DecrimPovertyDC, a coalition of progressive activist groups, has sparked nationwide attention with its ambitious effort to push for drug policy reform in the nation’s capital. The coalition has brought together a range of organizations that all share a common goal- to see an end to the mass incarceration of people caught up in the “War on Drugs.”
When it comes to drug policies, the United States is woefully behind the times. While other countries have been moving towards a more public health-centered approach, the United States continues to invest billions of dollars in a failed “war” that has led to the mass incarceration of thousands of people, particularly low-income and marginalized communities.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Honoring Individual Power and Strength (HIPS), and D.C. Justice Lab are just some of the organizations that have come together to form DecrimPovertyDC. The group has already made a splash, launching a legislative proposal and organizing a series of rallies and lobbying events to push for a number of reforms, including the decriminalization of all drugs, expanded harm reduction and public health intervention services, and investment in evidence-based education programs focused on harm reduction.
“We have 50 years of experience to show us what an enforcement-first approach to drugs gets us – record overdose deaths, skyrocketing mass incarceration, and severe racial inequality. To continue down this path is not only irresponsible but cruel and inhumane,” Queen Adesuyi, who serves as Policy Manager for the Office of National Affairs at the DPA, is quoted as saying.
The legislative proposal, named the District of Columbia Drug Policy Reform Act (D.C DPRA), calls for a comprehensive and humane drug policy that prioritizes public health and safety. If enacted, the proposal recommends that people found in possession of controlled substances – that are below a certain benchmark amount (yet to be determined), would no longer face criminal penalties, but would, instead, receive a citation and be referred to a harm reduction center.
“The goal of DecrimPovertyDC is to decriminalize poverty by working to end stigma, violence, criminalization, and other forms of oppression against people who are targeted by the state for ‘crimes of poverty,’ including drug use, sex work, housing insecurity, citizenship station, and incarceration history,” HIPS spokesperson Righteous-Rogers, is quoted as saying.
This approach has proven to be more effective than criminalization in reducing drug use and its associated harms. Baltimore recently ceased prosecuting drug possession, among other minor, non-violent crimes like prostitution, and is yet to record an uptick in crime rates or increased threats to public safety, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.
This is in line with decades of research that shows decriminalization does not lead to more crime. Portugal, for instance, underwent decriminalization in 2000 and has since recorded a dramatic decline in drug-related crime and fatal overdoses.
DecrimPovertyDC believes that it is time for our nation’s capital to catch up with the rest of the world and pioneer a more sensible and humane approach to drug policy.
According to the DecrimPovertyDC campaign, the impact of laws criminalizing possession and use of drugs “extends far beyond the criminal legal system, as people face an array of punishments in employment, housing, education, immigration, child welfare, and public benefits – all of which can trap people in poverty.”
All these factors make recovery and re-entry into the community unnecessarily difficult for those with drug convictions, which in turn contributes to repeat offenses, creating a vicious cycle of poverty and criminal convictions.
The campaign has been met with open arms by some members of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a non-profit organization made up of former and current corrections officials, judges, prosecutors, and police officers committed to improving the criminal justice system.
Evan Douglas, a retired D.C. patrol officer and member of the LEAP, has expressed his unwavering support for the D.C. DPRA. He cited that, after witnessing firsthand all the ills brought about by tough-on-crime policies and a criminal justice system that prioritizes punishment, “the only way forward” is through decriminalization, drug education, implementation of public health interventions and harm control, and record sealing.
Members of the public in D.C. (District of Columbia) have also expressed great support for drug policy reform, according to a survey conducted by FM3 Research. The poll shows that 83% of the participants favor the decriminalization of drugs, with 65% strongly backing far-reaching drug policy reform.
It is evident that a criminalized approach to the so-called war on drugs creates a system that is rigged against those who are already marginalized. It is time for lawmakers in D.C. to enact a more sensible and humane drug policy that does not condemn offenders to lifelong consequences, as proposed by the DecrimPovertyDC campaign.