Today, October 22, almost 100 leading civil rights organizations, community organizers, and policy groups issued a collective message to congressional leaders averse to the Biden administration’s proposition to permanently classify fentanyl-related substances – FRS – as a Schedule 1 drug. Permanent categorization would worsen racial inequities within the criminal justice system while failing to curb overdoses or promote public safety. The classification of FRS has been around for three years while overdose deaths continue to ascend.
Meanwhile, people of color have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs and the classifications harsh sentencing laws, which punishes FRS around four times greater than fentanyl despite FRS being of equal or lesser potency. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights felt that “By pushing to make this classification permanent, President Biden is ignoring evidence showing that strategies rooted in public-health, not criminalization, are needed to reduce overdoses.” The collective urged Congress to allow the classwide scheduling policy to expire and focus on passing public-health solutions, such as expanding harm reduction and rehabilitation access.
Other contributors to the letter encapsulate the Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, Vera Institute of Justice, The Sentencing Project, and Fair and Just Prosecution. Many of these organizations’ senior leaders and directors had some choice words for the Biden administration and their proposal. Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, was quoted in a press release posted by the group saying, “The overall ‘solution’ captured in the Biden proposal is that of criminalization instead of being public-health oriented.”
She continued, “This is despite the fact that we know the conditions created by criminalization lead to overdose. In fact, the proposal contains zero provisions addressing harm reduction and expanded access to treatment for those who want and need it.” Sakira Cook, the senior director of the justice reform program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said, “After the last several years of national conversation on the deep racial disparities built into American criminal-legal system, it is frustrating that the Biden administration is repeating the mistakes of the past rather than learning from them.” Another signatory spokesperson, Laura Pitter, Deputy Director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch, said, “We all want a solution to the opioid crisis, but more criminalization is not the answer.”
She concluded, “It’s time to treat this urgent situation as the public health problem that it is, and instead of more arrests, provide people with help and treatment that they need.” It’s great to see civil rights groups fighting for racial equality within the criminal justice system to stop detrimental laws such as the Biden administration’s new proposal.