#DecrimPovertyDC’s bill proposal would amend the District of Columbia criminal statutes to reduce criminalization, address life-long consequences of drug convictions, and facilitate access to treatment and supportive services.
District of Columbia Drug Policy Reform Act of 2021
Decriminalization and Enhancing Connections to Services:
Possession of a quantity of controlled substances consistent with personal use would be decriminalized.
- Possession or use of a quantity of controlled substances in an amount no greater than a benchmark established by a new independent Commission on Substance Use, Health and Safety would no longer be subject to any criminal or civil penalties.
- Benchmark amounts would be determined by a body established by the legislation (the “Commission on Substance Use, Health, and Safety”) composed of people who use drugs and experts in substance use, harm reduction, substance use disorder treatment, and criminal-legal system reform.
- Health Needs Screening: Individuals alleged to be in possession of quantities equal to or below the benchmark amount would be issued a notice providing them with information to access a voluntary health needs screening.
- Individual Health Needs Plans: If, after the completion of the assessment, the individual indicates a desire to address some or all of the identified needs, a case manager will assist the client in designing an Individual Health Needs Plan.
- Simple possession of a quantity of controlled substances above the benchmark amount would be reduced to a civil violation subject to up to a $50 fine, which will be waived and dismissed if the person completes a health needs screening.
Reduce Reincarceration, Collateral Consequences, and Civil Rights
Violations Probation and Parole: Prohibits the imposition of any sanction on an individual serving a period of probation, parole or supervised release for decriminalized personal-use drug possession or a positive drug test.
- Sanctuary Protections: Prevents disclosure to federal immigration agencies of any information regarding a stop, search or health needs screening notice issued to an individual for an offense relating to drug possession.
- Searches and Seizures Targeting Personal Use Drug Possession and Use: Establishes that persons shall not be seized or searched without a warrant solely upon suspicion of one personal use of a controlled substance or intoxication resulting from use of a controlled substance.
Strengthening the Harm Reduction Safety Net
Violations Probation and Parole: Prohibits the imposition of any sanction on an individual serving a period of probation, parole or supervised release for decriminalized personal-use drug possession, or for a positive drug test.
- Harm Reduction Center(s): Requires the Mayor to establish at least one facility, open every day around the clock, where individuals can obtain harm reduction services such as sterile equipment and information for safer use of substances, fentanyl test strips, referrals to drug treatment providers, primary health care and other social services. The legislation would allow for the operation of an overdose prevention (safe-consumption) program within the harm reduction center.
- Overdose Prevention Programs: Authorizes private or public entities to operate overdose prevention programs, which allow people to consume pre-obtained drugs within the facility under the supervision of trained staff and are designed to reduce the health and public order issues often associated with public drug consumption.
- Crisis Response System: Requires the Department of Health to establish a comprehensive mental health and substance use crisis response system for the assessment and dispatch of trained, non-law enforcement mobile teams to provide de-escalation, stabilization, and other necessary support for individuals in crisis.
- Drug Checking Services: Requires the Department of Health to provide drug checking services where people can determine whether a drug contains contaminants, toxic substances, or hazardous compounds
- Grants for Health Services: Requires the establishment of a grant program to fund community-based organizations to expand a variety of health services for people who use drugs, including harm reduction services, substance use disorder treatment, peer support, and housing throughout the District.
- Drug Education: Requires drug education programs operated by the District to be evidence-based and centered on harm reduction. Prohibits the Metropolitan Police Department from operating drug education programs and transfers any existing programs to the Department of Behavioral Health. Repairing Harms of Past Criminalization.
Repairing Harms of Past Criminalization
- Decarceration: Requires that the Court identify and vacate convictions for offenses decriminalized by this bill.
- Record Relief: Requires that the Court identify and seal convictions for offenses decriminalized by this bill or by the repeal of statute last year that decriminalized possession of drug paraphernalia. Existing law allows for individuals convicted of decriminalized offenses to make a motion for record sealing, but the new provision would require the Court to proactively create a process for sealing such records that would require no action by the individual.
Reducing Criminalization in Drug Cases
- Limitation on Charging Possession with Intent to Distribute: The bill would protect against the overcharging cases involving drug possession as “possession with intent to distribute” (PWID). The bill would also require prosecutors to consider substance use disorder and mental health conditions of a person suspected of possessing with intent to distribute for making charging decisions.
- Expanding Access to Probation before Judgment: The bill would remove the limitation on pre-sentencing diversion (probation before judgment) that restricts the option to only “first-time offenses.”
Improving Public Access to Information
- Data Collection and Dissemination: Requires the city to track and regularly publish statistics regarding drug stops, arrests, and issuances of behavioral health screening notices issued, and information regarding substances allegedly possessed in relation to arrests.
- Study of Cost Savings: Would require the Department of Finance to conduct a study to identify the cost savings that would be achieved by reducing criminalization of qualifying drug use and possession that could be reinvested into expansion of harm reduction and treatment services to better protect the health and safety of individuals who use drugs and the community at large.