The uniquely American ‘war on drugs’ turns 50 this month. The policy’s been embraced and then used as a bludgeon by both political parties — hence America locks up more people than any nation on Earth. It’s not just taken root in society, it’s also overtaken Congress itself. Besides recent efforts on marijuana, in a half-century, no federal lawmaker has introduced a measure to decriminalize other substances deemed ‘drugs’ by the federal government.
Two Democratic Representatives will soon officially make history when they drop the first measure ever to decriminalize all “drugs.” Today, Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey wrote the first draft in the history books by merely announcing their intention to offer their new measure — one they know will reverberate from coast to coast, along with every rural community in between.
“That’s the thing about wars, people fall victim to state violence — Black, Brown and indigenous people; women, children, our immigrant community.”Rep. Cori Bush
Their argument isn’t for an America-Sterdam. Rather, they want to drive users to treatment, while also diverting hundreds of billions of dollars from policing to addicts to the raging opioid crisis and other national blights.
Put another way, they don’t want people who need treatment punished with prison any longer.
“In reality, it never was a war on addiction or the debilitating health impacts drugs have on some people. It was a war on people,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) told reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday.
Those people have names. Many you’ve heard chanted through pain and tears of late; many more we’ll never know.
“That’s the thing about wars, people fall victim to state violence — Black, Brown and indigenous people; women, children, our immigrant community,” the measure’s other lead sponsor, Congresswoman Cori Bush, added. “Breonna Taylor’s life was robbed from her fiancé, her family and community because of the deadly and devastating consequences of the ‘war on drugs’ — militarized police raids and police violence have injured or killed hundreds of people.”
Almost half of America’s more than 2 million prisoners – from federal or state convicts to those locked in local jails – at any given moment are there for drug-related crimes, and Bush, a nurse by training and pre-congressional-practice, says the current system fails all our communities through punishing our neighbors instead of hearing and addressing their underlying pain.
“In reality, it never was a war on addiction or the debilitating health impacts drugs have on some people. It was a war on people.”Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman
“They have all had their lives upended or lost because our government failed to see their trauma. Our government failed to address their struggles. Our government failed to affirm their humanity,” Bush said. “The economic stability of our carceral state depends on this misguided and racist policy.”
That’s why these progressive members of the Congressional Black Caucus want to flip the script with this new legislation.
“The Drug Policy Reform Act is rooted in that principle of public health. It uses a health-centered approach to address substance use, and I love that,” Bush said. “It will end our reliance on policing, prisons and jails to curb substance use and possession, and instead, it would eliminate criminal penalties for possession at the federal level.”
It must be noted, the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA) of 2021 hasn’t technically been introduced yet. Rather, today’s announcement signals it’s coming soon.
“We’re really in the infant stages here. We haven’t actually formally introduced the bill — we’ll do that in the next couple of days. We’re waiting for the language to be sorted out and to be put into the proper format,” Watson Coleman said.
Still, the draft these lawmakers have endorsed would be a game-changer, because it seeks to put research ahead of the biases resting in all of us.
“The bill does take some steps to make sure that federally funded drug education is actually grounded in science. Too much of drug education that’s been put out of our government has been propaganda,” Queen Adesuyi — the policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance (or DPA), which is the main advocacy group helping spearhead the measure — added. “So the bill is taking those steps towards making sure that we actually have appropriate education so people can make informed decisions about their own drug use or not.”
Their argument isn’t for an America-Sterdam. Rather, they want to drive users to treatment, while also diverting hundreds of billions of dollars from policing to addicts to the raging opioid crisis and other national blights.the author writes
While many Democrats have made marijuana their only focus of late, advocates for wholesale reform know cannabis is low-hanging fruit in this debate.
“We have to note,” Kassandra Frederique, DPA’s executive director, said, “that the regulation of cannabis does not mean the end of the drug war — the drug war is vast. It is deep. It is broad — and that our tools to remove it have to be as incisive, as strict and as targeted and as intentional as the harm has been to our communities.”
It took some 50 years to get this measure almost introduced, and supporters aren’t promising change overnight. Rather, they know they have a lot of educating to do in Congress if they ever hope to start truly educating all of the American public.
“We have a long road ahead of us,” Rep. Watson Coleman ended with, “people have got to recognize they can’t be scared of this legislation.”