In drug war, Americans support treatment, not prosecution

Women hold signsalong with a US and Mexican flag in front of the US Capitol in Washington on September 10, 2012 during the "Caravan for Peace," across the United States, a month-long campaign to protest the brutal drug war in Mexico and the US.

A strong majority of Americans now favor more lenient, less punitive drug laws, according to a new poll from the Pew Center for People and the Press.

67 percent of Americans believe that the government should focus more on providing treatment to users of hard drugs like cocaine and heroine, according to the survey, while only 26 percent believe the government should focus on prosecuting users.

And by an almost two-to-one margin, Americans say the gradual movement away from mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for non-violent drug crimes is a good thing: 63 percent embrace the shift, while only 32 percent object. In 2001, Americans were about evenly divided on the question.

Several states in recent years have moved away from mandatory minimum sentencing requirements. Between 2009 and 2013, 40 states eased drug laws in some fashion, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

There is currently a bipartisan effort afoot in Congress to do the same at the federal level. Proponents say the change would help law enforcement concentrate precious time and resources on more serious crimes while giving users the chance to be rehabilitated instead of incarcerated.

In March, during remarks before the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Attorney General Eric Holder said rescinding mandatory minimums would help rein in burgeoning prison costs and create a fairer criminal justice code. The current system, he said, "is not just financially unsustainable -- it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate."

A separate survey from Pew, tracking closely with other polls on the subject, also shows a rapid growth in support for marijuana legalization: 54 percent say pot should be legal, while only 42 percent disagree. In a similar survey just four years ago, those numbers were approximately reversed.

Still, despite a growing leniency among Americans regarding drug use and the application of drug laws, a strong majority (63 percent) still says drug abuse is a "serious problem" across the country. 31 percent describe it as a "crisis," while only 6 percent say it is a minor problem, or not a problem at all. Those numbers have remained relatively stable over the last two decades.

The survey from the Pew Center for People and the Press polled 1,821 adults nationwide from February 14-23, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percent.