Finally Democrats have discovered the Overton Window (OW) and are using it properly. While the GOP has long used it (using the Luntzian dystopia “Death to drug dealers,” and “Cannabis has no medical value, FDA says so”), Dems have not tried to shift the OW until now, with the Drug Policy Reform Act (DRPA) decriminalizing all controlled substances at the federal level.
Some were so bad at the OW that even a Congressman from ultra-liberal Boulder proposed putting marijuana into the BATF for regulation, and another liberal Representative from Oregon wanted to tax workers and businesses like tobacco. Both “friends of Cannabis” actually wanted the excise tax at 50%, whereas the MORE Act pegs it at 5%; that’s how badly Dems mismanaged the OW.
Ideas that are inside the two policy extremes (inside the OW) are politically viable, those outside are not. Events can shift the Window in the minds of the public and become politically viable quickly, or it might take decades.
How DRPA uses the OW is like this: currently there are a number of marjuana descheduling bills in Congress, including the new and improved MORE Act, a version of which passed last December. Currently in the OW model, that MORE Act defines one extreme of the Window, being the most liberal. With the DRPA they have shifted that left boundary further to the left from the MORE Act. Suddenly, the MORE Act doesn’t look nearly as liberal when viewed against “legalizing all drugs,” like DRPA does. Ironically, DRPA is really not that extreme, at least in the minds of the public: the ACLU released a national poll that found 66% of American voters were in support of removing criminal penalties for all drugs and replacing them with health-centered approaches.
Oregon voters passed a drug decriminalization initiative handily last year, as did a few cities more slated to do so next year. This creates a Constitutional crisis between state decrim policy and federal CSA, just as marijuana legalization does. The more states do it, the more other states will follow. The pernicious persistent venality of Schedule 1 must end, and state-by-state decrim is a great way to force the federal to act while in the meantime saving citizens from a life destroyed by the law.
It’s the little things that can mean a lot, like this. Frank Luntz made this his career, such as by framing laws such as the estate tax as a “Death Tax,” and the like. By framing it thusly he helped ensure its success and provided political cover for politicians from their constituents ever knowing they sold them out. It was as brilliant as it was evil. BTW, George Lakoff is the left’s answer to Luntz, check him out.
And as for those on our side who are fatalistic about these bills and their prospects for success, the simple reason I no longer join you after 49 years of advocacy is that I wish to maintain pressure on those in power to do the right thing, and fatalism removes that pressure. Giving them an energetic or political “out” such as “they’ll never do it” or “it’s impossible” ensures that they’ll never do it and that it’s impossible. Instead, I demand they step up and do what 92% of the public want, the right thing. The man who says it can’t be done and the one who says it can are both right, so I intend to hold “Jailin’ Joe” and “Kamala the Kop” accountable for their past policy failures when it comes to drug laws. Please join me.
From the Drug Policy Alliance on the Drug Policy Reform Act:
Two days before the 50th anniversary of when President Richard Nixon declared the “war on drugs,” Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO) unveiled the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA), alongside the Drug Policy Alliance, which has been a strategic partner on the development of the legislation. The bill would end criminal penalties for drug possession at the federal level, shift the regulatory authority from the Attorney General to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), expunge records and provide for resentencing, and reinvest in alternative health-centered approaches. The bill also eliminates 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.
“Every 23 seconds, a person’s life is ruined for simply possessing drugs. Drug possession remains the most arrested offense in the United States despite the well-known fact that drug criminalization does nothing to help communities, it ruins them. It tears families apart, and causes trauma that can be felt for generations. The drug war has caused mass devastation to Black, Latinx, Indigenous and low-income communities and today we say, ‘Enough is enough!’” said Queen Adesuyi, Policy Manager for the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.
In addition to eliminating criminal penalties for drug possession at the federal level, the bill also incentivizes state and local governments to adopt decriminalization policies by otherwise limiting their eligibility to receive funds in the Byrne and COPS grant programs.
Aside from eliminating criminal penalties for drug possession, the Drug Policy Reform Act:
- Automatically expunges and seals records.
- Provides relief for people currently incarcerated or on supervision for certain drug convictions.
- Shifts the regulatory authority for substances listed under the Controlled Substances Act from the Attorney General to the Secretary of HHS.
- Reinvests funds to support programs that work on expanding access to substance use treatment, support harm reduction services, and reduce the criminalization of individuals who use drugs by supporting the development or expansion of pre-arrest diversion programs.
- Promotes evidence-based drug education.
- Prohibits the denial of employment or termination based upon a criminal history for drug possession.
- Explicitly prohibits drug testing for individuals to receive federal benefits.
- Prevents drug use charges/convictions from being held against an individual in order to receive SNAP/TANF, housing assistance and other federal benefits.
- Prevents individuals in the U.S. from being denied immigration status due to personal drug use.
- Prevents individuals from being denied the right to vote regardless if they have served their sentence or not, and restores voting rights to those who have been impacted in the past.
- Ensures individuals with drug convictions can gain access to drivers’ licenses.
- Prohibits the use of civil asset forfeitures related to personal drug possession cases.
- Charges HHS with establishing a “Commission on Substance Use, Health and Safety,” to determine the benchmark amounts for drug possession and publish an online report on their findings within 180 days. The report will also include recommendations for preventing the prosecution of individuals possessing, distributing or dispensing personal use quantities of each drug.
- Improves research on impact of drug criminalization and enforcement.
- Funds data collection and transparency on all available data related to enforcement of drug laws, including local arrests for drug possession and distribution offenses, possession of drug paraphernalia, public or intoxication, loitering, and all other drug-related violations.
For a summary of the DPRA from DPA, click here: https://drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/dpra_summary.pdf