By Emily Ledger
Two Democrat House Representatives have unveiled a bill that would end federal criminal penalties for drug possession, expunge criminal drug records and resentence previous offenders.
It has been fifty years since then-President Richard Nixon started the War on Drugs – an action that was to have a huge impact on millions of lives over the next half-century.
However, in recent years, many US states have slowly begun to undo the immeasurable harm caused by decades of drugs policing. Now, House Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO) want to take drug reform to the federal level.
The bill, titled The Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA), would end the federal criminalisation of the possession of drugs. The draft legislation was brought about by a collaboration between the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) – the nation’s leading non-profit working to end drug prohibition – and the Democrat politicians.
The House Representatives presented the bill on 17th June – exactly 50 years after Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs.
In addition to decriminalising the possession of drugs, the DPRA would also expunge criminal records and resentence past offenders under the new legislation.
Furthermore, it would also shift authority over drug laws from the Attorney General to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, effectively meaning that drug use would be considered a health issue as opposed to a criminal one.
Consequences associated with the criminalisation of drugs – such as the denial of public benefits, employment, drivers’ licenses, voting rights and immigration status – would also be removed.
In a press release, Congresswoman Cori Bush stated: “Growing up in St. Louis, I saw the crack-cocaine epidemic rob my community of so many lives.
“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. 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.”
A recent poll, released by DPA and the Americal Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), revealed that 66% of voters in the USA would support a policy to replace criminal sanctions for drug offences with more health-based approaches.
During the election campaign last year, President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris announced that they would support the federal decriminalisation of cannabis.
The US state of Oregon recently opted to decriminalise the possession of small amounts of all drugs amid an ongoing wave of cannabis legalisation across the country.