NJ Rep. Wants to End Penalties for All Illegal Drug Possession
A New Jersey congresswoman is proposing the elimination of all federal penalties for the possession of any illegal drug, including cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl.
Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman introduced her legislation to coincide with the 50 year anniversary of President Richard Nixon announcing a "war on drugs."
Watson Coleman calls it a half century of failed policy. The congresswoman's bill would shift regulatory authority of illegal drugs from the Justice Department to the Department of Health and Human services. Instead of punitive measures for drug possession, the legislation would move toward a health based model with the focus on intervention and treatment.
"The war on drugs has destroyed the lives of countless Americans and their families," Watson Coleman said in a news release. She noted the impact has been disproportionate on African-American, Hispanic and low-income individuals. Her legislation would not only decriminalize all illegal drugs, it would expunge the records of existing offenders and prohibit the denial of employment or termination based on a criminal history for drug possession.
Money currently allocated in the federal budget to fight drug possession crimes would be redirected to provide greater access to drug treatment.
The legislation would further prohibit drug testing to receive federal public assistance and would prevent individuals from being denied immigration status due to personal drug use.
Individual states would still be permitted to enact their own drug laws, but would be encouraged to enact similar reforms on a state level. Watson Coleman proposed withholding federal funding to states that refuse to relax their illegal drug policy and expand treatment. New Jersey has been a leader in providing early intervention and treatment through expanded drug courts. Non-violent offenders can be redirected to treatment instead of incarceration.
Republicans are already lining up against the idea. New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith told NJ.com he believes laws against possession of illegal drugs act as a deterrent. "Punitive measures against those kinds of drugs will save lives," Smith said.