addiction."
Has the war on drugs been a mistake? There are now as many citizens with arrest records as with college diplomas. But this huge number of incarcerated people has not turned the tide on narcotics.
In contrast, Seattle started a program called LEAD, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.
"The idea is that instead of simply arresting drug users for narcotics or prostitution, police officers watch for those who are nonviolent and want help, and divert them to social service programs and intensive case management."
It has been a big success. 58% of those assigned to LEAD were less likely to be rearrested compared to the control group.
There is a lot more info in this article about how the program has been successful.
Summed up by one participant:
“I just paid my rent again yesterday,” he said, beaming. “I’m not in your car stealing your stereo. I’m paying damn taxes now.”