This year, Oregon became the first and only state to decriminalize all drugs. Tuesday, lawmakers introduced a bill to make that happen at the federal level.
It comes as we reach the 50th anniversary of the war on drugs, which was declared by former President Richard Nixon.
“Five decades later, all we have to show for the war on drugs is mass incarceration, mass criminalization, destruction and devastation in brown and Black communities and low-income communities, unrelenting overdose crisis. We haven't seen, you know, what they allege the war on drugs is really supposed to be about, which was reducing drug use,” said Queen Adesuyi, Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.
The measure would not legalize any drugs, but it would change the approach of how drug charges are dealt with. Instead of putting someone behind bars, they would receive the help they need to get clean. The attorney general would also no longer handle charges and responsibility would instead go to the secretary of Health and Human Services.
This could expunge records and eliminate barriers for things like food stamps, housing, voting, and hiring.
“Drugs have been used as a way to impact economic and social mobility in communities because of the way that convictions often lead to lifelong consequences,” said Adesuyi.
Although this bill would decriminalize drugs at the federal level, state lawmakers would still have to pass measures to decriminalize state charges.
The Drug Policy Alliance hopes a federal law will provide guidance and inspire lawmakers to push for this change.
“The introduction of this bill and the conversations that I hope folks will be having across the country in this week on the 50th anniversary of the declaration on the war on drugs is one where people really evaluate the stigmas that we hold. Especially because of the ways that we've been socialized to think about drugs and drug users to really see what's in the future for us when it comes to addressing drug use,” said Adesuyi.