House Democrats Introduce Bill to Decriminalize Drugs
Democratic United States Representatives Cori Bush of Georgia and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey introduced a bill on Tuesday that would decriminalize all drugs at the federal level, end the criminalization of personal use and possession of controlled substances, expunge the records of individuals convicted of simple possession, and transfer the authority over the future classifications of substances from the attorney general to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
The unveiling of the Drug Policy Reform Act of 2021 coincides with the 50th anniversary of the infamous war on drugs, which was launched by President Richard Nixon and has proven to be one of the worst policy failures in American history.
“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,” Bush said of the war on drugs on Tuesday. “It’s time to put wellness and compassion ahead of trauma and punishment.”
The DPRA’s purpose is to “instill confidence that our government is committed to advancing evidence-based public health policies,” Bush said at a press conference following the legislation’s introduction. “Today, we are stepping up and speaking out to say we can do better. We can create a more just and a more better world. We can do away with punitive systems of violence and destruction and replace them with systems of care, systems of support, systems rooted in racial equity and justice.”
Watson Coleman said in a statement that “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.”
The DPRA “eliminates criminal penalties for personal use possession of all scheduled drugs (marijuana, heroin, crack/cocaine, etc.). Individuals may still be fined for drug possession, but the court may waive this fine if it determines that an individual cannot pay” and “eliminates eligibility for Byrne or COPS grant programs for states and localities that maintain criminalization of personal use drug possession.”
Reprieve for people serving out prison sentences for petty drug crimes is one of the most consequential components of the DPRA.
“No later than one year after enactment, each Federal district (courts) will review cases in order to automatically seal records that involve charges of drug possession offenses decriminalized by this Act. There will also be an order to respect an expunged conviction or adjudication of juvenile delinquency,” the DPRA states. “Individuals with a conviction or adjudication of juvenile delinquency for an offense decriminalized by this Act may file a motion for expungement.”
The DPRA “mandates a sentencing review hearing for individuals with qualifying convictions for offenses decriminalized by this Act. Identified individuals who have been charged with an offense decriminalized by this bill will have their sentence vacated.”
Additionally, the DPRA “prohibits the denial of employment or termination based upon a criminal history for simple drug possession. Individuals with charges or convictions of drug possession/use cannot be denied the right to vote no matter if they served their sentence or not. There is also a process to restore the right to vote for those who have been impacted in the past,” the bill says.
It also “prohibits the use of civil asset forfeiture in cases where a person is suspected of ‘possessing a quantity of controlled substance solely for personal consumption’ and eliminates immigration-related consequences for personal use drug possession” and “removes the federal requirement to suspend driver’s licenses because of drug convictions.”