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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

New York City – Today, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) announced the following five companies would be awarded one of the coveted licenses to grow and dispense medical marijuana in New York: PharmaCann LLC, Empire State Health Solutions LLC, Columbia Care NY LLC, Etain, LLC, Bloomfield Industries Inc.  The announcement came after a competitive bidding process through which forty-three industry groups contended for the five licenses. Each producer is restricted to opening only four dispensaries each, they will only be allowed to produce five strains or brands of medical marijuana, and all products must be in pill, oil or tincture form. The price of the medicine will be set by the Commissioner of Health.
DOH has said that New York’s medical marijuana program will be fully operational by January 2016.  Before the program can become operational, the state must also create a system for registering doctors and patients. Since July 2014, advocates have been fighting for an emergency access program to get medicine to the critically ill sooner than the January 2016 deadline. But despite a year of advocacy and passing an emergency access bill in both the Senate and Assembly, to date, not one patient in New York has received medical marijuana.
DOH has said that New York’s medical marijuana program will be fully operational by January 2016.  Before the program can become operational, the state must also create a system for registering doctors and patients. Since July 2014, advocates have been fighting for an emergency access program to get medicine to the critically ill sooner than the January 2016 deadline. But despite a year of advocacy and passing an emergency access bill in both the Senate and Assembly, to date, not one patient in New York has received medical marijuana.
Statement from Julie Netherland, PhD, who is a deputy state director at the Drug Policy Alliance and helps staff Compassionate Care NY, a grassroots coalition representing thousands of patients, families, and providers and dozens of organizations:
“The announcement of the five producers is an important milestone in the implementation of New York’s medical marijuana program, but the state still has a long way to go before medicine gets to the patients who so desperately need it, and our concerns with the program’s limitations still stand. We hope that the selected companies have the experience, integrity, and focus on patient welfare that New Yorkers deserve. In the coming weeks, we will be taking a closer look at the companies to learn what we can about them.  And over the long term, we’ll be working to insure they are held to the highest standards of corporate integrity and patient care.
“The distribution of dispensaries around the state remains a major concern.  Given the current proposed sites, there are huge areas of the state where patients will have to travel enormous distances to get medicine. This is especially problematic given that many medical marijuana patients are sick and disabled and low income.
“We are looking forward to working with the selected producers to address some of the most serious issues with New York’s medical marijuana program, such as access for low income patients, geographical access across the state, access to whole plant medicine, the number of covered conditions, and creating a diverse and equitable industry.”
Date Published: July 31, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

A coalition of immigrant rights and criminal justice reform advocacy organizations are calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Chief Counsel to allow green card holder Garfield Kenault Lawrence (A# 045 612 966) who was deported away from his U.S. Citizen wife and child to Jamaica, to reopen his immigration case.

After a year of being held in an immigration detention prison (including during the birth of his first child), Kenault was wrongfully deported in 2013 based on an incorrect legal standard applied by an immigration judge who labeled his two minor 2009 marijuana convictions to be “drug trafficking aggravated felonies.” However, just a few months later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Moncrieffe v. Holder that “characterize[ing] a low-level drug offense as 'illicit trafficking in a controlled substance,' and thus an 'aggravated felony' . . . defies the 'commonsense conception' of these terms." Despite this clear decision, ICE is refusing to reopen his case so that he can have a proper hearing under the correct law, and is fighting his lawyers’ attempts by claiming that too much time has passed.

“An Immigration Judge got the law wrong and fractured an American family when he ordered Kenault deported. We call on ICE to right this wrong by allowing Kenault to come home and have his day in court,” states Heidi Altman, Legal Director of the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition.

Kenault moved to Virginia from Jamaica in fifth grade and immediately met his future wife Melissa. They started dating in their senior year of high school. He was their high school wrestling champion. He worked as a mover for a company that valued his work ethic and character. Kenault was frequently harassed and profiled by local Virginia police based on being a black immigrant with an accent. After Kenault's deportation, Melissa has had to work three jobs and receive food stamps. Their son Devario is now three years old and only sees his father through video screens and extremely rare visits to Jamaica. Kenault’s stepmother has cancer and may die without ever seeing him again.

Melissa says, “Kenault made some mistakes when he was young. But since then he's done everything right - did his jail time, did his probation, worked hard and started a family. Now we're all paying for his old mistakes again and again, and my son is growing up without his father.”

“The year-long detention and subsequent deportation of Kenault Lawrence is just one example of the millions of families whose lives have been ripped apart by the failed war on drugs,” said Jerónimo Saldaña of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It is beyond reprehensible that a father is torn away from his family over marijuana convictions. We must bring Kenault home and reform our broken criminal justice system so that no other family has to experience the same tragedy.”

Olga Tomchin, Deportation Defense Coordinator and Staff Attorney at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, explains, “Kenault’s situation is a perfect example of the moral bankruptcy of President Obama’s claim that he is deporting ‘felons not families.’ People with convictions are precious and beloved parts of our families and our communities. While the President commutes sentences of some citizens for drug convictions because “people deserve a second chance,” his administration treats noncitizens with convictions as disposable and fights for their permanent banishment. Particularly as marijuana legalization is advancing across the country, Kenault's deportation shows clearly the anti-black racism and anti-immigrant prejudice pervasive in the war on drugs.”

Kenault  states, “I have done my time for the crime I committed. I have paid my debt to society with both jail time and probation that monitored my good behavior. Only to be snatched from my home in the middle of the night and eventually sentenced to deportation for the crime of drug trafficking. But the crazy part is… I didn’t traffic any drugs. I was put in a jail cell for more than one year awaiting my immigration trial. I have missed the birth of my first and only child. I have missed my wife every single day. I have to live with the fact that I cannot be there to help support my wife and son financially and emotionally. The worst part is that I have been sent to a place that only immigration calls my “home.” All I want to know is when is enough? When can I come home? ​ I have no anger or ill will. All I want is to live a normal, quiet life. Get up, go to work, and come home to my family every night. Is that too much to ask?”

Organizations supporting Kenault and the Lawrence family include the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, and the Immigrant Defense Project. A petition asking ICE to agree to reopen his case has received almost 3,500 signatures and can be found here:

Date Published: July 30, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

When I first shook hands with Felipe de la Cruz Sandoval this winter outside of the Mexican Consulate in NYC, images of my one of my favorite tios sprung to mind, creating an immediate sense of kinship towards the short, mustachioed Mexican professor.  De La Cruz Sandoval, thousands of miles from his home in Ayotzinapa, Mexico where 43 of his students were forcibly disappeared by cartel gunmen and corrupt municipal officers, was doing exactly what my tio would do- travel the world in search of justice.

Sadly, his search for his missing students has uncovered more tragedy - 129 bodies unrelated to the case were recently uncovered in 60 unmarked graves across Guerrero,  the same state where the students disappeared.

Omar Garcia, one of the survivors of the attack against the Ayotzinapa students, recently told the UK Guardian that:  “[Mexicans are] living in a very serious situation where anyone can be disappeared and murdered, buried in a secret grave and be forgotten, unless their families look for them.”

Mr. Garcia’s prognosis is disturbingly accurate. A recently released report by the Mexican government showed that there were 165,000 documented cases of homicide between 2007 and 2014 in Mexico — “a period that accounts for some of the bloodiest years of the nation’s war against the drug cartels.” Compare this to the more than 26,000 civilians who are said to have been killed in Afghanistan since the beginning of the war in 2001 and the 160,500 who died in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003. The war on drugs is a war on people, on par with officially recognized military operations, where the majority of casualties are black and brown bodies.

While not all of the killings can be directly linked to the war on drugs, some counts have attributed over 55 percent to the failed drug war. Regardless, U.S. drug prohibition and American funding of the Merida Initiative, both abject failures, have only served to exacerbate, if not outright perpetuate, the violence in Latin America.

Most recently, cartel leader El Chapo Guzman’s recent escape from prison, and the international media attention that followed, only served to reinforce the silence that surrounds the destruction of brown bodies, something known far too well by Professor De La Cruz and Sister Consuelo Morales, a Mexican nun taking on the drug war by crusading against Mexican cartels and corrupt police.

While Latinos have the power to end the failed war on drugs in the ballot box, we have an obligation to speak out now against the violence enacted on our bodies by bad laws and misguided policies. As an incredibly diverse gente, I hope that you see how the drug war is a Latino issue permeating the core of our community and join the chorus of voices shouting No More Drug War.

Jeronimo Saldaña is the legislative and organizing coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Jerónimo Saldaña
Date Published: July 29, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Mustafa Willis had a job and no criminal record.  After being arrested in Newark, he was forced to remain in jail for months because he could not afford to pay the amount of bail that was set for him.  While he was in jail, he lost his job and a close family member passed away.  Desperate, his family turned to a for-profit bail bond company to secure his release.  Eventually, the charges against him were dropped.  But he and the family members were saddled with a $7,000 bill!

In most places in this country, when someone is arrested they have the option of posting money bail in order to be released pending trial. That opportunity isn’t an option however if you don’t have the money. As a result, thousands of people remain in jail awaiting trial.

Individuals who can’t afford money bail can spend months and even years in jail waiting for their day in court. The damage they suffer is incalculable.  Individuals held in jail pending trial are three times more likely to be sentenced to prison than those who remain free pretrial.  Their prison sentences are two times longer than those released pending trial.  They lose jobs, housing and connections to family and community.

Even those who manage to buy their freedom pending trial pay an unfair penalty.  Mustafa Willis’s story highlights the failure of the current system and one of its most corrupt practices—commercial bail.

People who don’t have the resources to pay for bail on their own often turn to for-profit bail bond companies.  For a price, usually 10 percent of the bail amount, the company will secure the person’s liberty pending trial.  It doesn’t matter if charges are dropped or the person is found not guilty, the bail bond company still gets paid.  Individuals forced to use for-profit bail companies often find themselves punished to the tune of thousands of dollars even if they are never convicted of a crime.

In this way, the for-profit bail bond industry preys on the most vulnerable individuals and communities. Only two countries in the world, the United States and the Philippines, allow this predatory system under which private companies profit at the expense of people who are presumed innocent.

A DPA-commissioned report found that three-quarters of those in New Jersey jails were awaiting trial rather than serving a sentence.  More than half of them warehoused for nonviolent offenses, including drug charges.  Almost 40 percent were incarcerated simply because they couldn’t afford sometimes small amounts of bail—we’re talking a couple hundred dollars in some cases.  The average length of time people wait in jail is 10 months.  The vast majority of those locked up are poor people of color.  Against steep odds, DPA took on this injustice in New Jersey and won.

The tragic death of Kalief Browder, held in Rikers Island jail for three years before the charges against him—for allegedly stealing a backpack—were dismissed, has focused the nation’s attention on our broken bail system.  What New Jersey did to reform its bail system, basing pretrial release decisions on risk rather than resources, limiting the use of money bail and allowing for nonfinancial conditions for release pending trial, can be a model for states across the country.

Justice demands we fix our broken bail system.

Roseanne Scotti is the New Jersey state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Roseanne Scotti
Date Published: July 29, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

On a recent policy call the new head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Chuck Rosenberg, said marijuana is probably less dangerous than heroin. He went on to say, “I’m not an expert.”

First of all, probably? Marijuana is far safer than heroin (and most other drugs, including alcohol); that’s established science.

Secondly, why is the DEA being run by someone who is not an expert on drugs? His ignorance of basic facts is unfortunately par for the course for the failed war on drugs and the DEA.

Despite his statements, Rosenberg is actually an improvement over his predecessor, Michelle Leonhart.  She famously refused to say whether she thought marijuana use was less dangerous than heroin use – even when asked by a member of Congress.

Leonhart publicly rebuked President Obama for admitting that marijuana is as safe as alcohol and told members of Congress that the DEA will continue to go after marijuana even in states where it is legal despite DOJ guidance stating otherwise. She even said Congress flying a flag made out of hemp was the low point of her career.

The DEA has a long history of disregarding science. It obstructed a formal request to reschedule marijuana for 16 years. After being forced by the courts to make a decision, the agency declared marijuana to have no medical value, despite massive evidence to the contrary.  The agency’s own administrative law judge held two years of hearings and concluded marijuana in its natural form is “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man” and should be made available for medical use. Similar hearings on MDMA, aka ecstasy, concluded it has important medical uses, but the DEA again overruled its administrative law judge.

Three presidential administrations — Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton —conducted reviews of whether it would be more efficient and better for public safety to do away with the DEA and merge it with the FBI, but Congress has never seriously explored the issue. In fact, it’s remarkable how little federal oversight or scrutiny there has been. With an annual budget of more than $2 billion as well as significant discretionary powers, the DEA certainly merits a top-to-bottom review of its operations, expenditures and actions.

At the very least it should be run by someone who knows something about drugs.

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

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Author: Bill Piper
Date Published: July 28, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

New York - Today, Senator Schumer (D-NY) added his name to the Senate’s sweeping medical marijuana bill. The CARERS Act, introduced in March by Sens Gillibrand (D-NY), Booker (D-NJ), and Paul (R-KY) would end federal prohibition of medical marijuana, and remove barriers for research, veterans, and banking. The move comes just days before New York State is expected to announce the names of five companies that will be allowed to produce medical marijuana in New York. New York’s medical marijuana is expected to become fully operational in January 2016.

New York patients have expressed their gratitude for Senator Schumer’s support:

“Chuck Schumer sided with patients and their families yesterday when he agreed to co-sponsor the CARERS Act,” said Kate Hintz of North Salem, NY, whose daughter Morgan suffers from a severe seizure disorder. “I’m proud to be from a state where both Senators – Gillibrand and Schumer – have recognized the importance of medical marijuana. Families, like mine, should be able to use medical marijuana when a doctor recommends it without having to worry about federal interference.  I hope the rest of our leaders in Washington will follow the lead of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, act quickly to pass the CARERS Act, and help relieve patient suffering.”

“I’m thrilled that Senator Schumer became a co-sponsor of the CARERS Act,” said four-time cancer survivor, Nancy Rivera from Troy, NY. “The CARERS Act recognizes that states should be allowed to set their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference. Patients in New York, who have waited so long for medical marijuana, should be able to access medicine without worrying about the federal government shutting the program down.  Senator Schumer took a stand on the right side of history and a stand for patients in New York.”

“As the possible future head of the Senate Democrats, and a key member of the Judiciary Committee, Schumer’s addition is a huge step forward for the bill”, said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance.

Date Published: July 28, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

As laws prohibiting marijuana become less punitive, the question, “What about the kids?” becomes more pressing to parents and other adults.

We at the Drug Policy Alliance urge young people to abstain from alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. We avoid the exaggerations, misinformation and scare tactics of the past. We believe that honesty is the best way to engage youth and the most empowering way to help them make responsible, informed decisions.

Some critics of drug policy reform exploit parents’ worries that legal access to marijuana for adults will make young people more likely to use it. They proclaim that these reforms send the wrong message to kids. They also threaten that adjusting our response to youthful experimentation will inevitably lead teenagers down a path of problematic use and toward more dangerous drugs.

As a result, the prospect of legalization, decriminalization or the availability of medical marijuana sends many parents into a panic. What’s a parent to believe or do?

As a father, there is nothing I care about more than the well-being of my child, and I’ll do anything to keep him safe. I am sure you feel the same. Given the myriad reasons why marijuana policy reform is urgently needed, I am forced to question the predictions that regulatory changes will lead to increased use of the drug among teens.

As Marsha Rosenbaum, Ph.D., has noted in her seminal publication, Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs, “…predictions aside, the most reliable information ultimately will come from large scientific surveys of actual substance use, rather than speculation. But since sound research takes years to complete, it has been too early to determine actual prevalence in states that have already legalized. The closest approximation for predicting the impact of legalization, has been the hard data available on teen marijuana use since medical marijuana laws were passed.”

So, what does the research tell us? One recent study published in June in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal, is an analysis of 24 years of data detailing the prevalence of marijuana use among teens. It actually showed no significant difference in adolescent marijuana use in the 21 states that adopted medical marijuana laws.

Parents take note. According to the most comprehensive research yet on teens and marijuana, the sky hasn’t fallen despite significant changes in marijuana laws over many years.

Driving the point even further, the study supports the 2013 report from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment finding that high school marijuana use decreased since the Centennial State became the first to legalize marijuana. This data was collected before recreational marijuana sales to adults started, but it demonstrates that medical marijuana laws and openly discussing full legalization did not send the message that it was okay for young people to use it.

These studies are encouraging to parents everywhere. Last week came more reassuring news – this time from the Partnership at Drugfree Kids who reported on a new study based on questionnaires from about 500,000 teens, finding that marijuana use among young people is on the decline.

Parents and other adults who care about the health and well-being of children are increasingly understanding that ending marijuana prohibition and promoting more honest and effective drug education are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they are part of the same conversation.

As a parent, it is a comfort to know that as we move toward a saner, more compassionate drug policy, teen marijuana use continues to be on the decline.

Jerry Otero is the youth policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Jerry Otero
Date Published: July 27, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

On Tuesday, a congressional panel will hold a hearing on “America’s Growing Heroin Epidemic.”  Every year, federal and state lawmakers spend billions of dollars to lock up people who use and sell small amounts of heroin and other illegal drugs. Yet, heroin use and overdose rates have surged in recent years, and its prevalence has ballooned beyond urban centers into suburban and rural areas. A bipartisan consensus has emerged in Congress in favor of reforming America’s criminal justice system and finding innovative new solutions that can help prevent people accused of low-level crimes from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.

“Heavy handed policing does nothing to address the underlying reasons why people use drugs,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “LEAD empowers police officers to be a part of the solution when it comes to addressing the underlying reasons why people use heroin and other drugs.”  

Angela Pacheco, New Mexico’s First Judicial District Attorney, has been invited to be a witness for the Democratic House Minority to speak to New Mexico’s opioid – heroin and prescription pain reliever – crisis and to describe LEAD, a comprehensive new strategy that Northern New Mexico has engaged to more effectively address opioid-related crime.

New Mexico's drug overdose death rate has been one of the highest in the nation for most of the last two decades. New Mexico's unintentional overdose death rate has almost tripled since 1990, and though in recent years the state has seen a decrease in rates, in 2014 overdose death rates increased 20%. New Mexico is second to West Virginia in the number of overdose drug deaths in the U.S.

In 2014, Santa Fe became the second city in the nation after the city of Seattle to implement LEAD in an attempt to address low-level crime and reduce, where possible, the involvement of a criminal justice system that often seems stacked against poor and minority defendants. Albany, NY will become the 3rd jurisdiction to implement LEAD with their program starting in 2016.

Under LEAD, police officers exercise discretion to divert individuals for low-level criminal offenses (including drug possession and low-level sales) to a case manager and a comprehensive network of services instead of booking them and initiating the charging process.  LEAD fosters true partnership between police and the communities they serve. An independent evaluation found that it reduced the likelihood of reoffending by nearly 60% compared to a control group that went through the criminal justice system “as usual.”

On July 2nd, government officials and community leaders from over 30 city, county and state jurisdictions attended a day-long workshop about LEAD, co-hosted by major foundations and The White House. The LEAD model is consistent with the recommendations from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing that law enforcement agencies “emphasize . . . alternatives to arrest or summons in situations where appropriate.”

What:  Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee holds a hearing on “America’s Growing Heroin Epidemic.”
When:  Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at 10:00 AM
Location:  2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

  • The Honorable Michael Botticelli, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy;
  • Mr. John (“Jack”) Riley, Acting Deputy Administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Ms. Nancy G. Parr, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Chesapeake, Virginia; and
  • Ms. Angela R. Pacheco, First Judicial District Attorney, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe’s LEAD program was developed after nine months of study and community engagement and is tailored to the community’s needs. Unlike Seattle, Santa Fe’s main concerns are not drug markets, but rather opioid misuse, dependence and overdose, as well as rising rates of property crime. Eligibility for Santa Fe LEAD is limited to those caught possessing or selling three grams or less of opioids.

LEAD’s successes and positive evaluations have sparked widespread attention and interest, especially in a moment when the police role in dealing with “quality of life” issues is controversial and the way forward after the War on Drugs is uncertain. Numerous other jurisdictions around the country – from small cities to major metropolitan areas – are now exploring implementing LEAD.

After three years of operation in Seattle, a new, independent evaluation has shown that LEAD reduces the number of people arrested, prosecuted, incarcerated, and otherwise caught up in the criminal justice system. The University of Washington evaluation found that LEAD participants were 60% less likely to be rearrested within the first six months of the study and 58% less likely to be rearrested during the entire course of the evaluation to date, compared to a control group that experienced  “system as usual” booking and prosecution. This result is particularly encouraging based on the high re-arrest rate for this population under the traditional criminal justice model.

This Committee should advance federal legislation that would authorize funding to support the implementation of pilot LEAD initiatives by jurisdictions desiring a new approach to low-level nonviolent crime.

“As our understanding of drug use and addiction evolves, our policies must evolve with it,” said Emily Kaltenbach, State Director of Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico Office.  “Programs like LEAD can help unwind the ineffective War on Drugs, and can grow to be a cornerstone in 21st century policing efforts.”

“I would like to come to work one day and discover that the majority of criminal cases in our office are not related to drug addiction,” stated Angela Pacheco, District Attorney for New Mexico's First Judicial District.  "The LEAD program is a step in that direction."

Date Published: July 27, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance