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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

SANTA FE—Yesterday the Secretary of Health denied a petition to add Alzheimer’s disease to the list of medical conditions eligible for the medical cannabis program, even though the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Advisory Board voted unanimously to recommend making neurodegenerative dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, qualifying conditions.

Alzheimer’s disease, similar to many of the conditions presently included in New Mexico’s Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, is a neurologic disease and has no known cure. Existing medications provide only temporary relief, without stopping the progression of the disease.

“It is really unfortunate that New Mexicans suffering from Alzheimer’s related dementia, which often leads to a refusal to eat and combative moods, will not be allowed to seek relief from medical cannabis,” said Jessica Gelay, policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. “There are no curative treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, and, as the peer-reviewed evidence submitted to the department of health shows, there is reason to believe that medical cannabis could be helpful for people afflicted with this terminal condition.”

Medical cannabis is currently available to Alzheimer’s patients in thirteen of the twenty-three states with medical cannabis laws. Studies have demonstrated that people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease related anorexia and nighttime agitation increase their body mass and have improved sleep patterns. Additionally, emerging evidence suggests potential for cannabis to be beneficial in reducing inflammation in the brain, a factor that can lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

"In contrast to Secretary Ward’s decision, the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board's action recognizes the debilitating impact neurodegenerative diseases have on New Mexico's increasing elderly population, and recognizes that medical cannabis should be part of a larger comprehensive approach to support our elders' quality of life," stated Emily Kaltenbach, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico office. "New Mexico has a long history of respecting our elders and the board’s compassionate recommendation to add these conditions is rooted in the great values of our state, we are sorry that the secretary did not agree with the board’s recommendation.”

Published studies suggest that medical cannabis may improve symptoms related to Alzheimer’s disease and support the pharmacological and physiological benefits seen in the use of cannabinoid compounds and whole plant medicine on general symptoms of neurodegeneration.

A 2014 study done at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute in conjunction with the University of South Florida College of Pharmacy, and published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, supports the use of cannabis for Alzheimer’s. Among the positive findings are that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) does not weaken immune function, decreases synthesis and accumulation brain plaque a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, and at efficacious levels does not lead to cell toxicity. In conclusion the authors state “we believe the multifaceted functions of THC will ultimately decrease downstream tau hyperphosphorylation and neuronal death thereby halting or slowing the progression of this devastating disease.”

More than 30,000 New Mexicans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and the number is expected to increase to more than 40,000 by 2025. It is the leading cause of dementia among the elderly and is estimated to affect approximately one in nine people of the population over 65 years of age. Racial and cultural disparities are evident when considering the prevalence of AD among elderly New Mexicans. Older Hispanics are one and a half times more likely to have dementia than Anglos. Veterans, who comprise eleven percent of New Mexico’s population, who suffer from PTSD are twice as likely as veterans without PTSD to develop AD or other age-related dementias.

Additional actions announced yesterday by the Department of Health were the approval of the condition of ulcerative colitis, and the approval of the board’s recommendation to allow psychologists with prescribing ability to certify patients with PTSD for the program. However, the Secretary denied the ability of licensed medical practitioners, other than psychologists, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners, from being able to certify patients for the program who have PTSD.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation's leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA works for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

Date Published: August 29, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

When preparing for a festival, we put a heavy emphasis on the preemptive measures we ought to take before we do anything that may alter our minds - like educating ourselves on drugs and their effects, testing what we ingest, and staying hydrated.

But real harm reduction is about so much more than reducing the negative consequences associated with our own drug use.

It’s about the opportunity to combat ignorance with information by helping others make better, safer choices.  And when that opportunity comes, we should take it.

I’d like to say that when it comes to my personal safety, I’ve always made the right decisions, but that simply isn’t true. At a festival I attended this summer with a fellow Drug Policy Alliance intern, I had a sobering experience that prompted me to write this piece.

We often sweat life's big decisions, but it's the little decisions that matter the most – the ones we deem inconsequential and can only appreciate in hindsight. At festivals and shows it is common to meet fellow music fans and instantly form bonds that transcend the traditional way friendships are formed.

So of course after the show was over we ran into a friend of a friend that offered us a ride home. In our tired state we didn’t think much of it and accepted the ride with gratitude.

What should have been a ten-minute ride home turned into a twenty-minute scary near-death experience. The driver hit a curb and we were momentarily suspended in the air. I’ve never really had a near-death experience, but it was right then and there that I realized I made a huge mistake. Everyone got home safe, but that experience resonated with me.

It would be easy to blame the driver for not being more aware of her own state before getting behind the wheel of a car and offering a ride.  But I recognize my own naiveté in accepting a ride without asking pertinent questions like if the driver had taken drugs that day and the simplest question of all, “Are you ok to drive?”

When we make the decision to drink or use drugs we are having an experience that hinders our inhibitions and ability to make the best decisions. Therefore it’s important to look around you while you’re at the party – be aware not just of yourself but of your friends and the people around you.

It’s one thing to educate yourself and practice personal harm reduction, and another to actually put into practice that acronym that EDM culture claims, P.L.U.R - peace, love, unity, respect.   No person is an island unto himself or herself and sometimes you can help someone make a better choice – like take a taxi instead of driving – and save not just them but the people around them too.

So if you’re going to EZoo, a good first step is to attend DanceSafe’s Zoo Survival Night on August 28. It’s free and it will be an evening of harm reduction education, gift bags, and a special presentation to demonstrate how to use a drug testing kit.  Everyone who plans to use drugs, or knows someone that will, ought to stop by.

But at the party and afterward, I hope you’ll consider how you can help other people stay safe as well.  You could save someone from making a poor decision like my friend and I made earlier this year.

You could save someone’s life.

Stephanie Izquieta is an intern for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Stephanie Izquieta
Date Published: August 28, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Dear Doctors,

I have heard that cannabis use can cause certain people to develop mental disorders like psychosis especially if started at an early age, is this true?

Concerned Mother

Dear Concerned,

Thanks for your question, it is one which people have posted a number of times to this blog. The topic of mental illness, much like cannabis, has a certain stigma in everyday society. Many people who have mental health issues are afraid to discuss them publically, and the amount of resources dedicated to mental health research and support are woefully inadequate at both the state and federal level. Clearly there is a lot of work which needs to be done in this space.

In regards to your question on cannabis use and the development of mental health problems, the best analogy for where the science is on this issue, is the chicken and egg question. Research in this area shows a correlation between cannabis use and psychosis. This means that the two situations are related, but it does not mean that one situation causes the other. We know that people who have symptoms of psychosis are more likely to use marijuana, but we don’t know which comes first, marijuana use or psychotic symptoms.

What exactly are psychotic symptoms? Psychosis, quite simply, describes the condition of the mind that has lost contact with reality. The symptoms of psychosis can be divided into two categories: positive symptoms and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms, are those which reflect an increase in brain activity and include: delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, disorganized thinking, and disorganized speech.  On the other hand, negative symptoms, are those which reflect a decrease in brain activity and include: lack of motivation, decrease ability to create or receive new ideas, decreased talking, difficulty expressing emotion, and difficulty concentrating.

It is also important to note that the mental disorder of psychosis is extremely rare, with about 3 in every 100 people experiencing a psychotic episode in their lifetime. The onset of psychosis, or similar disease processes like schizophrenia, usually begin in an individual’s late teens to early twenties. This generally also happens to be around the same time when individuals have their first exposure to cannabis. The fact that these two time periods overlap is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to know which comes first.

There are several theories that attempt to explain the relationship between cannabis use and mental illness. They are effectively summarized on the award winning Cannabis and Psychosis: Exploring the Link website. Links and a brief synopsis are provided below:

  • The vulnerability theory: stating that cannabis use leads to the development of psychosis in people who have a family history of psychotic episodes.
  • The contributing cause theory:  stating that cannabis use is one of many factors which leads to the development of psychosis.
  • The self-medication theory: stating that individuals who have psychotic experiences, use cannabis to self-medicate in advance of being formally diagnosed with a psychotic disorder

Overall, the body of scientific literature has not been able to provide a definitive answer as to whether cannabis use causes psychosis. Compelling arguments and data have been provided to suggest that those with a predisposition for mental illness can exacerbate those symptoms by using cannabis, however some fundamental questions remain. Namely, if there is a direct link between cannabis use and psychosis, it should follow that the number of diagnoses of psychosis should rise with the increasing prevalence of cannabis use in society. This phenomenon has not been established.

Moreover, from a public policy standpoint, regulations on marijuana should include education about the possible risks for young people and those with mental health issues. As cannabis policy reform continues to take shape globally, it is clear that issues such as these should be taken into consideration.

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.

Author: Dr. Malik Burnett and Dr. Amanda Reiman
Date Published: August 28, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

“We don’t see human-scale rat cages as something that’s going to be seen as a positive or intelligent way to approach young people…We worry about some of the messages…and that how they are worded could feed into stereotypes, especially since that is a time when peer approval is so important.

That's from Boulder Valley School District communications director Briggs Gamblin, in an interview with the Boulder Weekly explaining why BVSD officials, representing 28,171 students in the greater Boulder area, will be opting out of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s  underage marijuana-prevention scheme. Soon thereafter, the city of Boulder followed suit, deciding to hold off on participating in the statewide "Don't Be a Lab Rat" campaign.

Gov. Hickenlooper rolled out his $2 million marijuana-prevention campaign, only to be mocked in the national press and otherwise met with skepticism, criticism and outright rejection from his own constituents. The campaign involves placing human-size metal rat cages, replete with "hamster water bottles," at schools and bus stops to get kids to heed the slogan, “Don’t Be a Lab Rat.”

This is the city's way of conveying to teens that they are taking unknown health risks by consuming marijuana. Already the cages have been vandalized and co-opted as the backdrop for photo selfies of teens puffing away in the cage. Who knows, this campaign has become such a joke that local marijuana growers may even introduce a new hybrid strain of marijuana called Lab Rat.

The campaign's theme concerning the developing brain is reasonable. Many, however question the tactics used. The cages may well be a catchy public relations stunt about the human brain, but they don't appeal to young people's natural intelligence.

Instead, this campaign is cut from the same old cloth as other sensational anti-drug campaigns that have done little more than foment cynicism and mistrust and that miss the mark for meaningful, realistic and honest dialogue about drugs.

Most troubling though, is that this sort of scare-tactic strategy isn’t a relic of the past. It’s happening right now, and not just in Colorado – just take a look at this year’s Electric Zoo’s EMD Festival’s anti-drug messaging directed to their young patrons. The psychological divide between an adult world that has deemed marijuana worthy of legalization and the prevention world that still vilifies marijuana and other drug use creates a schizophrenic split in a teen’s realities – and is much more confusing for them than the questions over marijuana’s changing status.

Couldn’t we be helping them to understand the implications of this historic shift instead of wasting time and money espousing the failed policies of the past?

Supporters of marijuana regulation would rather see evidence-based drug education and prevention campaigns that deliver reliable information through initiatives whose goals include youth development and health. Reality-based programming engages students in a meaningful way and prevents the cynicism resulting from overly simplistic scare tactics.

The “Don’t be a Lab Rat” campaign is just more of the same “This is Your Brain on Drugs” rhetoric that hasn’t worked in the past, and has caused kids to doubt our credibility about the drug information that we provide them.

Don’t our kids deserve facts not rhetoric? Don’t we need to draw them closer to us with the truth, if we are to succeed in supporting them to stay on a healthy positive developmental trajectory – preparing them to eventually be able to make the best decisions for themselves in an increasingly demanding and complex world?

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

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Author: Jerry Otero
Date Published: August 27, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Trenton— In New Jersey, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death.  In response to this public health problem, Governor Christie signed the Overdose Prevention Act in May of 2013. On New Jersey’s first ever Overdose Awareness Day, advocates who supported the bill’s passage now remain focused on successful implementation of the law.

The Overdose Prevention Act encourages people to seek emergency medical assistance in overdose situations by providing limited protections from arrest and prosecution for drug possession charges. It also allows for expanded access to the opioid overdose antidote, naloxone (Narcan).

“This International Overdose Awareness Day is very special because of the enormous progress New Jersey has made in fighting overdose this past year,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for Drug Policy Alliance.  “We’ve seen effective overdose prevention policies embraced across the state.   The policies of expanded access to naloxone and Good Samaritan protection for those who call for help are working and saving lives.”

Educating officials and members of the public about the protections guaranteed under the new law is an ongoing effort. State officials, as well as private advocates, have devoted significant resources towards implementation over the past year. Drug Policy Alliance continues distributing posters and palm cards in English and Spanish explaining the law and providing informational presentations to interested groups throughout the state.

In June, Governor Christie announced that police and EMTs throughout the state can be equipped with naloxone, building off a successful pilot program in Ocean County. First responders have already saved over 100 lives as a result. And more than 400 concerned community members have obtained naloxone in case they are in a position to help someone else in an overdose emergency. Georgett Watson runs the Overdose Prevention/Naloxone Distribution Program through South Jersey AIDS Alliance’s Oasis Drop-In Center in Atlantic City. “Peers and loved ones who witness an overdose simply want to help the victim as quickly as possible. No one wants to stand by helplessly in that kind of situation, so having naloxone on hand is both empowering and life-saving.”

Patty DiRenzo of Blackwood lost her son, Salvatore, to an overdose when he was only 26 years old. “I commend Governor Christie for proclaiming the first official Overdose Awareness Day here in New Jersey this year. As we honor the memories of loved ones we’ve lost, we continue to hope for a time when no other families have to suffer such tragedies. Implementation of the Overdose Prevention Act is helping us achieve that goal and continuing to promote awareness will save many more lives.”

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

Montclair, NJ (PRWEB) August 27, 2014

PAINWeek, the National Conference on Pain for Frontline Practitioners, today announced that Ethan Nadelmann, JD, PhD, will deliver the Keynote Address at PAINWeek 2014. Dr. Nadelmann is the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the leading organization in the United States promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. As a longtime proponent of drug policy reform, both domestically and internationally, he has played a pivotal role in discussions and policy initiatives concerned with pharmaceutical legislation and drug sentencing, prevention of overdose fatalities, and marijuana policy. His address, entitled “The Sound and the Fury: What Ending the Drug War Looks Like,” will be delivered as part of the Welcome Proceedings on Wednesday, September 3, at 6:30 pm.

Nadelmann received his BA, JD, and PhD in political science from Harvard, as well as an MSc in international relations from the London School of Economics, and taught at Princeton University for 7 years. He has authored 2 books—Cops Across Borders and (with Peter Andreas) Policing the Globe—and his writings have appeared in most major media outlets in the US as well as top academic journals. He has played a key role as drug policy advisor to George Soros and other prominent philanthropists and to elected officials in the US and internationally.

“It’s hard to find anyone who still says they support the ‘war on drugs,’ yet the harsh legacy of that war lingers on,” said Dr. Nadelmann. “What’s needed now is a vision for a new drug control policy grounded in science, compassion, health, and human rights.”

Debra Weiner, Director of Program Development for PAINWeek, commented: “We are excited to welcome Ethan Nadelmann back to PAINWeek as our Keynote Speaker. His experience and that of his organization in influencing the course of drug policy reform in ballot initiatives nationwide makes him uniquely qualified to offer new ideas that can benefit all stakeholders in the pain management arena.”

About PAINWeek

PAINWeek is the largest US pain conference for frontline practitioners with an interest in pain management. Convening at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas for its 8th year on September 2-6, 2014, PAINWeek expects to welcome over 2000 physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals for a comprehensive program of course offerings, satellite events, and exhibits. Over 120 hours of continuing medical education activities will be presented. To learn more and register for PAINWeek 2014, visit

Date Published: August 27, 2014
Published by PAINWeek

Tell Gov. Brown: Save Lives and Expand Access to Naloxone and Sterile Syringes in CA

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

Every year around this time, people around the world who work on issues related to overdose prevention start talking about what they might protest or which issue we might organize ourselves around for International Overdose Awareness Day (August 31).

In previous years, some of us have called out the philanthropic community for their lack of significant financial commitment to the public health problem of overdose. We’ve raised money for small but essential naloxone distribution programs; we’ve demanded greater access to naloxone, the lifesaving antidote to opiate overdose; we’ve called for more (and more comprehensive) ’911 Good Samaritan’ Laws. We unite our community  and champion better solutions that don’t criminalize or stigmatize people who use drugs or people who accidentally overdose on them.  We hold protests, vigils, rallies and marches.

Normally I’m pretty riled up this time of year.  But this August, I’m smiling, encouraged and praising people like the U.S. Attorney General for their progressive views on overdose prevention.

Wait—what? That can’t be right. Did I really just say that?

Well, yes. We’ve all been kicking a lot of ass lately. Drug policy reformers, harm reductionists, legislators and yes, even cops, have all been starting to hold hands and sing overdose prevention Kumbaya. Everyone is trying to play nice and work together to find ways to help prevent drug overdoses from becoming fatal (or from happening in the first place, for that matter). It’s great. But also weird—questions and concerns remain. But mostly great.

So much has happened since the last Overdose Awareness Day that it’s been hard to keep up with it. States like New York and Vermont have been busily passing great legislation that makes naloxone much more easily accessible. Rhode Island found a hero in Walgreens, which stepped up in a major way to start getting naloxone into the hands of people who might one day use it to save a life. And then, not to be outshined, CVS got on board. California’s bill that would allow pharmacists to furnish naloxone without a prescription sailed through the Legislature with strong, unanimous, bipartisan support and is now sitting on the governor’s desk, waiting for his signature.

Evzio, the hand-held device that talks to you as you administer naloxone, was released. Some grumbled about the high cash price while others cheered the mainstreaming of naloxone and overdose prevention. When Wired magazine does a story about naloxone to reverse opiate overdose, you know something has shifted.

Sheriffs departments all across the country began equipping their officers with naloxone. A couple here, a couple there, and lately it’s been feeling like a wave of them. In California, we saw uber-conservative San Diego sheriffs actively embrace the opportunity to carry and use naloxone (while Los Angeles law enforcement seems to be dragging its feet on the naloxone issue, but that’s another blog topic for another day). And now the media happily reports each ‘naloxone save’ made by all of those officers in all of those towns.

Is it just me or is naloxone having a moment? Whatever it is, it’s fantastic and very long overdue.

And while we’re all expressing some gratitude for this shift in consciousness, let’s not forget that we must never lose sight of the fact that too many people die from drug overdoses alone and behind a locked door—in many cases too ashamed, embarrassed or defeated to bring their drug use (or drug dependence) out in the open, where at least we could help make sure they didn’t die alone if something went awry.  Maybe it’s just me, but I always cry a little when I read stories about a human being who overdosed and died alone in a gas station bathroom. It wrecks me. No human being should ever be so judged and hated for using drugs that they spend their last moments alive on Earth in shame and isolation, alone.

I miss Philip Seymour Hoffman. That needed to be said here. I didn’t know him, but I miss him all the same. The world misses him.

Let’s get naloxone in as many hands as possible. And let’s really celebrate the gigantic progress we’ve made in just the past 12 months.  But let’s also have some compassion for people still struggling and those we lost.  My heart is with all of them this year.

Meghan Ralston is the harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Meghan Ralston
Date Published: August 27, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance