U.S. House Reps Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO) in collaboration with the Drug Policy Alliance introduced the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA) – a bill seeking to end criminal penalties for drugs possession at the federal level.
The action comes ahead of the 50th anniversary (June 17) of President Richard Nixon's declaration of the War on Drugs.
The bill, introduced on Tuesday, contains suggestions for a more “health-centered approach” and proposes reinvestment in alternative approaches, among many other important provisions.
DPRA's Key Measures
Among the most important propositions in the bill include the following:
- Shifting regulatory authority from the Attorney General to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS);
- Automatically expunging and sealing records;
- Providing relief for those who are currently incarcerated or on supervision for specific drug convictions;
- Forbidding the denial of employment or termination based on criminal history for drug possession;
- Prohibiting drug testing for individuals to obtain federal benefits and also forbidding the possibility of drug use charges/convictions being used against an individual to obtain SNAP/TANF, housing assistance, and other federal benefits;
- Reinvesting funds to assist support programs involved in expanding access to substance use treatment and harm reduction services;
- Encouraging evidence-based drug education programs;
- Demanding U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to form a “Commission on Substance Use, Health and Safety,” which would establish benchmark amounts for drug possession and release an online report on their results in 180 days;
Complete details of the Drug Policy Reform Act can be seen here.
‘Enough Is Enough’
“Every 23 seconds, a person’s life is ruined for simply possessing drugs,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “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!’”
The bill also seeks to motivate state and local governments to accept decriminalization policies by otherwise limiting their eligibility to obtain resources in the Byrne and COPS grant programs.
The DPRA has been carefully composed to include parts of the federal decriminalization proposal, Dismantling the Federal Drug War: A Comprehensive Drug Decriminalization Framework, released by the Drug Policy Alliance in August 2020.
Recently, the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU published a national poll that showed 66% of American voters are in favor of removing criminal penalties for drugs and replacing them with health-centered approaches.
‘Stain On Our National Conscience’
“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 Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ). “Begun in 1972 as a cynical political tactic of the Nixon Administration, the War on Drugs has destroyed the lives of countless Americans and their families. As we work to solve this issue, it is essential that we change tactics in how we address drug use away from the failed punitive approach and towards a health-based and evidence-based approach.”
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