The Drug Policy Reform Act would decriminalize drugs at the federal level and shift the nation toward a public health-centered approach in its battle against substance abuse.
Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO) are championing the bill with support from the Drug Policy Alliance.
The new bill would end criminal penalties for drug possession at the federal level. In the process, the leadership role in the fight against drugs would shift from the Attorney General’s Office to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
The plan would also expunge records, create resentencing mechanisms, and move funds from enforcement into alternative health-centered approaches. Life-long consequences associated with drug arrests and convictions would also be eliminated. This alone would result in many individuals gaining new employment and public benefits opportunities, or even the right to vote.
“The United States has not simply failed in how we carried out the War on Drugs – the War on Drugs stands as a stain on our national conscience since its very inception,” said Congresswoman Watson Coleman. “Begun in 1972 as a cynical political tactic of the Nixon Administration, the War on Drugs destroyed the lives of countless Americans and their families. As we work to address the opioid epidemic, it is essential that we change tactics in how we address drug use, away from the failed punitive approach to a health-based and evidence-based approach.”
Congresswoman Bush spoke on personal experiences watching the crack epidemic devastate the midwest.
“Growing up in St. Louis, I saw the crack-cocaine epidemic rob my community of so many lives,” Congresswoman Bush said. “I lived through a malicious marijuana war that saw Black people arrested for possession at three times the rate of their white counterparts, even though usage rates are similar. As a nurse, I’ve watched Black families criminalized for heroin use while white families are treated for opioid use.”
Since joining Congress, Bush has only seen new issues around substance abuse met with the same solutions that led us to this regrettable point. “And now, as a congresswoman, I am seeing the pattern repeat itself with fentanyl, as the DEA presses for an expanded classification that would criminalize possession and use. This punitive approach creates more pain, increases substance use, and leaves millions of people to live in shame and isolation with limited support and healing. I’m proud to partner with Congresswoman Watson Coleman on legislation to end criminal penalties for drug possession at the federal level and repair harm in Black and brown communities. It’s time to put wellness and compassion ahead of trauma and punishment.”
The Drug Policy Alliance has been leading the fight on this issue for over 20 years since the Drug Policy Foundation and the Lindesmith Center merged in July 2000. Every two years their flagship conference is a must-stop event for global advocates involved in drug policy reform.
“Every 23 seconds, a person’s life is ruined for simply possessing drugs. Drug possession remains the most arrested offense in the United States despite the well-known fact that drug criminalization does nothing to help communities, it ruins them. It tears families apart, and causes trauma that can be felt for generations. The drug war has caused mass devastation to Black, Latinx, Indigenous and low-income communities and today we say, ‘Enough is enough!’” said Queen Adesuyi, Policy Manager for the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “We will not be subjugated any longer by an offensive that was created solely with the purpose of ‘disrupting’ our communities.”
Adesuyi went on to argue the bill that shares a name with her organization would be the first step in creating solutions for the communities most devastated by the realities she highlighted.
“This bill gives us a way out – a chance to reimagine what the next 50 years can be. It allows us to offer people support instead of punishment,” Adesuyi said. “And it gives people who have been harmed by these draconian laws a chance to move forward and embrace some semblance of the life they have long been denied.”