Whether he remembers it or not, President Biden has signaled support for drug decriminalization. It’s just a matter of getting Democrats and Republicans to stop fighting each other long enough to do some good for the country.
It was 50 years ago that President Nixon declared the drug war, a move that was supposed to keep America from sinking into the gutters of addiction and on the path to righteousness. However, that’s not what happened. Instead, millions of lives and families have been destroyed through the concept of policing a drug-addled nation.
The drug war is such a failed ethos that even President Joe Biden claims to support putting an end to the criminal penalties associated with low-level drug possession. Well, House Democrats want to test Biden on his word later this year.
Earlier this week, Democratic Representatives Cori Bush of Missouri and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey introduced the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA). The bill was designed to decriminalize the possession of all illegal drugs while also clearing some convictions and allotting funds to drug addiction organizations. It pulls the responsibility of handling the drug problem out of the hands of the Justice Department and places it in the care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It’s a push that goes beyond just legalizing marijuana for adults 21 and over, something that Senate Democrats have promised to consider this year.
To be clear, the bill does not call for the legalization of any dangerous drug. It would not create a taxed and regulated national market for marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or any other substance currently banned under Uncle Sam’s Controlled Substances Act. It would only ensure that drug users were no longer dealt with through the criminal justice system unless their crime was violent in nature.
The bill would continue to throw the book at drug dealers. Anyone involved in the illicit drug trade could still face criminal charges. But Mr. Average Heroin User who gets busted along the side of the highway holding a personal amount of the drug would no longer have to worry about going to prison. Not unless they were involved with more violations than just drug possession.
Portugal has had a similar policy in place for over two decades, and it has been largely successful. Since drug decriminalization was passed, the country has seen an overall decline in drug use in citizens 15-24. Not only that, but there has been a 60% increase in drug rehab cases. It stands to reason that the United States should borrow a chapter from Portugal and try a more common sense, health-centered approach to combating the drug war.
Somewhere around 83,000 Americans have died since May 2020 from overdoses. Furthermore, hundreds of thousands continue to get jammed up in the criminal justice system every year because of their vices. This makes it difficult for people to clean up, get jobs, find places to live, receive federal assistance, and any number of opportunities provided to people without drug blemishes on their records.
The DPRA would change that.
Unfortunately, the bill doesn’t stand a chance. Although it might find the support needed to clear the House, it won’t get far in the Senate. The upper chamber is so muddled with Republican retaliation right now that it’s going to be impossible for Democrats to get anything accomplished — much less heavy policy changes regarding illegal drugs. In reality, the DPRA would be a much better move for the nation than the MORE Act or any bill focused on legalizing marijuana.
But while the country has come to believe that legal weed makes sense — 90% think it should be legal, according to Gallup — it might be a hard sell to convince the more conservative population that removing criminal penalties from hard drugs is the right thing to do.
The U.S. just started experimenting with the concept of drug decriminalization. Oregon stopped prosecuting drug offenders in February of 2021 and focused $100 million in cannabis taxes on rehabilitation.
Whether he remembers it or not, President Biden has signaled support for drug decriminalization. “No one should be imprisoned for the use of illegal drugs alone. Instead, they should be diverted to drug courts and treatment,” reads the 2019 Biden campaign website. It’s just a matter of getting Democrats and Republicans to side with the issue and stop fighting each other long enough to actually do some good for the country.
Yeah, yeah, we know. Better luck next time.