Colorado lawmakers are wrong to consider repealing HB 1263 – the law that makes small drug possession a misdemeanor. While the hearts of Colorado lawmakers may be in the right place, the evidence clearly shows that tougher sentences for fentanyl won’t help curb the overdose epidemic.
Drug laws introduced by President Nixon in the 1970s and amplified in the 1980s by President Reagan have been shown to have failed to reduce overdoses and minimize the availability or demand for drugs . Since its inception, the war on drugs has done very little to make our country any safer.
The United States’ disastrous drug policy has cemented a thriving worldwide black market for illicit drugs. These policies have given us the mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders and spawned the rapid expansion of the for-profit prison industry.
Locking non-violent humans in cages has become quite a lucrative business model.
Many people who use and sell opioids to support their habit are unaware that their heroin contains fentanyl. Involuntary possession could lead to someone serving 5-10 years behind bars under the law’s proposed rebrand. These tough sentencing guidelines will not prevent addicts from obtaining or distributing fentanyl.
These policies continue to burden taxpayers and our criminal justice system as a whole. It may be time to completely rethink our domestic drug policy in the United States.
Ron Paul, a former Texas congressman and three-time presidential candidate, once said, “We can’t even keep drugs out of prison, so what’s the point of turning our whole society into jail ?”
Prison is not an environment conducive to recovery from addiction. I should know. Nearly ten years ago, I spent time in county jail for drug possession while battling an opioid addiction that nearly cost me everything and everyone I love.
As I now approach my ninth year of sobriety, I feel so lucky to be able to dedicate my time and dedicate my voice to removing the stigma around drug use and implementing a fairer society.
The five people who died of fentanyl overdoses in Commerce City this week may have been unknown to many, but in an instant they could be our sons, daughters, husband, wife, pastor, doctor or even a policeman. Addiction does not discriminate against or recognize traditional or exclusive socio-demographics.
Colorado should decide to declare a public health crisis, making any drug possession for personal use a civil offense. We should be investing tens of millions in 21st century drug treatment and diversion programs, not amped up police tactics.
We should move away from abstinence-only approaches when educating young people about the dangers of drugs. We should have public forums for people like me to share their stories of addiction and recovery. We should tear down the destructive stigmas surrounding drug use and uplift those trapped in the vicious cycle.
It is our responsibility as a society to foster an environment where people can recover effectively. We must show compassion and appeal to people’s humanity in the fight against this epidemic.
When our community suffers, we all suffer.
Resurrecting the heartbeat of the golden years of the drug war is counterproductive. Our attempt to reverse Colorado’s progress on drug laws is based on fear, not rooted in logic. It will only plunge America further into the consuming void of protracted tragedy and overdose.
Through an honest examination of our history, it is clear that we need to move forward, not backward, in our approach to addressing the drug and overdose epidemic.
— John Padora is a drug recovery advocate and political activist who lives in Severance.