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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

With so much war and destruction all around us, it is easy to get depressed and wonder how can we make this world a better place. What if you could help end a war that would save lives and money and see the results concretely in one week?

It’s possible, and here’s how.

Just 15 minutes of your time can help America find an exit strategy from our country’s longest war, the disastrous war on drugs. In one week, millions of voters from across the country will have an opportunity on election day.

Voters in Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. have an opportunity to join Colorado and Washington and legalize marijuana. Legalizing marijuana sends a clear message to leaders in Washington D.C. and the world that we don’t want to ruin lives with marijuana arrests. Victories in one or more of these states builds momentum for 2016 when California and others states hope to vote on marijuana legalization.

We can pass the tipping point towards the end of our country’s failed marijuana prohibition.

In California, voters have an opportunity to say no to mass incarceration. On the heels of reforming its harshest-in-the-nation Three Strikes law in 2012, Californians are now poised to refine six low-level, nonviolent offenses, including simple drug possession, from felonies to misdemeanors. Proposition 47 would then dedicate the savings -- likely more than $1 billion a year -- to schools, victim services, and mental health treatment. With retroactive sentencing and expungement provisions, the impact of Prop 47 in California on wasteful corrections spending and individual lives would be profound and surely resonate across the country.

These victories are not guaranteed. Even though 75 percent of Americans say the drug war is a failure and more than 50 percent want to legalize marijuana, we need folks to vote - especially young people, who don’t turn out the same way as they do in presidential election years.

With so much at stake, we need everyone who wants to end the drug war to give 15 minutes of their time and go to the polls. No matter where you live, call and reach out to friends in Oregon, California, D.C. and around the country in states with ballot initiatives to plead with them to get out and vote.

More than 40 years ago, President Nixon launched the drug war. The damage done to millions of our fellow citizens is real. Tonight 500,000 people will sleep behind bars because of a drug offense.

Thousands of kids are without their parents because of laws that lock up people for small amounts of drugs. Drug prohibition also led to thousands of violent deaths in our communities at home, as well as countless of our brothers and sisters in Mexico. Last year more than 650,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana possession alone, bringing a wave of collateral consequences like loss of freedom, benefits, jobs and even kids.

The drug war is a serious disaster but ending it can be fun. In the spirit of fun, some of our friends have rolled out creative ways to encourage young voters to get out, vote, and make history. Rock the Vote did a wildly successful "Turn Out for What” video with famous names like Lil Jon and Lena Dunham. Moore + Associates, a strategic communications firm behind popular viral videos (including Wake the F&%k Up!, which addressed voter apathy and starred Samuel L. Jackson, and Let My People Vote, which took on voter disenfranchisement and starred Sarah Silverman) made videos showing how easy it is for voters in Oregon to make their voices heard in a series called “In the Time It Takes.”

And for those people who like voter education information in the form of an attractive, shirtless guy, check out “Ryan” (not Gosling), sexily chopping wood or reading, while spreading the word about Oregon’s Measure 91 to tax and regulate marijuana.

It is not often that we have a chance to end a war and change history. We have that opportunity now.

Let’s send a message to the world and say loud and clear: NO MORE DRUG WAR!

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

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Author: Tony Newman
Date Published: October 29, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

I’m a native New Yorker and I live in Brooklyn. But right now I’m in Portland and I am completely dedicating myself to the state of Oregon.

Why? This lovely Pacific Northwestern state has the unique and historic opportunity to legalize marijuana and set up a system to tax and regulate it this November.

I wish I could vote here because it would feel glorious to be directly responsible for making that happen, putting an end to generations of failed prohibitionist policies that have wasted money and needlessly destroyed countless lives.

At least I can live vicariously through my friends in Oregon and encourage as many of them as possible to get their ballots in. It’s a mail-in state, which make the process super easy but the conventional wisdom is that younger people vote less in off-year elections but I’m hoping we can get out the vote and prove that wrong.

Others are joining me in their effort and, luckily, some of them are funny.

A new get-out-the-vote video campaign has been launched by Drug Policy Action, a related organization of the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. The series of videos, entitled "In the Time It Takes,” show how easy it is to vote and to support Measure 91, a bill on the November ballot that would regulate, legalize and tax marijuana for adults 21 and older.

In the videos, supporters of Measure 91, including actor Tate Donovan and comedian Rob Cantrell, demonstrate something that can be done in the same amount of time it takes to vote for measure 91 and mail a ballot in Oregon. From the mundane to the ridiculous, each “In the Time It Takes” video emphasizes the fact that it only takes a minute to fill out and mail a ballot.

This new video series, released today, was created by Mik Moore, thepolitical and communications strategist behind several of the most popular viral videos of the election, including Wake the F&%k Up!, which addressed voter apathy and starred Samuel L. Jackson, and Let My People Vote, which took on voter disenfranchisement and starred Sarah Silverman.

Measure 91 has unprecedented support for a marijuana measure with more endorsements than any past marijuana measure in Oregon along with endorsements from national news. According to Survey USA, as of October 23, 48 percent of Oregonians polled were in support of Measure 91 and only 37 percent were opposed.

Oregon’s Measure 91 is the new gold standard of marijuana reform laws and the number one priority for the marijuana reform movement.

So come on Oregon friends. You can complete and send in your ballot in much less time than it took me to write this.

To learn more, check out:

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

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Author: Sharda Sekaran
Date Published: October 28, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

A new get-out-the-vote video campaign has been launched by Drug Policy Action, a related organization of the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. The series of videos, entitled "In the Time It Takes,” show how easy it is to vote and to support Measure 91, a measure on the November ballot that would regulate, legalize and tax marijuana for adults 21 and older.

In the videos, supporters of Measure 91, including actor Tate Donovan and comedian Rob Cantrell, demonstrate something that can be done in the same amount of time it takes to vote for measure 91 and mail a ballot in Oregon. From the mundane to the ridiculous, each “In the Time It Takes” video emphasizes the fact that it only takes a minute to fill out and mail a ballot. Drug Policy Alliance and the local Yes on 91 campaign are counting on this new initiative to rally younger voters to get out and vote.

This new video series, released today, was created by Moore + Associates, a strategic communications firm that specializes in using comedy for social change. In 2012 Moore + Associates was responsible for several of the most popular viral videos of the election, including Wake the F&%k Up!, which addressed voter apathy and starred Samuel L. Jackson, and Let My People Vote, which took on voter disenfranchisement and starred Sarah Silverman.

“For Measure 91 to win, 18-35 year-olds need to vote,” said Drug Policy Action Communications Director, Sharda Sekaran.  “Yet, that segment of the population is much less likely to vote in mid-term elections. We’re hoping these videos showing how unbelievably easy it is to vote motivates young voters to make their voices heard.”

Measure 91 has unprecedented support for a marijuana measure, with more endorsements than any past marijuana measure in Oregon, along with endorsements from national news outlets. According to Survey USA, as of October 23rd, 48% of Oregonians polled were in support of Measure 91 and only 37% were opposed.

In Oregon, the failed approach to marijuana has come at a steep cost:

  • There have been at least 12,000 arrests and citations for marijuana each year across Oregon counties – and the number goes up every year. Over the last decade, police have arrested or cited over 99,000 people in Oregon for marijuana offenses. The millions of dollars this costs every year comes at a time when Oregon has untested rape kits, missing children and unsolved murders.
  • The current failed approach to marijuana in Oregon supports a dangerous system of drug cartels and organized criminals that take in huge amounts of profits without paying a penny in taxes.
  • Current marijuana policy in Oregon does nothing to protect children. Unlicensed sellers control kids’ access to marijuana, and they don’t ask for ID. And drug education and prevention programs are woefully underfunded.

Measure 91 was carefully crafted to create a tightly regulated system that controls marijuana’s production, sales and use. It requires that the revenues are placed in a special account that, by law, benefits schools, state and local law enforcement, drug prevention for youth, drug treatment and mental health programs – with full public transparency and subject to independent annual audits.

“Oregon’s Measure 91 is the new gold standard of marijuana reform laws and the number one priority for the marijuana reform movement,” said Sekaran. “Oregonians have expressed resounding support for it and now they need to take the last step by physically voting Yes on 91.”

Date Published: October 28, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Trenton — Advocates across the state have launched a campaign to support Public Question No. 1 on November 4th.  Public Question No. 1 asks voters to change the New Jersey Constitution to give judges the ability to deny bail to dangerous suspects and will usher in comprehensive bail reform in New Jersey.

The proposed Constitutional Amendment also authorizes the Legislature to pass laws to operationalize the amendment—an important action that the Legislature has already accomplished.  At the same time that the Legislature passed the resolution to put the bail reform question to the voters, it also passed, with bi-partisan support, groundbreaking legislation to comprehensively reform New Jersey’s broken bail system.  This legislation only goes into effect if the Constitutional amendment on the ballot wins a majority on November 4th.

New Jersey’s bail system is broken.  A report released early last year found that on any given day, nearly 75 percent of the 15,000 individuals in New Jersey jails are awaiting trial rather than serving a sentence.  The average length of pretrial incarceration for these individuals is more than ten months.  Nearly 40 percent of the total jail population has the option to post bail but lacks the financial resources to do so and more than 10 percent of individuals could secure their release pending trial with $2,500 or less.  More than half of the individuals in New Jersey jails are there on nonviolent charges.

Over the last two years criminal justice reform advocates, including the Drug Policy Alliance, the NAACP, the ACLU and the Integrated Justice Alliance and faith leaders waged a campaign to pass legislation to reform the system.  The campaign was successful and Governor Christie signed the bill in August.  Now advocates are pushing for the final step in the process—voter approval of the Constitutional Amendment.

“New Jersey’s bail system is broken,” says Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for Drug Policy Alliance.  “It makes no sense morally or economically to warehouse thousands of individuals for months on end while they await trial if those individuals pose no risk to the community.  At the same time our system lets dangerous offenders buy their way out of jail if they have enough money.  On November 4th, voters have a chance to fix this system to make it safer and fairer for all.”

This legislation, which will become effective if the Amendment passes, accomplishes several key reforms including protecting the rights of those denied bail by requiring prosecutors to prove the case for pretrial detention by clear and convincing evidence and mandating clear timelines for speedy trial.  The legislation also implements wide-ranging and long-needed reforms including encouraging non-monetary release options for low-risk individuals; establishing a system under which pretrial release decisions are based on risk rather than resources; requiring arrestees to undergo a risk assessment before their initial bail hearing in order for the court to make individualized determinations of what conditions of release are appropriate; establishing a pretrial services unit within the court system that will provide the appropriate level of monitoring and counseling for those awaiting trial.

Advocates are working in various ways to get the word out to voters about Public Question No. 1.  At the recent NAACP conference, bail reform was a major part of the discussions, with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Governor Chris Christie both addressing the issue.  NAACP NJ President Richard Smith, who stood beside Governor Christie during the signing of the bill, says "The dream of bail bond reform is at hand.  It is now up to us to make bail bond reform a reality by voting "YES" on November 4th. Let's - together - fix this broken system once and for all."

Clergy across the state are also discussing the importance of voting yes to reform the state’s broken bail system.  Rev. Dr. M. William Howard, Jr., pastor of Newark’s Bethany Baptist Church, who testified during a statehouse hearing on bail reform, says, “Approval of Public Question No. 1 will create a system that will better protect the rights of countless individuals who are incarcerated simply because they cannot afford to pay their way out of jail. It would guarantee safer communities by authorizing the absolute detention of dangerous defendants. And it would benefit the state by mitigating the major financial burdens associated with unnecessary detention and excessive rates of incarceration.”

Date Published: October 27, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Today, the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the D.C. Branch of the National Organization for Women came out in support of marijuana legalization and endorsed D.C.’s Initiative 71.

Initiative 71, which is on the November 4 ballot would legalize the possession of up to two ounces marijuana for adults over the age of 21, and allows individuals to grow up to six plants in their home. D.C. laws prevent the ballot initiative from addressing the taxation and sale of marijuana, however, the D.C. Council is currently considering a bill which would account for such provisions.

Additionally, the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released its groundbreaking report yesterday entitled, The Collateral Consequences of Arrests and Convictions under D.C., Maryland, and Virginia Law. The report is the first of its kind to examine the effect of the collateral consequences associated with arrests for residents in the DMV area.

"The endorsements of the local NAACP and D.C. N.OW. chapters further underscore the fact that ending the war on drugs is a civil rights issue of significant importance in the District of Columbia," said Dr. Malik Burnett, D.C. policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Additionally, the release of the Washington Lawyers Committee’s report on collateral consequences, begins to deconstruct some of the additional harms caused by the war on drugs and points to opportunities where tax revenue from marijuana can be used to advance restorative justice.”  

The possession of one ounce of marijuana is currently decriminalized in the District of Columbia, and persons found with more than this amount face a $25 civil infraction. Data from the Metropolitan Police Department reveals that 77 percent of tickets written during decriminalization have been in communities of color. “The NAACP D.C. Branch strongly advocates to end the war on drugs, which has caused significant damage in our communities. Endorsement of Initiative 71 does not mean that the NAACP is pro marijuana, however, we view Initiative 71 as a step towards ending discriminatory drug polices.” said Akosua Ali, President of the NAACP D.C. Branch.

Earlier this month, the D.C. Council voted unanimously to allow individuals with criminal records for marijuana possession to have those records sealed. This is the first of two votes required for this law to take effect the second vote will take place later in October.

“Criminalization of marijuana has played a major role in the racial disparities and injustice in the criminal justice system,” said Susan Mottet, president of D.C. N.O.W. “D.C. NOW works to end all discrimination in D.C. and urges the voters to pass Initiative 71 to help put an end to this tool for discrimination.”

On October 30, the D.C. Council will hold a joint hearing of the Business Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee and the Tax and Revenue Committee to look at the business and fiscal impact of marijuana legalization in the District of Columbia. Advocates will provide testimony support of using the proceeds from legalization towards rebuilding the communities harmed by the war on drugs.

“Given the damage that has been done to our communities from the war on drugs, it only makes sense that the revenues generated from the taxation of marijuana be reinvested into the communities harmed the most, this is the definition of socioeconomic justice,” said Akosua Ali. 

This endorsement comes on top of D.C. Working Families, local SEIU, and local UFCW who endorsed Initiative 71 early last week

“The D.C. Community is coming together to make a strong stand in its commitment to not only ending marijuana prohibition, but to restoring the communities most damaged by these policies” said Dr. Malik Burnett.

Date Published: October 23, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Dear Doctors,

“My next-door neighbor has the cutest child I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, the child has been battling severe epilepsy from a young age. We have a very tight community here, and I want to help the best way I can. I read and hear a lot medical marijuana – particularly high CBD strains. The results seems so promising, but I am concerned about the stigma they might encounter from giving their child marijuana, especially from family members and the community. How do they balance these risks with the potential benefits?”

Concerned Neighbor

Dear Concerned,

Thanks for your question. We have received questions about medical marijuana for children from a number of readers who follow this column. First, it is important to know that as parents, your neighbors have the right to determine what is best for their child.  Managing all the issues which come with a child who has severe epilepsy is challenging in its own right, and they should not ever feel the additional burden of having others judge their decision making capacity as a parent.

When it comes to accessing medical marijuana, if you live in one of the 23 states which allow for the use of medical marijuana, you should help your neighbors take the time to become familiar with the steps required to obtain medical marijuana for their child. This usually begins with a conversation with the child’s doctor, and given the increased media coverage of the benefits children have been receiving, most doctors who deal with epilepsy should be familiar with the treatment option or at least open to the conversation.

It is important to note, that the science on cannabis therapy in treatment of epilepsy is still in its infancy; however, results have been promising. Historically, the English neurologists Drs. Russell Reynolds and William Gowers used cannabis indica in conjunction with bromide as a therapy for epilepsy in the late 19th century.

In more modern preclinical animal studies conducted in the 1970s, CBD was shown to have anticonvulsant effects when seizures were acutely induced in mice. Later studies revealed a potential mechanism for this effect, by showing that CBD raised the threshold requirement, after one action potential, making it more difficult for subsequent action potentials to fire and propagate seizure activity. In humans, CBD has passed through the required safety and pharmacology trials, with very few issues or concerns. The cannabinoid is well tolerated and has no significant side effects or adverse reactions, which certainly cannot be said of anti-epileptic drugs.

Given these results, GW Pharmaceuticals, was the given the go ahead to conduct a preliminary phase 3 clinical trials with their drug, Epidiolex, in select hospitals in the US under the FDA’s expanded access Investigational New Drugs program. Initial results have proved promising with an overall 44 percent seizure reduction seen in the 27 Dravet syndrome patients tested. Epidiolex is an investigational drug which comes in liquid form and contains 98 percent CBD, trace quantities of some other cannabinoids and very little THC. In spite of the promise of this drug, it will be years before, the drug is available to the approximately 466,000 patients who need it. 

Once the parents and the doctor have discussed all of the treatment options for the child’s epilepsy, and they all have come to the conclusion that the benefits outweigh the risks, the doctor should feel comfortable writing a recommendation for medical marijuana, if it is allowed under the state’s medical marijuana law. Some states require the approval of two physicians in order for children to gain access; however, this should not be too burdensome once the child’s epilepsy doctor has given their approval.

After securing all of the paperwork required by your state, they should next have a conversation with the individuals at one of your state’s registered dispensary. The dispensary should be able to inform them all the strains which are reported to be helpful for children with epilepsy. Additionally, it is best to work with a dispensary that is  able to provide patients  with all of the information related to purity, potency, cleanliness, and cannabinoid profile of the cannabis which they will be selling. Finally, the dispensary should give them tips on how best to administer the medicine.

When your neighbors begin to administer the medicine to their child, it is most important that they go slowly, start with a small dose and titrate up over time, and communicate with their physician. Much like many of the anti-epileptic medicines on the market, each dose works differently for each person. Let them know that it is important that they keep good records of both the amount of medicine and the number of times they are administering the medicine per day. Keeping good records will allow them to get a better gauge of how their child is responding.

Ultimately open and honest communication works towards dispelling the stigma associated with medical marijuana and ensures everyone is up to speed on the latest developments and their concerns are focused on the well-being of the child, where they belong.

The Doctors

Dr. Malik Burnett is a former surgeon and physician advocate. He also served as executive director of a medical marijuana nonprofit organization. Amanda Reiman, PhD, holds a doctorate in Social Welfare and teaches classes on drug policy at the University of California-Berkeley.

Have a question for the Doctors? Click here to submit your question.

View more Ask the Doctors about Marijuana blog posts.

General Disclaimer: Site Provides No Medical Advice

This site is not designed to and does not provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual. Through this site and linkages to other sites, the Drug Policy Alliance provides general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this site, or through linkages to other sites, is not medical advice and is not a substitute for medical or professional care. The Drug Policy Alliance is not liable or responsible for any advice or information you obtain through this site.

Author: Dr. Malik Burnett and Amanda Reiman, PhD, MSW
Date Published: October 23, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Media coverage of drugs and drug policy has grown much more sophisticated in the past few years. Yet many media outlets -- even some of the most well-meaning ones -- still often use inaccurate, offensive, or just plain absurd language that would be considered unthinkable when covering other issues.

Last year, the Associated Press made waves when it announced that it would no longer use the term "illegal immigrant." This fits with the AP's and other outlets' efforts to cast aside labeling terms that define people by a single behavior or condition -- and to instead use terms that humanize the people they are writing about.

Well, the AP is now working on the 2015 edition of the Stylebook and has issued an open call for suggestions for new or updated entries.  A few could make the cut and get integrated into the 2015 guide.

At the Drug Policy Alliance, we have long sought to use humanizing language that doesn’t equate someone’s involvement with drugs or the criminal justice system as the sum of their identity – and we are asking the AP to join us.

First off, we have to stop using objectifying and dehumanizing language to describe people who use drugs or who struggle with drugs. The term “addict” as a noun is totally outdated and should be replaced with “person dependent on drugs” or “people who struggle with addiction.” The use of “addict” by some people in recovery themselves doesn’t make it OK to reduce anyone else’s humanity.  As my colleague Meghan Ralston recently wrote in "The End of the Addict":

“The sense of fear, loathing, otherness and "less than" created by that word far outweighs any benefits of using linguistic shorthand to quickly describe a person. "Addict" is a word so singularly loaded with stigma and contempt that it’s somewhat appalling that we continue to let it be used so easily and indiscriminately. Even in a chaotic stage of drug use, we are not "other." We are women, we are someone’s daughter, we continue to laugh, we continue to like jazz and cheeseburgers and comfy pajamas. We cry, we get so lonely, we hate sitting in traffic. Addiction can be wretched, no question, but we do not ever stop being human beings, even during the times in our lives when we are dependent on drugs.”

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. The point is to be as specific as possible without reducing a person’s entire identity to a single characteristic, behavior, or experience. Here are a few other examples:

  • Instead of “drug offender” try “person arrested for drugs” or “person convicted of a drug law violation.”
  • Instead of “ex-con” try “formerly incarcerated person.”
  • Instead of “drug injector” try “person who injects drugs.”
  • Instead of “drug user” and “drug dealer” try “person who uses drugs” or “person who sells drugs.”

Language plays a big role in shaping our everyday realities. As we move farther away from the drug war hysteria that drove our country into the catastrophe of mass incarceration, now is as good a time as ever to question everything we take for granted about drugs and people who use them.

Jag Davies is the publications manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Jag Davies
Date Published: October 20, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

NEW YORK: A new report released today by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and the Drug Policy Alliance shows that, despite campaign promises, marijuana possession arrests under Mayor de Blasio are on track to equal – or even surpass – the number of arrests under Mayor Bloomberg. As under the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations, these arrests are marked by shockingly high racial disparities. The report, Race, Class & Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s Two New Yorks: the NYPD’s Marijuana Arrest Crusade Continues in 2014 draws on data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and shows that despite a change in mayoral administrations and police commissioners, the NYPD continues its practice of making wasteful, racially biased, and costly marijuana arrests.

The report includes extensive analysis of marijuana arrest and income data, showing  that overall, low income and middle class communities of color face dramatically higher rates of marijuana possession arrests than do white communities of every class bracket. Most of those arrested are young men of color, even though young white men use marijuana at higher rates. Nearly 75% of the people arrested for marijuana possession in 2014 have never been convicted of even a single misdemeanor, and only 11% have a misdemeanor conviction.

"President Obama, Governor Cuomo, former Mayor Ed Koch and candidate Bill de Blasio all strongly criticized the NYPD's racist marijuana possession arrests,” said report author and Queens College professor Harry Levine.  “Yet the most progressive mayor in the modern history of New York is unable to stop them?  Really?"

New York State decriminalized personal possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977, finding that arresting people for small amounts of marijuana "needlessly scars thousands of lives while detracting from the prosecution of serious crimes.” Yet over the last twenty years, marijuana possession has become a top law enforcement priority, with nearly 600,000 people having been arrested under this provision in New York City alone, often as the result of an illegal search or as the result of a stop-and-frisk encounter when police demand an individual “empty their pockets,” thus exposing marijuana to public view.

"I was illegally searched by the NYPD and arrested for having a small amount of marijuana in my pocket,” said Iveily Matias, 20, a VOCAL-NY member living in Washington Heights. “It was my first time ever getting arrested and now I have a criminal record that makes it harder to find a job. I wasn't posing a risk to anyone's health or safety, so why am I, and so many other young people of color, being criminalized?"

Efforts to end the marijuana arrest crusade in New York continue to build. In a major development earlier this year, Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio calling for an end to biased marijuana possession arrests. Additionally, this spring, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced a plan to stop prosecuting people arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. The proposal was met with wide support from elected officials, community groups, and advocates; notably, though, Commissioner Bratton brazenly vowed to continue the racially biased arrest practice. And in Albany, where reform proposals have been debated for years, Assemblyman Karim Camara and Senator Daniel Squadron introduced the Fairness and Equity Act – new, comprehensive legislation to end the marijuana arrest crusade and address the persistent, unwarranted racial disparities associated with the practice.

"There is no excuse for the New York City marijuana arrest crusade to be continuing in 2014," said Kassandra Frederique, New York Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "New Yorkers made it clear that Black lives mattered when they voted for the mayoral candidate that supported ending bias policing practices, including racist marijuana arrests. It is time for that mayoral candidate to become the mayor and order his police commissioner to end these wasteful marijuana arrests now.”

When comparing arrests in the first eight months of both years (January – August), state data show that the NYPD made 396 more marijuana arrests in 2013 than in 2014 (20,080 versus 19,684). Why slightly more in 2013? Because of the low numbers of marijuana arrests in January and February of 2014, the first two months of the new mayoral administration. Were the marijuana arrests down in January and February 2014 because of policies of the new administration? No. The arrests were down because, according to records from the U.S. weather service, New York City received more inches of snow in January and February of 2014 than in any year since 1870 – more snow than in any January and February in 145 years. In effect, it took what insurance companies call "an act of God" to slow down the NYPD's marijuana possession arrests in 2014. And then only for two months. Since then, the numbers of the NYPD's lowest‐ level marijuana arrests have been up, and are on track to equal or pass all arrests in 2013.

“When it comes to marijuana possession arrests, the de Blasio-Bratton record is an awful tale of two New Yorks,” said gabriel sayegh, Managing Director for Policy & Campaigns for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Mayor de Blasio promised to end these arrests, so why do they continue today? The City Council should act to hold the Mayor and Commissioner accountable, and Albany needs to pass the Fairness and Equity Act.  We cannot allow systemic racial disparities to persist. Every New Yorker should receive fair, equal treatment under the law, regardless of their race, their class or where they live.”

Date Published: October 20, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance | Marijuana Arrest Research Project