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Drug Policy Alliance
New York, NY (Headquarters)
givvers: tweaks

The Drug Policy Alliance Network (DPA Network) is the nation’s leading organization promoting policy alternatives to the drug war that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

Our supporters are individuals who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. Together we advance policies that reduce the harms of both drug misuse and drug prohibition, and seek solutions that promote safety while upholding the sovereignty of individuals over their own minds and bodies. We work to ensure that our nation’s drug policies no longer arrest, incarcerate, disenfranchise and otherwise harm millions of nonviolent people. Our work inevitably requires us to address the disproportionate impact of the drug war on people of color.

Drug Policy Alliance is a 501(c)3 organization.

Latest News

Today, in a unanimous vote, the Colorado Senate approved legislation mandating that school districts establish a policy to ensure that young medical marijuana patients can take their medicine on school grounds. As a show of respect, the Senate directed their ‘yes’ votes to families and proponents in the gallery.  Last week the Senate Education Committee passed the legislation via a rare standing vote.

HB-1373 requires school districts to establish policies that allow use of non-smokeable medical marijuana for young patients in Colorado public schools.  The guidelines in the law do not require school employees to administer the marijuana-infused products but suggests parents or primary caregivers on campus administer the medicine.

The legislation, known as “Jack’s Law”, concerns 15-year-old Jack Splitt.  Jack suffers from spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and dystonia.  Jack and his mother Stacey Linn successfully fought last year to allow school districts to establish medical marijuana policy – but after none did, more legislation was immediately required to get things moving. School districts hesitated after last year’s law, titled Jack’s Amendment, stoked unfounded fears regarding federal funding. The current legislation ensures school districts can opt out of the policy if they can show an actual loss of federal funding, even though that’s unlikely to occur.

“We don’t have time to wait for school districts to do the right thing,” said Stacey Linn, mother of Jack Splitt and executive director of CannAbility Foundation. “Jack and many other children need their medicine to get through the day and learn, and it’s imperative that those responsible for teaching them show compassion and understanding.”

“The medical benefits of marijuana are undeniable at this point,” said Art Way, state director, Colorado, for the Drug Policy Alliance. “We applaud the sponsors of this legislation for saying enough is enough and establishing a baseline of support for the nearly 300 children in our state who need marijuana infused products to help them function while in school.”

HB 1373 now heads to Gov. Hickenlooper, who is expected to sign the bill. 

Author:
Date Published: May 3, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Over two-thirds of the Maine legislature voted today to override two harm reduction bills vetoed by Governor Paul LePage -- LD1552, a bill that would provide public funding for syringe exchange and expand syringe access, and LD 1547, legislation to allow access to the life-saving overdose antidote naloxone without a prescription.

LePage’s veto remarks of LD 1547, “naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose”, resulted in dozens of op-eds and articles within the last week blasting the governor’s comments and supporting increased access to naloxone via passage of LD 1547.

At a recent town meeting in Damariscotta Wednesday night, Governor LePage defended his veto saying, “There comes a point in time where who is responsible for who. You know a shot of Narcan is $70 and the person who gets it doesn’t have to pay it back.”

“Governor LePage may think a person’s life is worth less than $70, but saving lives is priceless and we are going to continue to advocate for laws that are based in science, compassion and human rights,” said Jerónimo Saldaña, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Today, the Maine legislature sent a resounding message to Governor LePage and every other elected official in the nation that promoting failed drug war policies will not be tolerated.”

“Maine, like every other state in the nation is seeing the tragedy of the nation’s prescription opioid and heroin epidemic unfold before our eyes literally on a daily basis” wrote the President of the American Medical Association to Maine lawmakers in support of LD 1547 earlier this week. “In response, the medical community and many others joined together to support new legislation that will have a direct effect on the supply of prescription opioids in Maine. The Legislature also passed LD 1547 to address an equally important need – that is, help save lives from overdose.”

"Naloxone saves lives. In order to obtain treatment, a person must remain alive. Addiction is a treatable condition and not a moral failing." says Chris Poulos, a native Mainer in long term recovery who overcame addiction and federal incarceration to attend law school and work on criminal justice policy reform at the local, state, and federal levels.

Maine pharmacists will now be able to provide naloxone to friends and family members of people suffering from heroin addiction without a prescription. Over thirty states from all around the country including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin provide access to naloxone without a prescription.  Since 1996, naloxone has been instrumental in saving at least tens of thousands of lives from overdose.

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Author:
Date Published: April 29, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

The Maine legislature has enacted two bills this session that will greatly advance treating drug use as a public health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. Earlier today, LD 1554 passed into law without the governor’s signature, and will make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Under the law, possession of less than 200 mg of heroin will be no longer be charged as a felony.

According to a survey conducted earlier this year by the Drug Policy Alliance, a substantial majority of Maine voters support decriminalizing drug possession. Sixty-four percent of voters in Maine think people caught with a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use should be evaluated for drug issues and offered treatment; they shouldn’t be arrested or face jail time. Seventy-one percent say substantially reducing incarceration is somewhat or very important to them.

National polls show that more than three-fourths of Americans believe the war on drugs has failed. In 2014 Californians voted overwhelmingly for Proposition 47, a ballot measure reducing penalties for several nonviolent offenses that included a substantial reduction in penalties for drug possession.

Earlier this month, both chambers of the Maine legislature resoundingly approved legislation that would fund Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs. Pioneered in Seattle, LEAD allows police to divert individuals who commit low-level drug offenses to harm reduction based case management services instead of jail. An independent evaluation found LEAD reduces the likelihood of reoffending by nearly 60 percent compared to a control group that went through the criminal justice system “as usual.” Santa Fe, New Mexico began implementing LEAD in 2014 and Albany, New York began last year.

The bill will also help fund peer support addiction recovery centers. The measure makes grants available for substance abuse assistance pilot programs, including those run by local governments, to divert low-level offenders into community-based treatment and support services with the aim to reduce pre-trial costs to jails.

Support for ending the criminalization of drug use and possession is gaining traction. More than 1.5 million drug arrests are made every year in the U.S. – the overwhelming majority for possession only. High-profile endorsers of not arresting, let alone jailing, people for possessing small amounts of any drug include the American Public Health Association, the World Health Organization, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the Organization of American States, the National Latino Congreso, the NAACP, the International Red Cross, and Human Rights Watch.

“The failed war on drugs has devastated our communities and been responsible for countless deaths. It is encouraging to see Maine join the many other states and municipalities who are implementing sensible solutions rooted in science and human rights to deal  with problematic drug use,” says Jerónimo Saldaña, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. “We cannot incarcerate our way to healthier, safer communities.”

Author:
Date Published: April 28, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Last week, world leaders gathered in New York for the most significant international drug policy meeting in almost two decades, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS). The last UNGASS took place in 1998 under the unrealistic slogan “A drug free world, we can do it!”.

Much has changed since then. In the last few years, there has been unprecedented momentum for drug policy reform. Public opinion is shifting to support new approaches; former and current world leaders are calling for reform; and cities, states and countries across the world are implementing harm reduction initiatives, criminal justice reforms, and marijuana regulation.

But by and large, nations gathered at the UN last week missed a key opportunity to critically reflect on the failures of decades-long drug prohibition, and to seek better ways forward.

When the presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala called for this UNGASS in 2012, they did so because their countries – and their region – were suffering a staggering human toll of the global drug war. Since 2012, an informal coalition of countries – largely from Latin America, Europe and the Caribbean – formed to ensure an open and inclusive debate at UNGASS. They worked hard to push for discussions that put all options on the table but countries that remain wedded to punitive approaches, such as Russia and states that still enact the death penalty for drug offenses, pushed back.

They fought over the language in the UNGASS outcome document, drafted in March at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. This outcome document, incidentally, was approved by the General Assembly the morning the UNGASS debates began on April 19, in a baffling move that eliminated even the pretense that significant debate would follow for the rest of the session. And though there were some small victories in the outcome document, such as references to human rights, access to essential medicines and harm reduction initiatives (without explicitly using the phrase “harm reduction”), but on the whole, the document is business as usual, with no mention of needed reforms such as decriminalization, the abolition of the death penalty, or regulation of illicit substances.

But despite the UN’s inertia, there was a strong chorus of countries that used their time at the podium to call for progressive changes, including Canada, Jamaica, Uruguay, Colombia, Mexico, Czech Republic, and New Zealand. And, most notable of all, there emerged an unprecedented mobilization of our reform movement, a diverse, broad, and powerful coalition of individuals and organizations from around the world, united under the banner, Stop the Harm.

We staged rallies across the city; held events on race and the drug war at Columbia University and on faith and drug policy at the Abyssinian Baptist Church; took over a 16,000 square-foot space on Park Ave and installed a 3-day pop-up Museum of Drug Policy; we had performers in prohibition-era attire hand UN attendees copies of the "Post-Prohibition Times," a newspaper printout of a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging him to set the stage “for real reform of global drug control policy.” This public letter included an unprecedented and impressive range of signatories from Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders to former President Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, businessmen Warren Buffett, George Soros and Richard Branson, actors Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda, Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, singers John Legend and Mary J. Blige, activists Reverend Jesse Jackson, Gloria Steinem and Michelle Alexander, as well as distinguished legislators, cabinet ministers, and former UN officials.

Change is slow to come to the UN. But with citizens across the world pushing for reform, and with countries moving ahead with novel drug policies, sooner or later the UN too will have to change to reflect new realities on the ground, or risk becoming an irrelevant and ignored force in global drug control.

Hannah Hetzer is senior policy manager of the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Hannah Hetzer
Date Published: April 27, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

New York, NY – Following Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement last night that fatal drug overdoses increased by 10% in 2015 – the fifth straight year – advocates applauded new city initiatives to curb the epidemic while renewing their call for supervised injection facilities (SIFs), a public health strategy that has been proven to reduce overdose deaths.

“We’ve seen the evidence and it’s overwhelming,” said NYC Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health. “There simply has never been a fatal overdose at a supervised injection facility anywhere in the world. Not only that, studies consistently show they reduce the number of deaths in the community and connect people to badly needed healthcare.”

SIFs are a harm reduction service that provides a safe, hygienic space in which people may inject pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of health workers. Nearly 100 SIFs exist around the world. They have been rigorously evaluated and shown to steeply reduce overdose deaths, HIV and viral hepatitis infections, and public disorder, and to increase access to drug treatment and other healthcare.

“When I was homeless and injecting heroin under the Manhattan Bridge, having a SIF would have stopped me from becoming infected with HIV and given me the help I needed to become well,” said Shantae Owens, a member of the advocacy organization VOCAL New York and a harm reduction outreach worker on the Lower East Side. “I really appreciate the Mayor’s announcement today, which included smart investments in peer programs, research, and harm reduction services, but we have to go a step further and allow SIFs. We have to stop this needless suffering.”

Some thirty organizations have endorsed the “SIF NYC” campaign, which began in 2015 with a series of public events involving people who inject drugs, healthcare and civil rights advocates, faith communities, and elected officials. Last week the new group, New York Healthcare Professionals for Supervised Injection Facilities, launched a letter of support that has been signed by nearly 70 physicians and nurses so far. Dr. Aaron Fox, an addiction medicine physician from the Bronx, said “We need to do everything we can to counteract this opioid overdose crisis, especially here in the Bronx. As a physician, I know we have effective treatments like methadone and buprenorphine, but I also know that we can do more to prevent overdoses for those who are not in treatment. Community naloxone distribution saves lives. Supervised injection facilities would save lives. Harm reduction saves lives.”

Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, Chair of the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, said, “The new programs and funding announced by the Administration, which include the first significant expansion of lifesaving harm reduction measures in years, represent a monumental change in the way we think about and treat addiction. In light of the growing crisis, we must use every tool available - that's why I am working with a growing coalition of advocates and elected officials statewide on legislation to authorize SIFs in New York.”

Several neighborhoods in the Bronx had the sharpest increases in deaths last year. Jose M. Davila, President & CEO of BOOM!Health, a longstanding Bronx harm reduction organization, said that “the release of the latest New York City overdose mortality data confirms what those of us working in the Bronx have known all along: naloxone access for overdose, although vital, is not nearly enough to counteract the devastating consequences of the criminalization of drug use and substance use disorder. We are committed to working with local and state officials, the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, and our partners in the harm reduction community to expand the life-saving resources available to drug users, including through the creation of supervised injection facilities.”

“At a time when the United Nations is holding a special session on drug policies, the news of an increase in New York City overdose deaths is especially devastating. This week world leaders are acknowledging that our past approaches to drug policy have failed. It is the time for Mayor Bill de Blasio to lead the way in implementing drug policies that can succeed,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York state director at the Drug Policy Alliance. “If we want to save lives, reduce criminalization, and end racial disparities, we need comprehensive, innovative, and forward-thinking approaches like supervised injection facilities. New York City is in a unique position to step up and implement innovative drug policies rooted in science, compassion, and public health as we did with syringe exchanges before.”

For more background on the campaign for supervised injection facilities, visit www.SIFNYC.org.

Author:
Date Published: April 22, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance | VOCAL-NY

In yet another huge victory for marijuana reform, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted today by 21 to 8 to approve an amendment offered by Senator Mikulski (D-MD) to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference by the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Marijuana reforms are repeatedly winning votes in Congress,” said Bill Piper, Senior Director of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Letting states set their own marijuana policies is now a mainstream, bipartisan issue.”

After decades of inactivity on marijuana reform, Congress has moved at lightning pace to advance marijuana reform in recent years. Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to allow Veterans Administration doctors to recommend marijuana. The Committee approved similar amendments last year as well as an amendment to allow state-legalized marijuana businesses to access banks and other financial services. The Mikulski amendment is expected to pass the full Senate as well as the House. Similar amendments were passed by Congress last year and the year before.

Currently, 24 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have legalized marijuana for a variety of medicinal purposes. Four states – Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington – have legalized marijuana like alcohol. In 2016, voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada are expected to decide ballot initiatives on the question of legalizing marijuana for adult use. A slew of recent polls show that significant majorities of both Democrats and Republicans strongly believe that the decision of whether and how to regulate marijuana should be left up to the states.

“This is a very clear message to not just federal law enforcement but state law enforcement as well,” said Piper. “It’s time to end the war on drugs and start treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue.”

Author:
Date Published: April 21, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Maine Governor Paul LePage vetoed legislation this week that would have allowed access to the life-saving overdose antidote naloxone without a prescription. Explaining his veto,  LePage wrote “naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.” Every state in the nation, with the exception of five, have either passed or are in the process of passing naloxone access legislation, and thirty states currently allow for sales of the overdose antidote without a prescription.

“In essence, Governor LePage is saying that saving lives perpetuates addiction and that it is better to let people die” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Family and friends are more often than not the first to come into contact with a person experiencing an overdose and it is imperative that they have access to naloxone. Governor LePage continues to exacerbate the overdose crisis when he could be working on solutions proven to save lives.”

Governor LePage continues to stir controversy with his stances on drug policy. During a town hall meeting earlier this year, LePage responded to a question about tackling substance abuse in Maine by saying “these are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty - these types of guys - they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home. He went on to say “incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road.”

“There is no place for bigotry and fear in crafting a sensible response to a widespread public health concern,” says Sharda Sekaran, Communications Director at the Drug Policy Alliance. “What we need are humane, intelligent and visionary leaders, not the antiquated racist views that got us in this mess in the first place.”

LD 1547, the naloxone bill vetoed by LePage, has received strong support from those in the health and law enforcement community. The L.D. 1547 and all other vetoed legislation will be reconsidered by the Legislature on April 29. Two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate are required to override a gubernatorial veto.

"Naloxone saves lives. In order to obtain treatment, a person must remain alive. Addiction is a treatable condition and not a moral failing. I urge the Maine Legislature to override this veto and expand access to Naloxone" says Chris Poulos, a native Mainer in long term recovery who overcame addiction and federal incarceration to attend law school and work on criminal justice policy reform at the local, state, and federal levels.

Author:
Date Published: April 21, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

More than 1,000 international leaders – prominent in the fields of politics, health, academics and entertainment – have publicly called for a “new global response to drugs,” in advance of an upcoming United Nations session.

The UN is currently holding a General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs, at its New York headquarters. The three-day session involves a meeting of the UN's member states, in which global drug policy priorities are being discussed and, hopefully, reassessed.

The UN has influenced international drug policy for over half a century. In 1961, it instituted the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs – formalizing a list of substances (including marijuana) to be classified as internationally illegal. Unlike typical UN documents – which make use of objective and factual statements – the Single Convention includes biased and subjective phrasing, including the description of drugs as a “serious evil”. This 55 year-old convention remains the legal backbone of modern drug policy, which is considerably contributory to mass incarceration in the United States, as well as violence, corruption, and human rights abuses in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

To push for reform at the UNGASS – the first concerning drugs since 1998 – the Drug Policy Alliance has published a public letter to Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the UN. The letter decries the international status quo of criminalizing drug use, advocates the introduction of evidence-based harm-reduction programs, and calls on Mr. Ban to show leadership in the changing international consensus on drugs.

A plethora of progressive politicians signed our letter, including Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Cory Booker, and former Senator Hillary Clinton. While support was also garnered from some more surprising sources; former president Jimmy Carter, singers Mary J. Blige and John Legend, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, and businessmen Warren Buffett and Richard Branson. After resolute support from our foreign allies, a host of major international leaders signed the letter too, including former presidents of Chile, Colombia, Greece, Haiti, Mexico, Poland, and Switzerland.

To publicize the letter, we organized over 60 actors – dressed in the attire of the alcohol prohibition era – to distribute hundreds of copies of the Post-Prohibition Times outside the UN. The one-off publication included the full text of the letter, and listed the names of all those who had signed. The striking message, as well as the prominence and magnitude of the signers, may have ruffled some feathers in the UN – as their response was wholly unprecedented; the UN, seemingly, added our publication to its list of prohibited items.

UNGASS attendee, Natalie Lyla Ginsberg described how UN security began confiscating copies of the newspaper from everyone entering the building; “I went back to ask the security guard why, and he said […] he was just following orders”. This attempt to silence or snub dissent is, unfortunately, reflective of the UNGASS as a whole.


The potential for the UNGASS to directly change international or individual countries’ drug policies is minimal. Support for harm reduction measures and the end of possession criminalization is growing in parts of Europe and Latin America. However, adherence to the status quo of prohibition – and even support for intensifying the drug war – remain strong across the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, with rare exceptions.

This lack of international agreement is the main obstacle to progress at the UN. For example, Portugal – which decriminalized the possession of all drugs in 2001 – stands in stark contrast with Indonesia – which executed eight drug offenders last year by tying them to poles and shooting them with assault rifles.

The Drug Policy Alliance, and many other advocates of reform, view the UNGASS as an opportunity to reignite the debate – and increase international awareness of the millions of lives, and billions of dollars, being needlessly lost due to the war on drugs. The professional and regional diversity of our letter’s signatories is indicative of the growing consensus that, as our letter describes, "Humankind cannot afford a 21st century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century’s."

The signatories of our letter join us in hoping that countries’ delegates to the UN will bring an open mind to the session, so that future generations won’t be subject to the abuse and repression that continue to blight many of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized.

Avinash Tharoor is a communications consultant with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Avinash Tharoor
Date Published: April 20, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance