On Monday, a bipartisan bill was introduced into the U.S. House to help those in the War on Drugs, for those over 21, to bypass the harsh penalties for marijuana possession. If passed, the First Step Act would allow all nonviolent drug offenders to be treated as though they were not convicted of a crime. Additionally, the bill would increase the amount of drug offenders who can be expunged from the record and would allow for some first time offenders to retain their right to vote.

The District of Columbia has all the trimmings of a major city. From its elegant, 40-foot-tall white marble Capitol building, to the Gallaudet University and the National Mall, it has historically been a city with historic icons.

word-image-9918 On the 18th. In June 1971, President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, an initiative fueled by fear and racism and ostensibly aimed at ending illegal drug use. When it comes to cannabis, the war on drugs disproportionately targets black and brown communities and unfairly jails people for possessing a medical substance. Today, 50 years after this worldwide campaign began, U.S. Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman and Cory Bush have introduced a bill to decriminalize drug possession. Addiction to harder drugs, such as heroin and opioids, kills thousands of Americans every year, destroys families and disrupts lives. According to dual diagnosis data, 50% of all prisoners have a drug or alcohol addiction and less than 10% receive treatment. This means that prisoners are sent out into the world without resources or support to seek additional help for their addiction. It is a vicious cycle that further vilifies non-violent offenders and sets them up for failure as they try to find work and better themselves. Every 23 seconds someone’s life is destroyed by the possession of drugs. Drug possession remains the most frequently arrested crime in the United States, despite the well-known fact that criminalizing drugs not only does not help communities, it actually destroys them. It tears apart families and causes trauma that can be felt for generations. The drug war has wreaked havoc in black, Latino, Native American and low-income communities, and today we say enough is enough, said Quin Adesui, policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance’s national policy office. The Drug Policy Reform Act recognizes the ineffectiveness of the war on drugs and calls on Congress to refocus its changes to drug abuse and policy in a way that is health-oriented, evidence-based, and respects self-determination. The bill emphasizes that addiction is a health issue, not a criminal issue. For example, the bill decriminalizes the possession of all listed drugs for personal use and provides for a health and safety investment initiative to further reduce the criminalization of drug users. The bill also transfers classification of substances from the Attorney General to the Secretary of Health and Human Services so that the records can be cleared and benefit those currently in prison. It will also prevent people with prior drug convictions from being able to get jobs because of their criminal history. We will no longer be enslaved by a crime created solely to destroy our communities. This legislation offers us a way out – a chance to reimagine what the next 50 years might look like. In this way we can offer people support rather than punishment. And it gives people affected by these draconian laws a chance to move on and have some semblance of a life they have been denied for so long, Adesuyi added. According to a poll conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Drug Policy Alliance, 83% of Americans agree that the war on drugs has been a failure. In the same poll, 66% of voters favored decriminalizing drug possession and reinvesting drug money in drug treatment and services. These statistics show that people suffering from addiction are in dire need of change. By providing people suffering from addiction with valuable resources to end their addiction, they can break the cycle of addiction. The bill would give convicts more chances to return to a normal life. Currently, drug owners can be disqualified from SNAP/TANF, housing assistance, immigration status, voting rights, and driver’s licenses. We can’t build a time machine to end the war on drugs and prevent all the damage it has done, but we can start taking serious steps to change things now. The United States has not only failed in the war on drugs – the war on drugs has been a stain on our national conscience from the beginning, said Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman. The war on drugs, which began in 1972 as a cynical political tactic of the Nixon administration, has ruined the lives of countless Americans and their families. To solve this problem, we need to change our tactics in the fight against drug use from the failed punitive approach to a health and evidence-based approach.

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