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

Bipartisan legislation was introduced in both houses of Congress today that would roll back changes made in the 1980s by Congress to federal civil asset forfeiture laws largely intended to incentivize law enforcement to pursue civil asset forfeitures as part of the rapid escalation of the war on drugs. In the Senate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Angus King (I-ME) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act. In the House, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) introduced an identical version of Sen. Paul’s FAIR Act.

“It’s encouraging to see strong bipartisan support in Congress for rolling back policies that have perpetuated the failed war on drugs and eroded the public’s trust in law enforcement,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Congress has an opportunity to end the perverse incentives that federal laws give police to take innocent people’s property and run,” said Piper. 

Civil asset forfeiture begins when a federal, state or local law enforcement agency seizes property during a traffic stop or other encounter and takes legal action against the property seized from its owner by alleging that the seized property is connected in some way to illegal drugs or other criminal activity. Property owners do not need to be charged or convicted of a crime in order for law enforcement to seize property.

The FAIR Act reforms decades-old federal laws intended to incentivize federal, state and local law enforcement to seize cash, homes, vehicles and other property from citizens. The bill eliminates the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program. For years, advocates have criticized the Department of Justice practice of accepting and processing seized assets from state and local law enforcement agencies through its Equitable Sharing Program, which retains 20 percent of the proceeds from the seizure received from a state or local law enforcement agency and returns up to 80 percent of the proceeds to the state or local law enforcement agency that initiated the seizure. A 2010 Institute for Justice report, Policing for Profit, documented how law enforcement agencies participate in the Equitable Sharing Program in order to bypass state laws that prohibit police departments from keeping the proceeds from civil asset forfeiture or impose a stricter legal standard for seizing property. The Institute for Justice report also found that many law enforcement agencies have come to depend on forfeiture proceeds.

A recent Washington Post investigation has also documented widespread abuse of this practice, including the extent to which the Equitable Sharing Program funnels proceeds to state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as federally-funded anti-drug task forces. Since 2001, the Washington Post found that nearly 62,000 cash seizures totaling more than $2.5 billion have been made without search warrants or indictments through the Equitable Sharing Program, which returned more than $1.7 billion of those seizure proceeds to state and local law enforcement agencies. The Washington Post also found evidence that hundreds of state and local departments and drug task forces rely on seized cash to support their budgets and that race may be a factor in civil asset forfeiture cases.

“For decades police have used civil asset forfeiture to rob innocent people, taking money right out of their wallets -- or even taking their home and their car -- without even charging them with a crime,” said Piper. “Like other drug war programs, civil asset forfeiture is disproportionately used against poor people of color who cannot afford to hire lawyers to get their property back.”

The FAIR Act also addresses concerns that federal law enforcement agencies may be adversely incentivized by seizure proceeds. The bill would require that seizure proceeds are deposited in the federal government’s general fund rather than federal law enforcement accounts that currently receive seizure proceeds. It also increases the federal government's burden of proof in civil forfeiture proceedings.

The introduction of the FAIR Act comes just days after Attorney General Eric Holder issued an order establishing a new Department of Justice policy prohibiting federal agencies from accepting certain civil asset forfeiture assets seized by state and local law enforcement agencies. Holder’s action followed receipt of a letter from key congressional leaders calling on the Attorney General to end the Equitable Sharing program.  Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has oversight over the Department of Justice’s civil asset forfeiture program, has named civil asset forfeiture as one of his top legislative priorities for this year. In 2000, a coalition of concerned civil rights and conservative groups was able to push modest reforms to federal forfeiture laws through Congress, but not the level of reforms sought by advocates at the time.

Author:
Date Published: January 27, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

President Barack Obama continues to speak out against mass incarceration, the devastating impact of our drug policies on communities of color and his expectation that marijuana legalization will continue to spread.

Obama’s comments came today during his YouTube interviews with YouTube bloggers, Bethany Mota, GloZell Green, and Hank Green.

Some Obama nuggets from today’s interview include this on marijuana:

“What you’re seeing now is Colorado, Washington through state referenda, they’re experimenting with legal marijuana,” the president said in response to a question from host Hank Green.

“The position of my administration has been that we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance, but we’re not going to spend a lot of resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made at the state level on this issue. My suspicion is that you’re gonna see other states start looking at this.”

Obama also addressed how we should treat people who are not violent drug offenders.

“What I am doing at the federal level,” Obama responded, “is asking my Department of Justice just to examine generally how we are treating nonviolent drug offenders, because I think you’re right.”

“What we have done is instead of focusing on treatment — the same way we focused, say, with tobacco or drunk driving or other problems where we treat it as public health problem — we’ve treated this exclusively as a criminal problem,” the president said. “I think that it’s been counterproductive, and it’s been devastating in a lot of minority communities. It presents the possibility at least of unequal application of the law, and that has to be changed.”

President Obama and Attorney General Holder have repeatedly spoken out against the drug war and mass incarceration. Back last January President Obama made national news with an interview with the New Yorker.

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol," Obama told David Remnick.

The president expressed concern about disparities in arrests for marijuana possession. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” Obama said, adding that individual users shouldn’t be locked up “for long stretches of jail time.”

President Obama’s moves coincide with Attorney General Eric Holder actions. They include:

  • Calling on policymakers at all levels to find ways to reduce the number of people behind bars.
  • Supporting efforts in Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce punitive sentencing.
  • Supporting policies that made the sentences of thousands of prisoners shorter and fairer.
  • Changing how the Justice Department charges people to reduce the application of draconian mandatory minimum sentencing.
  • Establishing guidance allowing states to legalize and regulate marijuana with less federal interference.
  • Establishing guidance to make it easier for banks to deal with state-legalized marijuana businesses.
  • Promoting efforts to re-integrate formerly incarcerated individuals into society and eliminate barriers to successful re-entry.
  • Working to end the “school-to-prison pipeline”, including working with the Departments of Education to scale back "zero tolerance" school discipline policies.
  • Advocating for the restoration of voting rights for the formerly incarcerated.
  • Urging federal law enforcement agencies to identify, train and equip personnel who may interact with a victim of a heroin overdose with the overdose-reversal drug naloxone.

Let’s hope that President Obama goes out swinging and helps end our nation’s longest, failed war.

Tony Newman is the director of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Tony Newman
Date Published: January 22, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Your Dose of Pop is DPA’s contribution to a balanced media diet. We generally disseminate serious news about the serious disaster that is the drug war. However, a good deal of public opinion is shaped by the happenings in entertainment and culture, which makes them worth commenting on. So here’s the latest skinny.

Bethenny Frankel’s ‘No Munchie’ Weed

Speaking of skinny, Bethenny Frankel of Real Housewives of New York fame is rumored to be adding marijuana to her boozy, body dysmorphic empire. The hook is that Frankel’s weed allegedly will be specially engineered not to give consumers the surge in appetite commonly known as the “munchies.” We’re skeptical of the “science” behind this one. Also, where’s the fun without munchies? But then again, decaffeinated coffee never made much sense to me either.

2 Chainz Serves Realness to HLN’s Rabid Nancy Grace

HLN’s crazy auntie, Nancy Grace raised eyebrows by inviting Atlanta rapper (and herb enthusiast) 2 Chainz to her show for a debate on marijuana legalization. Clearly, this was a bit of a sensationalist stunt but if the point was to get a bunch of people who never watch Nancy Grace to tune in, it was a success. The YouTube video of 2 Chainz calmly taking on Nancy Grace’s wild exaggerations and propaganda about marijuana has over 5 million hits. 2 Chainz emerged victorious. If he replaced Grace as host, I’m sure we would all tune in more often.

Russell Brand Interviews Johann Hari

Comedian Russell Brand is one of the most visible public personalities who speaks openly about his personal struggles with addiction and his disdain for the drug war. Recently, Brand did an interview on his web news series, The Trews with journalist and author of the new book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. Hari takes us on a deep journey through history and into the current reality of how people experience the drug war around the world. The book includes a fascinating and tragic exploration into how one of the key architects of the drug war, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger, specifically targeted jazz musicians, stalked the legendary singer Billie Holiday, and relentlessly tormented Holiday into her untimely death.

Sharda Sekaran is the managing director of communications for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Sharda Sekaran
Date Published: January 22, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Tell Congress: Protect Marijuana Legalization from Federal Interference

Author:
Date Published: January 22, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

A commonly quoted proverb states, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”

The premise is simple - imparting skills is more useful in the long run than simply imparting facts. Put another way, the value is in teaching people how to think, not what to think.

In the U.S., the conversation about drug use relies on a cocktail of the “what to think” approach, submission to authority, and fear. And the results have been nothing short of disastrous. Not only has that approach been unsuccessful at substantially reducing the rates of drug and alcohol use, the number of people in prison for drug related crimes has exploded over the past 40 years, and death due to drug or alcohol overdose is still a pervasive public health problem.

Yet, drug education and policy continues to be focused on giving everyone the same fish while maintaining a monopoly on all of the fishing poles and making sure people are afraid of the water.

NIDA recently held their National Drug Facts Week. This campaign invited local groups to plan events aimed at educating young people with NIDA’s drug facts. In theory, the idea of having public discourse about drug use is a wonderful idea.

However, having a discussion about the ways in which drugs have harmed people and communities cannot be had without the discussion of the harms of prohibition, noticeably absent from the materials provided by NIDA for this occasion. Instead, the materials are simplistic and colorful, full of warnings about what drugs do to the brain and sample emails that teens can write to friends who are using drugs to express concern.

Basically, a whole lot of what to think about drugs combined with a dose of fear. If it were only that simple.

The reality is, the give-a-fish approach ignores the complex realities of drugs in the context of economic and social disparity, urban violence, rural poverty, emotional and physical trauma and racism so institutionalized it is rendered almost invisible.

NIDA may claim that these issues are social in nature, while they want to stick to drug science. But perhaps they are afraid that if they encourage people to fish for their own truth regarding drug use, who knows what they might pull out of that water.

If NIDA is determined to be the purveyors of what to think, it is important to also provide the tools of how to think about this issue, which means taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture.

For educators and parents, Safety First is a great place to gain valuable information about having “how to fish” conversations with young people about drug use. Documentaries such as Grass, by Ron Mann, and The House I Live In, by Eugene Jarecki, are also great tools for providing a context for our current drug laws and our penchant for mass-incarcerating poor people of color.

Until NIDA recognizes that this issue goes beyond dire warnings of brain damage and “Just Say No” sloganeering, they will never be anything more than fish merchants for a public increasingly demanding their own pole.

Amanda Reiman is the manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Amanda Reiman
Date Published: January 21, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

The NCAA announced yesterday that it plans to re-examine its approach to drug testing student-athletes for recreational drug use. The news comes just days after two University of Oregon football players were suspended for the College Football Playoff national championship game for testing positive for marijuana.

The NCAA Competitive safeguards committee made two recommendations. The first would strengthen the NCAA drug testing for performance-enhancing drugs, while the second would develop alternatives to drug testing for non-performance enhancing drugs like marijuana because “they do not provide a competitive advantage.”

“Given that testing over nearly 30 years hasn’t served as an adequate deterrent – plus the fact that student-athletes who are penalized for recreational drug use by losing eligibility are more likely to drop out of school – the committee suggested the NCAA explore whether a different approach for recreational drugs is warranted,” the NCAA release stated.

According to the statement, the NCAA Sport Science Institute staff will develop a new policy proposal based on those recommendations and will bring the committee’s proposal to the divisional governing bodies in the coming months.

Statement from Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance

“Punishing athletes for marijuana use has nothing to do with fairness or safety in competitive sports and everything to do with inappropriate extensions of the drug war into American life.  It’s great to see the NCAA join with other sports associations in revising this hypocritical and harmful policy.”

Author:
Date Published: January 16, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Eric Holder just issued a huge blow to the drug war. This is big.

Today the Justice Department barred local and state police from using federal law to seize a person's property without evidence of a crime.

That might sound odd, since you would assume that it was already illegal in America for police to take your property without due process - but you would be wrong. Originally pushed in the 1980s as a way to combat illegal drugs, civil asset forfeiture has become common throughout the country.

Today people all over America who are simply suspected of drug law violations can have their assets seized without any ability to defend themselves in a court of law. Even if they are never convicted, or even charged with a crime they can have their property, bank accounts, cars, and assets taken from them forever.

If this doesn’t enrage you, I don’t know what will.

Civil asset forfeiture is another ugly aspect of the drug war, and here at the Drug Policy Alliance we are making it a top issue in 2015.

If you stand with us tweet out your support now to end unjust civil asset forfeiture for good.

Today’s actions by Eric Holder are a good first step to ending the unjust enforcement of this program once and for all. But now Congress needs to pass legislation to make this change permanent.

Bill Piper is the director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Bill Piper
Date Published: January 16, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Today, Attorney General Eric Holder issued an order establishing a new policy prohibiting federal agencies from accepting civil asset forfeiture assets seized by state and local law enforcement agencies unless the owner is convicted of a crime. The U.S. Treasury Department, which has its own forfeiture program, is issuing a similar policy.  The Department of Justice becomes involved after a state or local law enforcement agency seizes property pursuant to state law and requests that a federal agency take the seized asset and forfeit it under federal law.

For years, advocates have criticized the Department of Justice practice of accepting and processing seized assets such as cash, cars and other property from state and local law enforcement agencies through its Equitable Sharing Program, which retains 20 percent of the proceeds from the seizure received from a state or local law enforcement agency and returns 80 percent of the proceeds to the state or local law enforcement agency that initiated the seizure. The practice has enabled some state and local law enforcement to bypass state laws that prohibit police departments from keeping the proceeds from civil asset forfeiture or impose a stricter legal standard for seizing property.  The Washington Post has recently documented widespread abuse of this practice, usually as part of carrying out the war on drugs.

Bipartisan support for civil asset forfeiture reform is growing in Congress. Last week, key congressional leaders including Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Lee (R-UT), signed a letter calling on Holder to end the Equitable Sharing program that was the subject of the policy change today.  Sen. Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight over the Equitable Sharing Program, has named civil asset forfeiture as one of his top legislative priorities for this year. In 2014, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation to reform asset forfeiture and is expected to soon reintroduce this legislation with bipartisan support. Advocates applaud Attorney General Holder’s decision to prohibit state and local law enforcement from utilizing the Equitable Sharing program for most civil asset forfeiture seizures but urge Congress to pass legislation that makes this reform permanent and fixes federal forfeiture more broadly.

"First, sentencing reform, then marijuana reform, and now asset forfeiture reform,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Eric Holder will go down in history for his pivotal role in addressing the excesses and abuses of law enforcement in America.”

Attorney General Eric Holder’s legacy will be his work on criminal justice reform. His accomplishments include:

  • Calling on policymakers at all levels to find ways to reduce the number of people behind bars.
  • Supporting efforts in Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce punitive sentencing.
  • Supporting policies that made the sentences of thousands of prisoners shorter and fairer.
  • Changing how the Justice Department charges people to reduce the application of draconian mandatory minimum sentencing.
  • Establishing guidance allowing states to legalize and regulate marijuana with less federal interference.
  • Establishing guidance to make it easier for banks to deal with state-legalized marijuana businesses.
  • Promoting efforts to re-integrate formerly incarcerated individuals into society and eliminate barriers to successful re-entry.
  • Working to end the “school-to-prison pipeline”, including working with the Departments of Education to scale back "zero tolerance" school discipline policies.
  • Advocating for the restoration of voting rights for the formerly incarcerated.
  • Urging federal law enforcement agencies to identify, train and equip personnel who may interact with a victim of a heroin overdose with the overdose-reversal drug naloxone.
Author:
Date Published: January 16, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance