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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.

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I wasn’t sure at first what to make of the invitation to testify from Senator Ron Johnson, the Tea Party Republican from Wisconsin who chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Some colleagues thought it was basically a set-up: a Republican senator in a tough battle for re-election this fall looking for an opportunity to dump on “the legalizers” and blame America’s opioid epidemic on drug policy reformers. But others suspected that Johnson’s libertarian streak made him sympathetic to anti-prohibitionist perspectives, and that he was sincerely curious to hear new ideas. That latter view turned out to be right.

I must admit that I’ve been waiting a long time to tell U.S. Senators exactly what I think about drug policy. This roundtable provided the perfect opportunity – to explain why the drug war has been such a monumental disaster for the country and the world, to make the analogies to alcohol Prohibition, and to frame reform in terms of the need to reduce the role of criminalization and criminal justice in drug control as much as possible while advancing public health and safety.


But more than that, it afforded abundant opportunities not just to present the evidence but also to reason with the Senators and teach them about drugs and drug policy. Most of their questions were about marijuana and opioids, allowing me to point to the growing evidence that easy access to medical marijuana reduces opioid misuse and overdoses, and that legal regulation of marijuana was resulting in less crime than before. I got to talk about why people get addicted to heroin and why heroin maintenance programs make so much sense. (It helped, of course, that my own testimony was preceded by that of Scott MacDonald, a Canadian physician working with the heroin (and hydromorphone) maintenance research project, SALOME, in Vancouver.) And I stressed repeatedly that the best investment Congress could make in responding to the opioid epidemic, and in particular the recent, dramatic increase in fentanyl-related deaths, would be to fund an army of researchers to find out what was really going on – before they legislated any new punishments or other costly interventions.

The ranking Democrat, Delaware Senator Tom Carper, was particularly curious about the lessons to be learned from successful anti-cigarette campaigns. Most heroin addicts, I told him, say that cigarettes are tougher to quit than heroin – yet roughly half of all people who were addicted to cigarettes no longer smoke. That monumental success, I pointed out, had been accomplished entirely through public education, higher taxation and effective regulation -- without a single cigarette consumer being given a criminal record or sent to a “tobacco court.” The look in the eyes of Senator Carper and his colleagues suggested they had never before considered that point, or its implications. (Tune in from 2:00:50 – 2:02:40)

Part of what made the roundtable feel surreal was that Senators Johnson and Carper had invited three proponents of reform and just one drug war apologist to testify. Jousting with David Murray, loyal sidekick to former drug czar John Walters, proved enjoyable (you can watch this spirited exchange by tuning in here from 1:26:09 – 1:27:30), as did Senator Johnson’s evident impatience with Murray’s comments, as if he’d heard it all before and no longer bought it.

The highlight for me of the entire session came in response to a question about drug courts by the Republican Senator, Kelly Ayotte, to the police chief of Arlington, Massachusetts, Frederick Ryan. "The challenge there, Senator, is when you push the button for the criminal justice system, it's incredibly complex and difficult to reverse,” he responded. “You take somebody suffering from a substance use disorder and put them into a complex criminal justice system – we're finding it creates even more challenges." (Tune in from 1:32:00 - 1:32:25)

I never realized that testifying before Congress could be so much fun! Dysfunctionality on Capitol Hill may be nearing historic highs, with federal legislators incapable of enacting even modest reforms on which a majority agree, but that Senate roundtable provided a striking indication that the multi-decade, bipartisan ban on reform-minded drug policy ideas may at last be lifting in the nation’s capital.

Ethan Nadelmann is the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Ethan Nadelmann
Date Published: June 27, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Prince Ea — hip hop artist, activist and founder of Make SMART Cool — has just released a remake of his brilliant music video urging President Obama to end our country’s disastrous war on marijuana.

This epic 10-minute video is both a history lesson and an advocacy tool that will expand your mind and make you laugh at the same time – a personal and persuasive plea to President Obama to end our nation’s insane, racist and hypocritical war on marijuana users.

Prince Ea delves into the history of how marijuana became illegal (lies, racism and political opportunism) and the arbitrary distinctions between legal and illegal drugs. Prince Ea lays out the harms of drug prohibition (violence, organized crime, and mass incarceration) and the benefits of regulation (taxes, safety, and control).

The video uses a surprisingly on-point Obama impersonator to channel the president’s inner thoughts on the issue, accompanied by fascinating illustrations to help visualize the narrative.

In just this one song, Prince Ea summarizes a book’s worth of information into a clear and powerful argument against marijuana prohibition.

It’s exciting to see how much progress has been made since the first video was released four years ago. When the original video came out, no states had legalized marijuana for adult use. Since then, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington DC have done just that – and now 2016 is shaping up to be the most significant year yet when it comes to ending marijuana prohibition, with voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada and Arizona deciding on legalization this November. 

The California initiative, known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), is the new “gold standard” for marijuana policy and focuses on undoing the most egregious harms of marijuana prohibition.  It will greatly reduce – and in many cases, eliminate – criminal penalties for marijuana offenses, reduce barriers to entry to the legal market, and drive hundreds of millions of dollars in investments to low-income communities that have been most negatively impacted by the drug war.

Prince Ea has given us a gift with this entertaining, creative history lesson. Let’s share it with the world and vote to end marijuana prohibition this November.

Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance (

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Author: Tony Newman
Date Published: June 27, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Last week was exciting for folks (nerds?) like me who are interested in the public health implications of marijuana policy reform, especially those of us in Colorado.

With the long-awaited release of the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, we got an updated snapshot of how youth in the state are responding to implementation of Amendment 64. This ballot initiative victory legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults in 2012, allowing those 21 or older to purchase it when it became available in retail stores starting in January of 2014.

Opponents of this groundbreaking reform continued to harbor concerns over the past few years that it would lead to a drastic spike in marijuana use among young people. Using data from the 2013 version of the Healthy Kids survey as a baseline, however, we can see that such fears remain unfounded and unrealized.

Responses from 17,000 middle and high school students throughout the state indicate that, in keeping with national trends, the percentage of Colorado youth who report ever trying marijuana or using it within the past month has remained relatively steady. While a smaller percentage of kids now believe that people risk harming themselves (physically and in other ways) if they use marijuana regularly, perceptions of harms associated with more dangerous substances such as alcohol and cigarettes persist.

Almost all respondents expressed objection to the unauthorized use of prescription drugs, a heartening sign. They apparently don’t find marijuana any easier to access than in the past. And moreover, a majority of young Coloradans surveyed have never tried marijuana and asserted that it is wrong for someone their age to use it.

Yet while the Healthy Kids data gives us reassuring insights, there is a lot more work to be done. Punitive drug policies continue to negatively impact young people in Colorado and beyond. According to the Colorado Department of Education, there were more than 400 expulsions and over 4,500 suspensions related to drug violations in the 2014-2015 school year despite efforts to curtail "zero tolerance" policies recognized by the legislature in 2012 as precipitating unnecessarily harsh enforcement.

Since marijuana is the most commonly used substance among young people besides alcohol (which is categorized separately in school discipline data), it is not a stretch to assume that it is being used as a driving force for curtailing educational opportunities precisely when they are needed most.

And pushing kids out of schools, even if only temporarily, is just the tip of the iceberg—drug violations represent 30% of the school-based incidents that get referred to law enforcement. Juvenile marijuana arrests have increased and at a notably disparate rate among young people of color. Despite similar rates of marijuana use, related arrests among White Colorado youth decreased by 8% from 2012-2014 at the same time as they increased by almost 60% among young African Americans. While racist enforcement of marijuana policy is hardly new, this recent data is a pressing call to action.  Our young people deserve better.

For those of us committed to evidence-based prevention and to constructively addressing potential harms that can legitimately be associated with substance use, the latest Healthy Kids data creates a pivotal moment. Put in broader context, these results are important for Coloradans but they can also inform national efforts at meaningful and lasting change.

Instead of continuing to harp on imagined consequences of marijuana policy reform, we can turn our resources toward the realities of empowering young people while also resisting stigma and confronting racism, promoting vital harm reduction services and evidence-based treatment access, and continuing to insist that punishing people for possessing or using drugs, regardless of age, does a disservice to current and future generations.

Amanda Bent is a policy coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Amanda Bent
Date Published: June 27, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Every year at the end of June, on the United Nations’ International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, governments around the world re-commit themselves to eradicating drug use and trafficking worldwide. Some choose to use this day to celebrate their contributions to the global ‘war on drugs’ by highlighting arrests made and drugs seized in their countries. Worse yet, in the past, some governments have commemorated the day by enacting horrific punishments, such as holding executions or public beatings of drug offenders. For example, from 2009 to 2014, China unveiled executions and other harsh punishments in the lead-up to the International Day Against Drug Abuse and in 2008, Indonesia cited the day as it resumed executions after a four-year hiatus.

In response, over the past few years under the global campaign banner called Support. Don’t Punish, advocates around the world have held counter-demonstrations aimed at reclaiming the message and promoting drug policy reforms based on public health, development, and human rights. Last year, over 160 cities worldwide held diverse, creative and impactful events – from public gatherings, street art and dance displays, music concerts, public meetings and workshops, boat shows, social media campaigns, and advertisements on public transportation and billboards.

This year, events are being planned in cities in dozens of countries, including Argentina, Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Colombia, Egypt, France, Ghana, Greece, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, the Philippines, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, and the UK, among others. Today, in New York City, activists will gather at 8 pm in front of the Brooklyn House of Detention and hold a rally as The Illuminator projects images and videos of people from all walks of life who use or have used drugs – parents, teachers, friends, sisters, advocates, nurses, artists – in order to humanize those who use drugs, challenge stigma and discrimination, and call for an end to the war on drugs. The action will unite New Yorkers with those fighting for drug policy reform across the world in a sign of solidarity and to demonstrate the breadth and power of this movement.

This year, the Support. Don’t Punish actions are particularly significant. In April, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) – the most important high-level international drug policy meeting in almost two decades – took place in New York. The UNGASS revealed the increasing rift and broken consensus between countries that remain wedded to status quo punitive policies and the growing coalition 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.

This global rift is becoming more apparent than ever. On the one hand, marijuana regulation, criminal justice reform, and harm reduction policies are spreading across the Americas and Europe. Meanwhile, other governments across the world continue to implement horrific and inhumane policies; Indonesia is set to hold a next round of executions of over a dozen people and the Philippine president-elect recently encouraged the public to kill drug dealers and made violent threats towards people who use drugs.

The UNGASS proved that 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. And today, in cities around the globe, we will be out in the streets calling for support, not punishment.

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

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Author: Hannah Hetzer
Date Published: June 23, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

On Thursday, June 23, activists will gather at 8 pm in front of the Brooklyn House of Detention and hold a rally as The Illuminator projects images and videos of people from all walks of life who use or have used drugs – fathers, teachers, friends, nurses – as part of the Support. Don’t Punish Global Day of Action. This annual day of action is designed to tell a different story on the United Nations’ International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

Governments around the world often choose to use this day to celebrate their contributions to the global ‘war on drugs’. In the past, some governments have even commemorated it by holding executions or public beatings of drug offenders. For example, from 2009 to 2014, China unveiled executions and other harsh punishments in the lead-up to the International Day Against Drug Abuse and in 2008, Indonesia cited the day as it resumed executions after a four-year hiatus.

In response, advocates around the world began to plan counter-demonstrations over the past few years under the global campaign banner of Support. Don’t Punish, aimed at reclaiming the message and promoting drug policy reforms based on public health, development, and human rights. Last year, over 160 cities worldwide held diverse, creative, and impactful events. This year, events are being planned in cities in dozens of countries, including Argentina, Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Colombia, Egypt, France, Ghana, Greece, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, the Philippines, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, and the UK, among others. The action in New York City will unite New Yorkers with those fighting for drug policy reform across the world, in a show of solidary and to demonstrate the breadth and power of this movement.

Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), said “Drug policies are supposed to pursue the health and welfare of humankind, but instead they have focused on repressive responses which are causing more damage than the drugs they are supposed to eradicate. This year’s Global Day of Action will see thousands of activists in over 100 countries demonstrating against the war in drugs.”

Heather Haase, IDPC’s New York representative, said, “It’s time to do away with the stigma around drug use. Support. Don’t Punish’s collaboration with Illuminator will show the many faces of people who use or have used drugs. They are friends, sisters, teachers, volunteers, advocates, artists, and parents. They are many different things – but they are not criminals.”

Support. Don't Punish Day of Action
When: 8 pm
Where: Brooklyn Detention Center, 275 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11201
What: Rally at Brooklyn Detention Center as The Illuminator projects images and videos to humanize people who use drugs, challenge stigma, and call for support, not prison, for people who use drugs.
Additional information here.

Date Published: June 22, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Former President Richard Nixon officially declared a “war on drugs” 45 years ago today. His primary motivation was to go after anti-war protesters and black people. It doesn’t get clearer than this frank explanation from one of Nixon’s top policy advisers, John Ehrlichman:

“We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

Disturbing, right? Drug prohibition has resulted in tens of millions of people getting arrested and locked up behind bars, and the U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion to make that happen. The tone was set from the beginning that there will always be money to fight the war on drugs.

Every year, more money is requested to fight the drug war and now the U.S. spends more than $51 billion annually on the war on drugs. There are more than 1.5 million arrests for drugs each year, the large majority of which are for possession only. But no matter how much money we spend and how many people get arrested, drugs have been around for thousands of years and they always will be.

So what should we do instead?

Legalize Marijuana

More than 50% of Americans support legalizing and regulating marijuana. Twenty-five states have medical marijuana laws, four states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana, and more than 20 states have decriminalized possession. But marijuana remains illegal at the federal level and of the 1.5 million arrests each year for drugs, about half are for low-level marijuana law violations. States that legalized marijuana are seeing great benefits – thousands of people are no longer getting arrested and having their lives ruined over marijuana, and the states are collecting huge amounts of money in taxes.

Decriminalize All Drugs and Offer Treatment on Request

Arresting someone for using or possessing a drug is ineffective, costly and unjust. Most people (80-90%) who use drugs don’t go on to develop problems with them, as neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart often emphasizes. If someone struggles with addiction and wants to get treatment, they should not fear arrest or other punishment for admitting their drug use.

End Mass Criminalization/Incarceration

The U.S. is home to less than five percent of the world’s population but nearly 25% of its prisoners, in part because of the overly harsh consequences of a drug conviction. Despite comparable drug use and selling rates across racial groups, African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately punished for drug law violations.

Prevent Drug Overdose Deaths

The Drug Policy Alliance and our allies have been at the forefront advocating for harm reduction policies like 911 Good Samaritan Laws and access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone for many years. But there are some unconventional ways to deal with drug misuse that deserve more attention, like supervised injection facilities and heroin-assisted treatment. Earlier this year a Maryland state legislator made history and introduced a sweeping drug policy reform package calling for the decriminalization of all drugs, treatment on demand for anyone who wants it, and the creation of supervised injection facilities and heroin-assisted treatment programs. The mayor of Ithaca also put forward a similar proposal. To deal with this issue more effectively, our drug policies will have to come from a public health approach, not a criminal justice one.

Reform Youth Drug Education

Just like with sex education, we know that abstinence-only drug education programs do not work. We need to provide honest and accurate drug information so that young people can make the safest choice possible.

Learn From the Rest of the World

We have to be willing to look outside the U.S. to see what’s working elsewhere to move forward with drug policy reform. Portugal has shown that there are many benefits to decriminalizing all drugs. Heroin-assisted treatment programs have been very successful in places like Switzerland, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and elsewhere. Canada and Uruguay are moving forward with new marijuana legalization policies at the national level, and the U.S. should do the same.

Hopefully we’ll be in a much better place five years from now, given the momentum we’re seeing on issues like criminal justice reform, overdose prevention, and marijuana legalization. Let’s develop an exit strategy before the 50th anniversary of the drug war in 2021 – let’s end drug prohibition and begin telling the story of what it was like when drugs were illegal.

Derek Rosenfeld is the manager of social media and media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Photo via Wikipedia

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Author: Derek Rosenfeld
Date Published: June 17, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted today 16 to 14 to allow banks to provide services to marijuana businesses. Currently, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, both medical and non-medical marijuana businesses are unable to access banking services like any other business. Consequently, many marijuana businesses operate on a cash-only basis, leading to huge public safety issues as businesses become the target of robberies, and are forced to hire armed security to protect their takings.

“One of the motivations for legalizing marijuana is to eliminate the illicit market and put marijuana in the hands of a legitimate regulated market,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Whether you are for or against legalization, you have to recognize that having marijuana businesses handling huge amounts of cash with nowhere to deposit the money is a public safety concern that Congress has to tackle.”

In addition to banking, the bill passed today allows Washington DC to establish regulated marijuana stores. The House version, however, has language maintaining a ban on dispensaries.

“Congressional interference has left D.C. in a state of limbo,” said Kaitlyn Boecker, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Almost two years after voters legalized marijuana, it is legal to possess, use and grow marijuana in the nation’s capital, but sales remain illicit and unregulated. Allowing the District to move forward with a regulatory system will increase public safety, address much needed reforms, and generate tax revenue to fund treatment and education.”

In November 2014, nearly 72% of D.C. voters approved a ballot measure making it legal to possess and grow marijuana for personal use. The campaign to pass Initiative 71 was driven by public demands to end racially-biased enforcement of marijuana laws and was seen as the first step at taking marijuana out of the illicit market. A broad base of community support from multiple civil rights organizations, faith leaders and community advocacy groups supported Initiative 71, viewing it as an opportunity to restore the communities most harmed by the war on drugs.

In December 2014, House Republican leadership was able to push through a controversial spending amendment that prohibited D.C. from legalizing and regulating marijuana sales, but the amendment allowed Initiative 71 to take effect. Thus, it is legal to possess, use, and grow marijuana in the nation’s capital but the sale of marijuana remains illicit and unregulated. D.C. officials, police, and drug policy experts have complained that Congress is undermining public safety by preventing the city from regulating marijuana, with some calling the situation “the dealer protection act.” The Financial Services spending bill adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee today deletes the congressional ban.

The vote is the 4th time this year that the Senate Appropriations Committee has endorsed marijuana reform measures. “We are edging closer to the day when the federal government ends marijuana prohibition,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “There is clear bipartisan support in the House and Senate in favor of marijuana reform.”

Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held an unprecedented roundtable hearing entitled “America’s Insatiable Demand for Drugs: Examining Alternative Approaches.” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, testified and laid out his vision for ending the war on drugs and forging ahead with new policies based on science, health and human rights. Nadelmann provided a robust defense of marijuana legalization, presented evidence to support decriminalizing possession of all drugs, and discussed cutting-edge strategies to deal with the opioid crisis, such as safe injection facilities. He also discussed the devastating impact of the war on drugs on people of color.

“I think it’s a positive sign that political leaders, not just in the states but even on Capitol Hill, now recognize both the failure of the drug war and the need to think outside the box in addressing our country’s drug problems,” said Nadelmann.

Date Published: June 16, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Albany — Yesterday, the New York State Assembly voted in support of A10092, a bill that will seal the criminal records of people who have been unjustly and unconstitutionally arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view. The bipartisan vote was 99 in favor and 42 opposed. Over the last 20 years, over 700,000 New Yorkers have been arrested for simple possession of marijuana. Those convicted face significant barriers to accessing education, employment, housing opportunities, and other state services.

“I introduced the marijuana sealing bill because drug laws have created a permanent underclass of people unable to find jobs after a conviction,” said Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “One of the most damaging issues derived from the war on drugs is that the policies are inherently racist. Communities of color have been devastated by bad drug policies and hyper-criminalization for the last 40 years. It is an approach that has never worked and has caused significantly more harm than good to our communities and to our families. If today’s moment of increased attention to heroin encourages us to center public health in our drug policy, then we need to ensure that we are making amends to communities of color by alleviating the burden bad policies have had on their lives. Sealing low-level marijuana possession convictions is the first step to reintegrating thousands of New Yorkers who are inhibited daily from accessing employment, housing and an education all due to a conviction on their record for simple possession of marijuana.”

This bill was sponsored by Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo and members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus, who last week called once again for equity in our state’s drug policies, citing the impact the discriminatory enforcement of these policies have had on communities of color.

"For too long communities of color have been plagued by the consequences of a broken legal system that has unfairly targeted certain neighborhoods, and created a drug policy that has done little to decrease drug use”, said Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez. “New York needs to atone for its 20 year crusade of unconstitutional marijuana arrests and convictions. Sealing the convictions of those who have been saddled with unjust criminal records is but the first step in repairing the harms of the last 20 years of failed policies.”

New York State first decriminalized personal marijuana possession in 1977, recognizing the harmful impact an arrest could have on young people. Although New York officials, including Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, have previously recognized these arrests as ineffective, unjust, and racially discriminatory, they still continue across the state because of a loophole in the law. In 2015 over 20,000 New Yorkers were arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana – 83% of whom were black or Latino.

"In the 80s and 90s, racially-motivated drug policy sentenced a generation of young people of color to lives labeled as a criminal," said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. "We now have the opportunity to mete out a measure of justice by sealing prior marijuana conviction, and I call upon the Senate to follow suit."

The discriminatory practices are statewide. For example, in the city of Buffalo in Erie County, African Americans represent 48% of the marijuana arrests – despite only being 14% of the population of Erie County, and using marijuana at similar rates as other groups.

Once convicted, a permanent record can follow these mostly young people of color for the rest of their lives – a record easily found on the internet by banks, schools, employers, landlords, and licensing boards.

“I applaud the members and leadership of the Legislature for passing this critical legislation to immediately seal convictions for low-level marijuana possession,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, President of the Chief Defenders Association of New York. “Marijuana arrests can turn the lives of people throughout New York upside down, impacting their employment, access to student loans, and even their credit scores. This much-needed legislation will help tens of thousands of New Yorkers, their families and communities. I urge the Legislature to pass this bill and Governor Cuomo to sign it into law.”

Increasingly, jurisdictions and legislators across the country are realizing that marijuana prohibition has been ineffective, unjust, and racially discriminatory, and are working to implement regulatory systems that are fair and effective. In New York, Assembly members recognize that, at a minimum, people should not be saddled with a permanent criminal record simply for possession of small amount of marijuana.

"New York must repair the harms of our racially biased marijuana laws and sealing low-level marijuana convictions is a step in the right direction. Thank you to the New York State Assembly for recognizing that a permanent criminal record is an out-sized burden for low-level marijuana possession and that allowing sealing for these convictions will allow New Yorkers to avoid job loss, eviction, and a host of unnecessary collateral consequences." Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director, VOCAL-NY

The passage of the bill comes on the heels of a press conference last week during which members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus called upon the legislature to recognize and atone for the extraordinary damage done by the war on drugs to communities of color. The sealing bill was one part of a larger package of proposals to redress the harms done to communities of color, while advancing public health solutions to problematic drug use.

"I applaud the Drug Policy Alliance and VOCAL-NY for standing up for marginalized communities that have for decades now been plagued and devastated by drug addiction and overdose. On top of these struggles, our communities have been targeted for incarceration with the outcome of burdensome criminal records and diminished life chances. Understanding that drug abuse in any community is a public health crisis is key, and now that we’ve begun to adopt this frame, we must go back and correct failed, drug war policies,” said Senator Kevin Parker. “When communities of color were initially overtaken by drugs and its negative externalities, the answer that was presented was a War on Drugs.  Today, I hope we support the sealing of marijuana possession convictions for New Yorkers whose lives have been ruined by the criminal justice system. Let’s learn from our failures and enact legislation that provides evenhanded relief to all communities impacted by both drug abuse and drug policies. I remain eager to work with my colleagues in the Legislature to right this wrong.”

“I applaud my colleagues in the Assembly for taking this positive first step towards addressing the over criminalization of our communities by passing this important piece of legislation” said Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx. “We have all acknowledged that these marijuana possession arrests were unjust and discriminatory, but we must also act to repair the harm that’s been done. We can no longer stand by while ineffective and failed drug polices continue to unnecessarily burden our families and communities.”

Advocates now look to the Senate to quickly pass the Senate companion bill sponsored by Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson before the session ends on June 16th, and to begin to repair the harm done by marijuana prohibition to communities across the state.

“This bill represents a small – but meaningful – step toward repairing the damage done throughout decades of harmful criminalization of minor drug offenses,” said Bernadette Brown, Deputy Legislative Director with the NYCLU. “Nobody should have to face unemployment, custody proceedings, or homelessness because of a conviction for low-level marijuana possession. We now call upon the Senate to pass this measure.”

"Our unjust and racially discriminatory drug policies have had a devastating effect on communities of color throughout New York State. Marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes, yet using it can land you a criminal record that locks you out of jobs, housing, education, and so much more. I commend the Assembly for passing this legislation to seal the records of those arrested for possession of marijuana, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to follow suit," said Senator Liz Krueger.

“We need to treat addiction with drug treatment, instead of demonizing and punishing the communities of color affected by this epidemic; we must correct our wrongs. New York’s marijuana possession convictions of the past 20 years were unjust and racially biased. The criminal records of those convictions hamper their ability to successfully move through life with a just opportunity. There is a need reintegrate into society,” said Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson.

“Formerly incarcerated individuals are routinely denied access to jobs, housing, educational loans, welfare benefits, political participation, and other key social goods solely on the basis of their drug convictions. It is an alarmist attitude of a few who refuse to accept the notion that many of these former addicts have served their time and proven themselves worthy of a second chance. The Marijuana Sealing bill must be passed in the Senate in order to actualize this second chance for all.”

“As the nation comes to the conclusion that we cannot arrest our way out of the “drug problem”, we must work to repair the harms done to communities by the 45 year failed war on drugs,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Comprehensive drug law reform must include legislative and programmatic measures that account for our wrongheaded policies, policies that can impede New Yorkers from creating healthier and safer lives.”

Date Published: June 16, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance