House Bill Examines Racist Drug War

By Tom Angell | February 15, 2017

The war on drugs has harmed the lives of millions of Americans in communities across the country, but there’s no question that its impact has been felt hardest by people of color.

A new bill introduced in Congress seeks to begin remedying that.

Sponsored by Congressman Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat, the legislation would create a commission to study the effects that mass incarceration and forced prison labor have had on African Americans and shed light on the extent to which governments and private corporations have supported and benefited from such policies.

Among other things, the commission would be tasked with answering whether the federal government should “offer a formal apology on behalf of the people of the United States to the African-American victims of the ‘War on Drugs’ and their descendants” and whether “any form of compensation to the victims of the ‘War on Drugs’ and their descendants is warranted.”

Stephanie Gadlin, a spokeswoman for Rush, told MassRoots in an email:

“The only vote the congressman regrets during his career is the one in favor of the Crime Bill. At the time no one could foresee the massive devastation of individuals, families and communities swept up in a so-called War on Drugs. State and federal prisons benefited from the free labor from the lives of mostly black and brown people, many of whom were poor,  first-time, non-violent offenders, and an entire cottage industry of widespread suffering came as a result of it. House Resolution 1055 seeks to remedy some of the wrongs by examining the role corporations played in the development of the prison industrial complex, investigating the impact of this policy on communities and developing recommendations of equitable remedy.”

Numerous studies have found that despite virtually identical use rates across races, people of color are much more likely to be arrested, convicted and incarcerated for marijuana and other drug crimes.

“As a society we are collectively complicit in the disastrous ‘war on drugs’ that has been waged against black communities for the past fifty or so years,” Shaleen Title, a board member of Minority Cannabis Business Association and a partner at the inclusion-focused recruiting firm THC Staffing Group, told MassRoots in an interview.

“Providing compensation to victims is a natural consequence,” she said. “This bill provides a blueprint for how to approach the complicated questions of amount and form of such compensation. At the state level, marijuana bills should be addressing this question as well.”

If the legislation is enacted, the 15-member “Commission to Study Family Reconstruction Proposals for African-Americans Unjustly Impacted by the ‘War on Drugs'” would be appointed by the President Trump and Congressional leadership, and would have one year to issue a report with its findings. It would be appropriated $10 million to conduct its work.

The text of Rush’s bill, filed in the House on Tuesday, isn’t yet online but his office sent MassRoots the language.

Rush introduced similar legislation late last year just before the prior session of Congress concluded, though it did not receive a hearing or vote, and no other members signed on as cosponsors.

Tom Angell

Tom Angell is a senior political correspondent for MassRoots. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and is editor of the daily Marijuana Moment newsletter.

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