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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

At dawn on Sunday, a neighborhood in the center of São Paulo, Brazil awoke to a violent and unanticipated onslaught of nearly a thousand police officers, who descended on residents – many of whom were homeless and many of whom use drugs – with dogs, Tasers and rubber bullets. The area had come to be known as Cracolândia (“Crackland”), and the officers had been sent by São Paulo’s Mayor João Doria to destroy one of the world’s exemplary harm reduction programs, De Braços Abertos (“With Open Arms”).

Videos and recounts of the crackdown are horrific: 900 militarized police officers viciously stormed through the area, arresting people suspected of using drugs. They evicted people who had been accessing voluntary treatment services, destroyed tents and temporary housing that had become people’s homes, and even blocked health professionals from providing relief to those harmed in the operation.

Brazilian human rights advocates, drug policy reformers, psychologists, academics and treatment specialists are responding to Sunday’s violent operation against De Braços Abertos.

Brazil's Federal Council of Psychology called the mayor’s action “barbarism”. Luciana Boiteux, a law professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro said, “This police action in Cracolândia in São Paulo was a brutal war against the poor homeless people. They were disarmed and vulnerable, and were treated as something disposable, despicable.”

The city of São Paulo, under former mayor Fernando Haddad, launched De Braços Abertos in 2014 to address the neighborhood’s high prevalence of crack cocaine use. The city replaced its previous law enforcement-heavy approach with an emphasis on social reintegration by providing health care, temporary housing, employment opportunities, meals, technical training and a daily wage to over 800 people struggling predominantly with homelessness and addiction to crack. Significantly, abstinence from drug use was not a requirement for participation in the program.

De Braços Abertos has been a success. Within a month of the program’s initiation crack use had reduced in the area by 50 to 70% and within two months 10,555 health interventions had been delivered. Crime rates in Cracolândia fell in the first half of 2014, including a 32.3 percent decrease in theft. In a survey of De Braços Abertos participants, 95% said that the impact on their lives was either positive or very positive; 76% accepted jobs as part of the program (75% of which thought that the employment conditions were either good or excellent); 73% sought rehabilitation services; and 67% said that they had reduced their crack consumption. 66% of the program’s participants were formerly incarcerated, making the emphasis on social reintegration all the more significant.

Today, two Brazilian drug policy and human rights organizations, the Brazilian Platform for Drug Policy and Conectas Direitos Humanos, will denounce Mayor Doria’s crackdown in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Gabriel Elias, Advocacy Coordinator of the Brazilian Drug Policy Platform said, “The government is trying to find new ways to incarcerate drug users through confined and compulsory treatment. This policy is contrary to the United Nations guidelines and Brazilian legislation.”

The São Paulo government has no realistic plan for what to do with the now-dispersed residents of Cracolândia. Many of them are spending the night in jail cells or on cold, hard floors in government facilities. Mayor Doria’s decision to violently shut down an effective and compassionate program that was serving an oft-overlooked and stigmatized population was, purely and simply, inhumane.

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

Photo via Flickr

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Author: Hannah Hetzer
Date Published: May 24, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

President Trump’s FY 2018 budget, released today, proposes to boost funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement while proposing dramatic cuts to Medicaid that has extended access to opioid treatment for millions of people impacted by the opioid crisis, as well as cuts to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the federal agency chiefly responsible for administering federal treatment grants.  In a press release, the Office of National Drug Control Policy highlighted that the Trump administration’s FY 2018 budget proposes $15.6 billion for law enforcement and interdiction but only $12.1 billion for treatment and prevention.  The budget released today also confirmed that the White House has dropped plans to cut the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s budget by nearly 95%.

Below is a statement by Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance on the White House budget:  

“Trump’s budget puts law enforcement ahead of treatment and public health at a time when there is broad political consensus that drugs should be treated as a health issue. This budget represents a major step backward in the fight to end the opioid crisis. Nearly five decades of a war on drugs has shown that throwing money at drug law enforcement fails to reduce neither supply or demand for drugs and only makes drug-related problems worse. Trump’s budget is the latest confirmation that this White House is engaging in a reckless escalation of the war on drugs, a losing proposition that is intensely unpopular with the public, and a tremendous waste of tax dollars that will needlessly drive up mass incarceration and put at risk the lives of people who struggle with addiction.”

Below is a statement by Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance on the White House’s reversal of plans to cut ONDCP:

“Since its inception in 1988, ONDCP’s primary mission has been the prosecution of the war on drugs. For decades, the agency prioritized hardline tactics by law enforcement that treated addiction as a crime. In the 1990s and 2000s, ONDCP was so obsessed with marijuana enforcement that it largely ignored early signs of the opioid crisis until it became a full blown public health catastrophe. Trump’s proposed budget is the clearest indication yet that ONDCP will be tasked with administering the Trump administration’s escalation of the war on drugs. Those who fought hard to preserve ONDCP need to be vigilant that the agency doesn’t revert to prioritizing enforcement-driven strategies that will only undermine efforts to treat people who struggle with addiction.”

Date Published: May 23, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Recently a new Baltimore Police Department (BPD) policy to treat overdose scenes as crime scenes was widely publicized.  The new policy discourages people from calling for medical assistance for an overdose, puts overdose victims at increased risk, and further places vulnerable individuals’ health and safety at risk, particularly in black and brown and poor communities.  The policy change will result in increased, and otherwise preventable, overdose deaths throughout Baltimore.

Though only a few weeks old, the policy has already resulted in confusion on how to respond to overdoses and contributed to the death of a Baltimore man near Penn North metro station last week due to law enforcement interference. Bystanders at the station identified an individual experiencing an overdose and attempted to revive him by administering naloxone, a fast acting opioid-overdose reversal drug, but were prevented from doing so by a Metro Transit Administration (MTA) officer. Multiple witnesses gathered at the scene, demanding that they be allowed to treat the individual, but were prevented from doing so repeatedly by the MTA officer. The man ultimately died.

"When we treat overdoses like crimes, it changes police priorities. Police have to be concerned about contamination of the crime scene, when their first priority should be saving the overdosing person's life," said Thomas Dargan Chairman of Communities United Quality of Life Committee. "This approach only increases the potential for harm and even death among people struggling with opioids. Officers should be carrying and administering naloxone, or at least encouraging trained civilians to do it."

Maryland has been devastated by the opioid overdose epidemic, with 1,089 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2015, almost 400 of which were within Baltimore City. The city’s 2016 figures are even grimmer; in just the first nine months of 2016, 431 individuals died of an overdose, surpassing the number of people who died in all of 2015. The state and city have responded to the crisis with interventions such as the Good Samaritan law, which provides immunity for certain drug-related offenses for people seeking help at the scene of an overdose; as well as making overdose reversal drugs like naloxone easily accessible, and increasing treatment funding. However, many jurisdictions have simultaneously adopted counterproductive criminal justice approaches instead of proven, evidence-based public health interventions while overdose deaths have continued to rise.

Baltimore’s newly announced policy of treating overdoses scenes as crime scenes and overdose deaths as homicides is such a return to drug war policies. Previously, as medical emergencies, overdose calls were left to Emergency Medical Services, but BPD will now deploy a taskforce of detectives out of the homicide unit to investigate both fatal and non-fatal overdose scenes.

“Treating a medical crisis as a crime scene sends a terrible message and is only going to make bystanders scared to call for help during an overdose,” said Dargan. “As a formerly incarcerated citizen I educate our communities about how to stop overdose deaths by administering naloxone and calling 911, but with the new policy I can’t promise them they’ll be protected even with the Good Samaritan law. This policy makes it much more difficult for us to save lives and is going to cause more overdose deaths.”

A coalition of Baltimore community based organizations is strongly opposing BPD’s decision to treat overdoses as crime scenes, and people who use drugs as criminals. Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, BRIDGES Coalition, Communities United, Jews United for Justice, Nurses for Justice Baltimore, Power Inside, and Maryland Community Health Initiatives Inc. are calling on BPD to immediately end this practice. The burgeoning coalition supports drug user rights and a public health approach to drug use, such as interventions like safe consumption spaces in Baltimore.


“Baltimore PD’s decision to treat overdoses as a crime is incredibly disappointing and there’s no doubt it will lead to more deaths. If the city wants to reduce overdoses, Baltimore law enforcement should be dispensing naloxone, educating community members about the Good Samaritan Law, and advocating for expanding law enforcement assisted diversion (LEAD) programs to keep those with minor drug offenses out of the criminal justice system,” said Kaitlyn Boecker, Policy Coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance.

“Further criminalizing drug users will do nothing to build trust with communities that have been devastated by the War on Drugs for decades and continue to fear police interaction. We need to support harm reduction practices that reduce risk of fatal overdose and incarceration, such as creating safe spaces for people who use drugs,” said Rajani Gudlavalleti, community organizer for BRIDGES (Baltimore Resources for Indoor Drug-use Grassroots Education & Safety) Coalition.

"If the findings from the Department of Justice’s investigation and report on the Baltimore Police Department is any indication of how BPD’s practices are carried out, we are concerned that this new policy will increase the criminalization of Black residents," says executive director of the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, Harriet Smith.

"Nurses for Justice Baltimore is appalled by the recent BPD policy put forth to treat overdose scenes as crime scenes. Treating individuals who struggle with substance use as criminals is contradictory to everything we know and believe as nurses. Everyone has the human right to receive care free from judgment. We know that criminalizing people for using drugs only serves to isolate, and in many cases, drives individuals further into their addiction, leading to the epidemic of overdose deaths that we see in our city every day. Criminalizing people for addiction perpetuates racial disparities and is a form of hatred and disrespect that we, will not tolerate. Overdose is a medical crisis that deserves compassionate medical attention no matter what, where, or to whom it happens," said Molly Greenberg, RN and Michaela Lindahl, RN of Nurses for Justice Baltimore.

Date Published: May 24, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

On Wednesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported a nearly 40 percent increase in immigrant arrests in the first 100 days of the Trump administration compared to the same time period in 2016, including a nearly 20 percent increase in ICE arrests of immigrants convicted of a criminal offense from 25,786 people in 2016 to 30,473 people this year. It is unclear from the data made available by ICE on Wednesday what proportion of these convictions stemmed from drug charges. However, a 2014 Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University report showed that nearly 250,000 — one-quarter of a million — people were deported for nonviolent drug offenses from 2008 to 2014. A nonviolent drug offense was the cause of deportation for more than one in ten (11 percent of) people deported in 2013 for any reason — and nearly one in five (19 percent) of those who were deported because of a criminal conviction.

Advocates stress that these numbers can be expected to continue to rise dramatically and are the latest sign that the Trump administration threatens to exploit drug war policing and prosecution tools to target and deport large numbers of immigrants for drug law violations, even in cases where drug charges are dismissed or possession is lawful under state law.

“The Trump administration is seeking to escalate the failed war on drugs as a means to further criminalize immigrants and people of color,” said Jerónimo Saldaña, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “Not only are immigrants more likely to be entangled in the criminal justice system for engaging in the same practice as whites, but the threat of deportations equates to an unconscionable double punishment.This double standard, along with hateful rhetoric that targets ‘felons not families’, inflicts serious harm on countless communities. ”

Last month, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly announced that the Trump Administration would continue to use marijuana possession as a reason for deporting immigrants. “ICE will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens living in the United States,” he said. Marijuana is currently illegal under federal law, but eight states have legalized it for adult use and 28 states have medical marijuana laws. Individuals following state law would be exposed to deportation. In 2013-2014, more than 6,600 people were deported just for personal marijuana possession, and overall, nearly 20,000 people were deported in 2014 alone for simple possession of any drug or drug paraphernalia.

“The Trump administration has made it plain they will even target immigrants who are lawfully using marijuana under state law, including for medical use. It’s outrageous and deplorable to think that our criminal justice system would subject anyone following medical advice under state law to the destructive forces of deportation,” said Jerónimo Saldaña, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs.

Reports also surfaced this week that Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is expected to be appointed by Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly to an assistant secretary position charged with coordinating DHS enforcement activities with local law enforcement. Clarke has a track record of advocating hardline and inhumane tactics against communities of color and immigrants including the use of stop-and-frisk and police round ups of immigrants. Clarke has also come under fire for the deaths of several people incarcerated in the local jail under his watch.

According to the Immigrant Defense Project, one out of every four “criminal removals” – over 250,000 deportations – involved a person whose most serious conviction was for a drug offense. Human Rights Watch released a report in 2015 on drug deportations, noting that, “Thousands of families in the United States have been torn apart in recent years by detention and deportation for drug offenses.” In 2016, the ACLU released a report noting that veterans who have served the country as lawful permanent residents have been “subject to draconian immigration laws that reclassified many minor offenses as deportable crimes, and were effectively banished from this country.”

There have also been moves at the state level to prevent law enforcement from documenting misdemeanor drug crimes and therefore exposing immigrants to harsh deportation proceedings. The New York State Assembly passed legislation that creates a process for sealing the criminal records of people arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view, providing a measure of protection for immigrants by making it difficult or impossible for immigration authorities to meet their legal burden of proof for a judge to find a lawful permanent resident deportable. Often these arrests were the result of stop-and-frisk encounters targeting young people of color, and immigrant New Yorkers with minor records have already been deported by ICE under the Trump Administration’s crackdown.

Date Published: May 19, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Last week, Drug Policy Alliance Board Member and Columbia neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart left the Philippines after having been directly targeted by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Since last May, Duterte has waged a brutal war on people who use or sell drugs, which has led to the deaths of over 7,000 people, mostly from marginalized and vulnerable communities.

Dr. Hart was visiting the Philippines to speak at a drug policy forum hosted at the University of the Philippines. The convening brought together drug policy experts and civil society activists, and was attended by Agnes Callamard, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

At the forum, Callamard asserted that the war on drugs has been a failure and Hart called into question the false drug science being espoused by the Philippine authorities. In response,The Manila Times published a racist cartoon about Dr. Hart and President Duterte made disparaging and insulting remarks about both Callamard and Hart, calling Hart a “son of a b**** who has gone crazy.”

Within the last year of his presidency, Duterte has responded to anyone who has questioned his anti-drug strategy with insults, including former President Obama, the Pope, the International Criminal Court and the United Nations. Last November, Duterte threatened to kill human rights defenders who attempt to intervene in his war on drugs.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Trump called Duterte and invited him to the White House, praising Duterte’s drug war efforts. In the same week, a bipartisan Senate bill was introduced to rein in U.S. support of the Philippines' drug war, which places restrictions on defense aid to the country, provides additional funding for the Filipino human rights community, and supports a public health approach to drug use.

Statement by Ira Glasser, President of the Board of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“The Drug Policy Alliance condemns President Rodrigo Duterte for his implied threats against our board member, Dr. Carl Hart, the world-renowned neuroscientist who chairs Columbia University’s Department of Psychology. In light of the Duterte regime’s murderous history, such targeted statements cannot be taken lightly, or dismissed as rhetoric.

“Dr. Hart, a leading scholar in the field of drugs and addiction and a drug policy reform advocate, had been invited to present at the University of the Philippines in Manila, where he challenged Duterte’s brutal drug war, which has led to at least 7,000 extrajudicial killings of primarily marginalized people. Over the course of his presidency, Duterte has made chilling threats to human rights defenders in the Philippines, vowing to kill them if they attempt to intervene in his war on drugs.

“We call upon President Trump to denounce Duterte's threat in the strongest possible terms, and to make it unambivalently clear that such threats against the academic freedom of a renowned scholar will not be tolerated, and are incompatible with any normal relationship between our countries. We also call upon President Trump to publicly denounce Duterte’s murderous drug war and to call for immediate end to the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.”  

Date Published: May 18, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

On May 15, I was invited to appear on Democracy Now!, along with Dr. Carl Hart, about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his controversial new plan to have prosecutors across the country throw the book at drug offenders and charge them with the fullest extent of the law. This includes using mandatory minimum sentencing laws which handcuff judges and prevent them from looking at the totality of facts within a particular case.

Before going on air, we sat and caught up with what we were doing. Carl is a board member of the Drug Policy Alliance and the chair of the Department of Psychology and a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. He also is the author of High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society.

Carl told me that he just returned from the Philippines, where he participated in a two-day drug policy forum conference. Hart spoke out against President Rodrigo Duterte’s insane drug war policy which has resulted in crimes against humanity. He has promoted the cold-blooded murder of many. CNN recently reported that Duterte has approved the murder of more than 8,000 drug users and sellers by Philippine police.

During the conference, Dr. Hart spoke out against Duterte’s assertion that methamphetamine (shabu) damages and shrinks the user’s brain and causes users to commit violent acts. Hart countered these assertions and said that there were no scientific facts to support this.

Duterte, nicknamed “the Punisher” by Time magazine, quickly spoke out against Hart in a Philippine newspaper story in which he made several crude remarks. Duterte, in response, called Dr. Hart a fool, saying his statement about “shabu” was based on an American forensic study.

“Of course shabu fries the brain,” Duterte insisted. “And a human rights rapporteur and a psychology professor can go on honeymoon if they don’t believe it.”

Duterte was referring to Agnes Callamard, a United Nations Special Rapporteur who is a stern critic of Duterte’s war on drugs. In the past the Philippine government invited Callamard to conduct an investigation on the alleged human rights violations committed in connection with the drug war and implemented conditions including being questioned under oath by Durtere. This did not materialize and Sen. Francis Pangilinan urged the administration to formally invite Callamard for an official visit to the Philippines without any conditions.

When Dr. Hart revealed his own drug use during his visit he began to get death threats against him via social media. A racist cartoon featuring Hart was also published in the Manila Times. Fearing his life was in danger, Dr. Hart cut short his planned two week visit and left after only five days to return home.

The question I ask is how President Trump could invite this madman Duterte to the Whitehouse to speak with him when it is a known fact that the president of the Philippines engages in this type of behavior. In response, Carl said, "Duterte’s ignorance is only surpassed by those who support him or invite him to the White House.”

Dr. Carl Hart was very brave to go to the Philippines and directly challenge Durterte’s actions. We need more concerned Americans like Hart to speak out against the drug war and tyrants like Duterte who support it.

Anthony Papa is manager of media and artist relations for the Drug Policy Alliance

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Author: Anthony Papa
Date Published: May 16, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

WASHINGTON, DC - Attorney General Sessions’ decision to escalate the war on drugs by returning to harsh sentencing for low-level drug law violations will once again fill our federal prisons with people serving excessive sentences. Decades of research have demonstrated that these regressive policies have little impact on public safety, waste billions of taxpayer dollars, and disproportionately hurt communities of color.

Justice advocates and community activists will rally to demand Sessions retract his order and support fair and effective criminal justice reforms.

What:  Rally to stop Attorney General Sessions’ move to stiffen federal prosecutions
When:  Tuesday, May 16 at 12 p.m. ET
Where:  U.S. Department of Justice—950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Who:  Justice Roundtable advocates with special guest presenters:

  • Sakira Cook, The Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights
  • Rev. Jimmie R. Hawkins,  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
  • Marc Mauer, The Sentencing Project
  • Jesselyn McCurdy, American Civil Liberties Union
  • Evans Ray, Impacted individual
  • Nkechi Taifa, Justice Roundtable
  • Jasmine Tyler, Open Society Policy Center
Date Published: May 15, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance | Justice Roundtable

Stand against Attorney General Sessions' new attempt to escalate the drug war. 

Date Published: May 12, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance