Most recently, a revolutionary bill has been introduced by U.S. Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman and Cori Bush that could change the longstanding drug policies in the U.S. The Drug Policy Reform Act (DRPA), alongside their strategic companion Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), would bring an end to criminal penalties for the personal use of substances, including ones listed as Schedule-I and Schedule-II psychoactive drugs. One day before the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the ‘war on drugs’- on 16th June 2021, these two U.S. representatives revealed this bill. The goal of this bill is manyfold:
According to Queen Adesuyi, a policy manager for the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, every 23 seconds someone is sentenced for simply possessing drugs. In the United States, drug possession remains the most arrested offense despite the well-known statistic that drug criminalization does nothing to assist communities; rather, it ruins them. It tears families apart and creates trauma that can be felt for generations. The drug war has created mass devastation to Indigenous, Latinx, Black, and low-income communities. She also added, “we will not be subjugated any longer by an offensive law that was created solely with the purpose of ‘disrupting’ our communities. 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. 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.”
The DRPA bill is also aiming to eliminate many of the life-long sentences and consequences associated with drug convictions and arrests, such as public benefits, denial of employment, drivers’ licenses, immigration status, and voting rights. Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman said, “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.”
According to a national poll organized and carried out by Bully Pulpit Interactive (BPI) and published by the DPA in the first week of June 2021, 66% of American voters supported eliminating criminal penalties for drugs reinvesting resources into addiction and treatment services. About 65% support winding up the war on drugs. With this bill, a different reality – one where people who use drugs will be treated with compassion.
This revolutionary Drug Policy Reform Act of 2021 is one of the greatest contributions in the pathway to create a more conscious society. It is also a contribution to more equitable treatment rather than prosecution of drug users. The legislation would also introduce more accessibility to federal benefits like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and housing assistance programs.
- Drug Policy Alliance. (2017). It’s time for the U.S. to decriminalize drug use and possession. [online] Available at: https://drugpolicy.org/resource/its-time-us-decriminalize-drug-use-and-possession [Accessed 28th June 2021].
- Drug Policy Alliance. (2021). Summary of the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA) of 2021. [online] Available at: https://drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/dpra_summary_2021.06.11_v2.pdf [Accessed 28th June 2021].
- Sutton M. (2021). On 50th anniversary of “war on drugs,” new poll shows majority of voters support ending criminal penalties for drug possession, think drug war is a failure. [online] Available at: https://drugpolicy.org/press-release/2021/06/50th-anniversary-war-drugs-new-poll-shows-majority-voters-support-ending [Accessed 28th June 2021].