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Heroin is a form of opiate drug, created from morphine. In most regions, the sale, use, and possession of heroin is illegal, and may incur strict legal penalties. Exactly which penalties apply for heroin possession may depend on several factors, including the jurisdiction, the amount of heroin possessed, and prior record of drug convictions. Some of the penalties for heroin possession include fines, prison time, mandated drug treatment, and even execution.
Not all regions criminalize heroin possession, though most make it unlawful to own it. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized possession of almost all illegal drugs, including heroin, instead offering drug treatment to those found with illegal substances. This was done as a means of reducing Portugal's large drug abuse problem, which was considered by some experts to be one of the worst in Europe. According to some studies, the decriminalization program has led to a significant drop in drug use, while entrance in treatment programs had doubled by 2009.
In the United States, penalties for heroin possession are often determined by state laws and usually take into consideration the amount of heroin involved. Some states have what are known as mandatory minimums, which require that possession of a certain amount is met by an automatic minimum penalty regardless of any extenuating circumstances. In Illinois, possession of as little as 15 grams of heroin requires a mandatory minimum of 4-15 years in prison, while over 10 grams results in a mandatory minimum of up to 30 years in prison. Most other states are slightly more lenient, operating with guidelines to sentencing as opposed to mandatory rules; in some cases, first time possession with no prior criminal record may be downgraded to a misdemeanor charge.
Southeast Asia is known for the strictest penalties for heroin possession, and for what many consider good reason: the region is the largest producer of narcotics in the world, thus putting heavy responsibility on governments to attempt to control the making, possession, and trafficking of these drugs. Singapore may have the strictest code of all: those found in possession of more than 2 grams of heroin may be subject to a mandatory death penalty for trafficking, even if there is no evidence of an intent to traffic.
Heroin is a deadly drug that also contributes to the spread of many infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, through the use of contaminated needles. Governments are often at a loss about how best to handle possession and use of drugs; while some, like Portugal, argue for treatment rather than criminalization, others, like Singapore, brook no tolerance for a drug that contributes heavily to criminal organizations, crime rates, deaths, and the spread of diseases throughout the country. The penalties for heroin possession are often seen as severe, yet health experts argue that users are already inflicting vast amounts of permanent harm on themselves by using the drug at all.
As the article points out, the penalty for heroin possession depends on what part of the world the offender happens to get caught. Here in the United States, the penalty for heroin possession is generally pretty harsh in the various states.
The decriminalization of heroin will undoubtedly come up at some point in the U.S. (that may seem farfetched, but keep in mind that until recently only a few people thought the legalization of marijuana would ever come to pass). Hopefully states considering heroin legalization will take a hard look at areas where that has already been done to study the impact of making that stuff legal.