WASHINGTON — A bill led by one of New Jersey’s Congressional representatives would decriminalize all drug possession and replace it with health-based approaches in attempt to reverse the “War on Drugs.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat who represents parts of Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset and Union Counties in Congress, introduced the Drug Policy Reform Act Thursday. The bill would, according to a spokesperson for Rep. Watson Coleman, end criminal penalties for drug possession at the federal level and to shift regulatory authority from the Justice Department to the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill would also expunge existing records and provide for resentencing, reinvest in alternative health-centered approaches, and eliminate many of the life-long consequences associated with drug arrests and convictions including the denial of employment, public benefits, immigration status, drivers’ licenses and voting rights.
“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 and since its very inception,” said Rep. Watson Coleman. “Begun in 1972 as a cynical political tactic of the Nixon Administration, the War on Drugs destroyed the lives of countless Americans and their families. As we work to address the opioid epidemic, it is essential that we change tactics in how we address drug use, away from the failed punitive approach to a health-based and evidence-based approach.”
Rep. Watson Coleman cited an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) poll showing that the vast majority of American voters believe the War on Drugs has failed (83%). The poll also found that 66% of American voters were in support of removing criminal penalties for drugs and replacing them with health-centered approaches.
Watson Coleman co-authored the bill with Missouri Rep. Cori Bush. It’s co-sponsors include local representatives, including Reps. Adriano Espaillat, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman.
The bill, if passed, would automatically expunge and seal records within one year of it’s enactment; provide relief for those currently incarcerated or on supervision for some drug convictions; promote evidence-based drug education; prohibits people from being fired or not hired based upon criminal history for drug possession; explicitly prohibits drug testing for individuals to receive federal benefits; prevents drug use charges or convictions from being held against a person in order to receive SNAP or housing assistance; prevents denial of immigration status due to personal drug use; prevents people from being denied the right to vote over drug use status; allows individuals with drug convictions to get access to drivers’ licenses; and improves research on impact of drug criminalization and enforcement.
You can read the entire bill here.