Council of the District of Columbia Approves Harsh New Drug Laws Aimed at Young People

Press Release December 18, 2012
Media Contact

Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Grant Smith 202-421-5031</p>

Yesterday, the Council of the District of Columbia approved legislation that would subject people to juvenile detention or jail for up to six months for simple possession of certain synthetic drugs. People in their teens and twenties are more likely to possess synthetic drugs than older adults. Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-Chairman of the D.C. Council and Committee on the Judiciary) sponsored the Omnibus Criminal Code Amendments Act of 2012 (Bill 19-645), and said the bill responded to the use of synthetic drugs by young people and replicated the criminalization of certain synthetic drugs by Congress earlier this year. The Drug Policy Alliance urges Mayor Vincent C. Gray to veto this legislation.

"This legislation would subject more D.C. residents to the criminal justice system and saddle them with a criminal record. By agreeing to this legislation, Councilmembers ignored decades of failed drug war policies in D.C., the impact of the drug war on young people and the health of people who use drugs,” said Grant Smith, federal policy coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance. “If the primary concern among Councilmembers is that young people have easy access to synthetic drugs, D.C. should impose market regulations that include age restrictions on sales, and punish retailers who do not comply.”

In a letter provided to Councilmembers ahead of yesterday’s vote, community stakeholders cautioned that “Americans and a growing number of state and federal lawmakers are actively seeking a new approach that emphasizes decriminalization and a public health approach to problematic drug use.” The letter stated that “the criminalization of people who use drugs contributes to stigma, discrimination and isolation that often prevent people from seeking and receiving the help they need…the government should … be providing drug treatment on demand to people who need it, rather than pass laws subjecting more residents to a criminal record.” The letter was signed by 100 Fathers, American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, Different Avenues, DC Fatherhood Coalition, DC Prevention Center Wards 5 & 6, Drug Policy Alliance, HIPS, Housing Works, Men on the Move, National Action Network – Washington, DC Chapter, O.U.T.L.E.T – Opening Up To Let Everyone Thrive, Prison Policy Initiative, Promising Futures, and START at Westminster.

Yesterday’s vote on Councilmember Mendelson’s bill to criminalize possession of certain synthetic drugs comes just weeks after the Council of the District of Columbia passed Councilmember Mendelson’s Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act of 2012 (B19-0754) to encourage people to seek help for someone experiencing a drug overdose without fear of arrest. A coalition comprised of students, community providers, parents and advocates supported the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act of 2012, which was signed by Mayor Gray earlier this month. 

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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