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Chairman Nadler Statement for Subcommittee Hearing on "Controlled Substances: Federal Policies and Enforcement"

Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks during a Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on "Controlled Substances: Federal Policies and Enforcement": 

"I would like to thank Chairwoman Jackson Lee for holding this important hearing today.  Drug addiction is a serious problem in our communities.  The current pandemic has furthered worsened the tragic impact of overdoses as so many Americans continue to struggle through this isolating and stressful crisis.  It is time for us to act quickly to advance smart, effective solutions at the federal, state, and local level. 

"This Congress, we need to continue our committee’s work to take steps to 'right the wrongs' from the failed drug war.  As we have all seen, that failure has been both exorbitantly expensive and frequently counterproductive, producing staggering incarceration rates for drug offenses and immeasurable harm to families, especially those coming from low-income or minority communities. 

"As our witnesses will highlight today, too many people are serving unjustly lengthy prison sentences as a result of laws that were enacted decades ago imposing mandatory minimum sentences.  That approach was wrong then—and it continues to be wrong—disparately impacting minority communities, while fueling mass incarceration. 

"Mandatory minimum penalties are unwise, unjust, and unfair.  The status quo is unacceptable and we need to take a hard look at reforming these penalties.  

"We can tackle these problems and set a new course. For example, I was pleased to work with my colleagues in passing the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, at the end of last Congress on a bipartisan basis.

"For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health.  Whatever one’s views are on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, the use of arrests, prosecution, and incarceration at the federal level has been both costly and biased.  

"I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake, with serious consequences, particularly for minority communities.  

"Thousands of individuals—overwhelmingly people of color—have been subjected by the federal government, to unjust and lengthy prison sentences for marijuana offenses.  This needs to stop.

"That is why I will be reintroducing the MORE Act to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and to provide restorative justice for communities that have been disproportionally impacted by the War on Drugs. 

"We also need to learn lessons from programs and alternatives that have been successfully pursued at the state and local level, not just with marijuana but with other drugs as well.  For instance, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Programs, known as LEAD, allow law enforcement to divert appropriate arrestees from criminal court, and instead to provide treatment and other services that address addiction and reduce recidivism.  

"Developed and initially implemented in Seattle, the LEAD approach is now being used with success in other areas.  We should support these efforts, as well as other innovative approaches at the local level, such as medication assisted treatment, supervised injection facilities, expanding the availability of overdose reversal drugs, and better education of doctors and the public about the proper prescription and use of opioids as pain medication. 

"We will not be able to arrest and incarcerate our way out of a drug abuse crisis that has many causes.  Instead, we must support the development and implementation of a variety of solutions as we consider our contribution to addressing this crisis.  Additional reform is long overdue.

"I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today and I hope that we can continue to find bicameral and bipartisan support for our legislative proposals.  Thank you, and I yield back the balance of my time."
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