Washington D.C. being pressed to decriminalize all drugs

Effort to Decriminalize All Drugs Underway in Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C. — once ground zero for America’s crack epidemic and still the nation’s PCP capital — could soon join Oregon in dealing a fatal blow to the now 50-year-old War on Drugs. That is if progressives get their way. This week Washington, D.C. activists unveiled their new pressure campaign aimed at convincing local leaders to join Oregon in decriminalizing hard drugs so they can end this era of mass incarceration, while simultaneously increasing access to support services for residents struggling with addiction.

“We have 50 years of experience to show us what an enforcement-first approach to drugs gets us – record overdose deaths, skyrocketing mass incarceration and severe racial inequality,” Queen Adesuyi, the policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), said at the rally announcing the effort.   

Dubbed Decriminalize Poverty D.C., the effort is focused on convincing D.C. councilmembers to take the steps to decriminalize all drugs. If they get what they’re asking for, criminal penalties for personal use of federally illegal substances would be removed, though the group wants to maintain laws aimed at curtailing the production and sale of these currently illicit substances. 

The legislation would also throw out convictions and charges for personal drug use. People found with drugs on them would be given information about voluntary health screenings, instead of being charged with crimes.

“It’s time that the D.C. council actually put their money where their mouth is,” Adesuyi said. “They say that drug use is a public health issue, so why are they not treating it like one?”

The legislation would dramatically increase the amount of resources available to people suffering from addiction, including more funding for overdose prevention programs, drug safety test kits — so users are alerted if they get tainted products — and increased drug education.

“The United States government doesn’t acknowledge that drug criminalization has impacted communities for decades — left communities silent,” syringe exchange worker Mariah Francis told rally goers. “It erases the issue of poverty and makes it an issue of moralization.”

The amount of an illicit substance an individual can carry would be determined by a new independent commission on substance use, according to the proposed legislation.

DPA is being joined by Honoring Individuals Power and Strength (HIPS), Black Lives Matter D.C. and the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, among other groups. 

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However, implementing drug reform in Washington, D.C. has proven to be slow-going in the past.

The nation’s capital does have its own council and mayor, but it is still overseen by Congress, which can change their city budget and override any laws the city passes.

The District of Columbia is not a state, meaning its locally elected representatives in Congress actually have no voting power.

Washington residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2014, but Congress has blocked the full implementation of the law. That’s left the nation’s capital locked in a gray zone  where marijuana is legal but greatly restricted. 

Residents can grow marijuana legally and give it away, but the limitations placed on the city by Congress mean duly elected D.C. councilmembers are federally banned from regulating cannabis for quality, and all formal marijuana sales remain strictly forbidden. 

We apologize for misspeaking in an earlier headline. We accidentally said “legalize,” which is imprecise and thus wrong.

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