New Proposal Puts Criminalization Before Public Health and Safety, Reinforces Harmful Trump-Era Policies that Disproportionately Impact People of Color, Lead to Mass Incarceration, and Cost Lives
Washington, DC — In response to the recommendations presented to Congress by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration, civil rights and drug policy reform leaders, advocates, and experts including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Drug Policy Alliance issued the following response, attributable to Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance:
“We cannot continue doing the same thing and expect to get different results. Despite the Biden administration’s stated commitment to criminal justice reform and ending racial disparities in the system, the recommendation to permanently schedule fentanyl-related substances echoes the failed drug policies of our past. Today’s proposal is reminiscent of these policies, which led to over policing and enforcement, disproportionately impacted people of color, overcrowded prisons, and cost lives. This proposal is a major step backwards in the fight to dismantle the harms of the past and save lives.
“While we recognize that the administration is taking steps to address issues with mandatory minimum sentences, this proposal will still expose some individuals to harsh penalties and it fails to provide retroactive relief for people currently serving time pursuant to the classwide policy. Our policymakers and leaders have tried a criminalization approach for more than 50 years, yet overdose rates continue to rise. Criminalizing illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances does not make them disappear from our communities. Instead, it creates perverse incentives for manufacturers to continue manufacturing fentanyl-related substances and pushes people who use drugs into unsafe, life-threatening situations.
“This must be about saving lives. Instead of continuing down this path of punishment, it’s time our leaders in Washington get honest about what will prevent further deaths and enact forward-thinking, evidence-based responses rooted in public health. Since today’s recommendations fall short of that and continue to harm the very people the administration is claiming to help, we will continue to fight for measures that actually address the cause of fentanyl-related overdoses and other associated harms.”