The House Demands Congress Say Sorry for the War on Drugs

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) Twitter Account

By Angela Underwood

On Dec. 6 Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) filed a House resolution demanding Congress apologize for the War on Drugs.

What was once former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s brand in the 1980s has now become the target of discord among lawmakers across the U.S., as well as leading advocacy groups like the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). Communications Director Morgan Fox said like Coleman, the NCIA believes the harms caused by the War on Drugs, and the racially and economically disparate ways in which it has been enforced, have been obvious for a long time.

“Luckily people in positions of power are starting to recognize this policy and human rights disaster for what it is and are starting to consider ways to reverse some of that damage,” Fox said.

Since Coleman brought forth the same apology-seeking legislation last year in June of 2018, the Garden State representative has written up the most recent resolution, posting three points to Twitter:

“1. End the War on Drugs
 2. Apologize to the countless victims and seek restorative justice
 3. Reorient our approach to view drug use as a health issue and not a criminal issue,” Coleman tweeted.

Fox believes the pending Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking (SAFE) and Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Acts on Capitol Hill show that “this has been the most supportive Congress on record for sensible cannabis policy reform.”

She said it’s due to several factors.

“First, public opinion in support of making cannabis legal has never been stronger, and politicians are starting to catch up with the people on this issue, in addition to seeing the potential damage to their careers that supporting failed drug war tactics could do,” she said.

Second, there is greater recognition of the racially disparate harms caused by prohibition, which has been making that subject more central to the cannabis policy discussion, including the debate around both the SAFE Banking Act and the More Act, according to Fox.

“Third, these bills had broad coalitions supporting them beyond the traditional drug policy reformers,” she said. “This is an issue whose time has come.”

And the NCIA has been working on it since 2010.

“Our dedicated in-house lobbying team has been working with Congress to move the needle on this issue, culminating in the historic victories of the current legislative session,” Fox said.

And the Washington-based group does not stop there, in addition to supporting bills such as the SAFE Banking Act, MORE Act, Marijuana Justice Act, and Rep. Barbara Lee’s RESPECT Resolution, NCIA provides scholarship programs for individuals from marginalized communities to participate in national and regional trade shows, and provides financial support for efforts to promote fairness in the cannabis industry.

“We recently worked with Rep. Lee and the Minority Cannabis Business Association to develop a set of policy recommendations based on her resolution that we distributed to Congress and urged  our members to support,” Fox said.

Until the acts become law, Coleman and 20 co-sponsors of the resolution want to hear two words.

Fox said while a symbolic apology would likely help spur further reforms and may make up for some of the psychological trauma experienced by impacted communities, she thinks we need actions over words.

“We certainly support this bill and the spirit in which it is offered, but a real apology, at least as it relates to cannabis, would include descheduling, providing funds for community reinvestment and state-level expungement and training programs, and lessening the financial burdens placed on the cannabis industry so that small and minority-owned businesses can thrive in the legal market,” Fox said.

Like Coleman, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus, the NCIA will continue to fight for cannabis laws to be changed.

“Through continued lobbying on behalf of this bill and others that address fairness and opportunity, we are confident that we will see this or some similar form of descheduling bill that includes criminal and social justice provisions be approved in Congress in the coming years.” Fox said.

She did add one thing.

“This is definitely a tough battle though,” Fox said.