We're seeing two bad "Drug Free Zone" bills moving through the legislature.
Is it 1971 Again Already?
UPDATE: Both of these bill died before they could be passed into law!
Two years ago, the state of Utah made a conscientious effort to reduce the number of areas designated as "Drug Free Zones." People who are caught committing drug crimes in these "zones" can be charged with a penalty enhancement, often forcing them to serve time in prison for non-violent drug offenses. We were proud to support HB348, the reform legislation that reduced Utah's "Drug Free Zones," which at the time were so numerous, it was almost impossible to commit a crime anywhere that was NOT a Drug Free Zone! Such enhancements are one of the many reasons why the failed Drug War has contributed so tragically to our current era of mass incarceration.
This bills usually come from good intentions, aimed at legitimately sad scenarios. Case(s) in point: HB365, "Homeless Resource Center Zone Amendments," sponsored by Rep. Joel Briscoe (D-Salt Lake) and HB360, "Public Transit Amendments," sponsored by Rep. Stephen Handy (R-Layton). HB365 would create drug penalty enhancements for drug crimes committed within a certain proximity to a homeless resource center, likely inspired by the issues experienced in the area around The Road Home Shelter in downtown Salt Lake. HB360 would create a similar criminal enhancement for drug crimes committed on or near public transit vehicles and property.
These efforts to curb drug crime near specific locations may be well-intentioned. But we know from years and years of research that THESE PENALTIES ARE NOT EFFECTIVE at reducing drug use, drug abuse or drug-related crime. Rather, they are QUITE effective at increasing length of stay in jail and prison - the very thing that drives the costs and consequences of our failed War on Drugs. Additional, such penalty enhancements almost always disproportionately impact people of color, poor people and people struggling with mental illness (anyone who is less likely to have a comfortable home or discreet place in which to commit their drug crimes."
We are firmly opposed to both of these penalty enhancement proposals, and we hope you will be too. We encourage you to contact your House Representatives at this time, and encourage them to vote NO on HB365 and HB360. We need put an end to the failed Drug War and STOP enacting ineffective penalty enhancements.