Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives that would acknowledge the war on drugs has failed. Watson Coleman filed the measure, House Resolution 933, on Tuesday. More than two dozen additional Representatives have also added their names as sponsors of the legislation.
Watson Coleman noted that the government is addressing the current opioid crisis differently than previous drug issues.
“The War on Drugs didn’t just fail to stem the damage of addiction, its very declaration failed to meet the values of equality and justice our nation was founded on,” she said in a release. “Congress has rightly decided to tackle the opioid epidemic with evidence-based policies that seek to solve the issue of addiction. But for years, we criminalized addiction in ways that caused irreparable harm not just to users, but their families, neighborhoods, and communities. As we offer up funding and resources to address the disease of addiction among overwhelmingly White users, we must acknowledge our failures to do the same with victims of color.”
The resolution specifically calls on Congress to admit the War on Drugs has failed to reduce drug use. It also offers an apology to victims of the failed policy.
“To acknowledge that the War on Drugs has been a failed policy in achieving the goal of reducing drug use, and for the House of Representatives to apologize to the individuals and communities that were victimized by this policy,” it reads.
Rep. Watson Coleman’s resolution also details racial bias and propaganda that have fueled drug prohibition. It notes that in 1937, Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger was openly racist in congressional testimony.
“I wish I could show you what a small marijuana cigarette can do to one of our degenerate Spanish speaking residents. That’s why our problem is so great; the greatest percentage of our population is composed of Spanish-speaking persons, most of who are low mentally, because of social and racial conditions,” he said.
H. Res. 933 also notes the racial and political motives behind President Richard Nixon’s policies. Nixon formally declared the War on Drugs in 1971, saying drug abuse was “public enemy number one.”
But in 1994, Nixon aide John Ehrlichman admitted that the policy was really an effort to control liberals and blacks.
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did,” he said.
The resolution also notes that the War on Drugs created conditions that exacerbated the opioid epidemic. The policy has also led to “racially-charged mass incarceration of millions” of people, according to the resolution.
The resolution calls for changes in drug policy and its creation in the future. It seeks to treat addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal justice matter. The measure also supports a review of War on Drugs-era laws and replacing them with evidence-based statutes. Groups including the Drug Policy Alliance and Amnesty International have expressed support for Watson Coleman’s resolution.
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