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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

Perhaps the terrible truth of drug war violence will finally be addressed as all of America bore witness this summer to the horror of some 52,000 unaccompanied children who were fleeing devastating violence that had erupted in Central America.  Alone, they had braved the treacherous crossing of the border that divides America from Mexico and most of us first encountered them when we saw the smallest of children, terrified, and being held in cages.  Those images put before our national consciousness the most heart-wrenching cost of the American taxpayer funded drug war: how it displaces and disassembles the lives of defenseless children.  But the truth children have always been casualties of this failed war, both in Central and Latin America, and here in the U.S.

In Latin America, the core of this crisis faced by children in vulnerable communities is directly linked to the longstanding drug prohibition policies, which are as failed and dangerous today as they were in Chicago during alcohol’s prohibition during the 1920s. Yet, the United States employs tactics as wrongheaded and deadly now as they were then. As we did then, we are engaged in a hyperbolically militarized law and order campaign to combat drug trafficking.  Now, like then, it’s an utter failure.  Most people did not stop drinking if they were inclined to drink then, and today, those inclined to get high, do. But more lives than we may ever be able to count have been destroyed.  Murder rates and the numbers of those disappeared have left a terrible haunting that hangs like a heavy tarp across the future of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters who want only to something other than despair.  And major regions of Central America are destabilized now, along with the opportunities for creating viable livelihoods.  This is what leaves parents so desperate that they send their children on the perilous journey to the U.S. in search of refuge and safety.  They only want their babies to live, to have a chance.

Just like us.

Here in America, where drug war monies have disrupted primarily African American communities, Black parents clamor and pray for opportunities not afforded their precious young ones.  Instead of African American communities being provided with jobs, resourced schools, sports and arts programs and other stabilizing institutions, they’ve gotten excessive and biased policing.  Despite roughly equal drug use across the races. African Americans are subjected far out of proportion to incarceration and criminalization.  Theirs has been the experience of a criminal justice system on steroids; indeed the U.S. incarcerates more people for drug law offenses than Western Europe incarcerates for all offenses combined, and African Americans represent over 40 percent of those numbers despite being 13 percent of the population.  And here, among the forgotten many who bear the burden of these policies, are the children, who are often displaced from their homes and separated from a beloved parent who perhaps—and only perhaps—needed a public health intervention, not a criminal one.  Every night in America, 2.7 million children are growing up in a home in which one or more parents are incarcerated, two-thirds of which are for nonviolent offenses – including a substantial proportion who are behind bars for a drug law violation.

We hope that this terrible moment before us – with children sleeping on floors in cages at the border, and children going to bed without their mothers and fathers in what is widely acknowledged now a new system of Jim Crow – that we can finally stand together as one nation, setting aside the disingenuous politics of fear and stigma and demonstrate a real commitment to family values by putting the most vulnerable among us – our beloved children – at the center of our policies on drugs, incarceration and immigration.

asha bandele is the director of the advocacy grants program at the Drug Policy Alliance and the best-selling author of the Prisoner’s Wife
Jerónimo Saldaña is coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance’s movement building team

View more blog posts.

Author: asha bandele and Jerónimo Saldaña
Date Published: July 21, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

In a report published earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) made a clear call for broad drug policy reforms, including decriminalization of drug use, harm reduction practices such as syringe exchange and opioid substitution therapy, and a ban on compulsory treatment for people who use drugs. This report by the United Nations’ leading health agency focuses on best practices to prevent, diagnose and treat HIV among key populations.

“It’s good to see the WHO come out so strongly for decriminalizing drugs and rejecting compulsory treatment for people who use drugs,’ said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  “Its recommendations, grounded as they are in science and public health, drive home the need for fundamental reforms in U.S. drug policies, in particular the growing reliance on drug courts to ‘treat’ people arrested for drug possession.”

In a section titled “Good practice recommendations concerning decriminalization”, the WHO report makes the following recommendations:

  • Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration.
  • Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize the use of clean needles and syringes (and that permit NSPs [needle and syringe programmes]) and that legalize OST [opioid substitution therapy] for people who are opioid-dependent.
  • Countries should ban compulsory treatment for people who use and/or inject drugs.

This follows on the heels of a report released in March by a key working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. The recommendations of the working group – which included Nora Volkow, head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – highlight that “criminal sanctions are not beneficial” in addressing the spectrum of drug use and misuse.

In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a special session on drugs (UNGASS) – an initiative proposed in 2012 by the then-president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon – in order to conduct a comprehensive review of the successes and failures of international drug control policy. Whereas the previous UNGASS in 1998 was dominated by rhetorical calls for a “drug-free world” and concluded with unrealistic goals regarding illicit drug production, the forthcoming UNGASS will undoubtedly be shaped by recommendations such as those in the WHO report.

Last year, Uruguay followed on the heels of Colorado and Washington State and became the first country to legally regulate marijuana for recreational purposes. In June, the West Africa Commission on Drugs, initiated by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and chaired by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasango, called for drug decriminalization and for treating drug use as a health issue. This was followed by an announcement by the Jamaican Minister of Justice that the Jamaican Cabinet had approved a proposal to decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and the decriminalization of marijuana use for religious, scientific and medical purposes. And earlier this month, the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), agreed to establish a commission to review marijuana policy in the region in order to assess the need for reforms to marijuana laws.

The WHO recommendations are consistent with the long-standing policy objectives and mission of the Drug Policy Alliance, as well as with a surprisingly broad and rapidly-emerging coalition of stakeholders who are calling for drug decriminalization, including the American Public Health Association, International Red Cross, Organization of American States, NAACP, Human Rights Watch, National Latino Congreso, and the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

Date Published: July 21, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Take action: Save bail reform in New Jersey

Date Published: July 18, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Washington, D.C. - Today the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to retroactively apply an amendment approved earlier this year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that lowers Federal Guidelines for sentencing persons convicted of drug trafficking offenses. Today’s vote could shorten sentences for tens of thousands of people who are already incarcerated and serving sentences for drug offenses by granting eligible individuals a hearing before a federal judge to evaluate whether their sentence can be reduced to match the reduced guidelines. The underlying drug guidelines amendment was approved by the U.S. Sentencing Commission and submitted to Congress for review in April. Provided Congress takes no action to disapprove of the drug guidelines amendment before November 1, 2014, it will take effect on that date and courts may then begin considering petitions from incarcerated individuals for sentence reductions. Today’s vote allows the drug guidelines amendment to apply retroactively. The U.S. Sentencing Commission ruled that no one who benefits from this reform may be released from prison before November 1, 2015.

Today’s decision reflects efforts underway in Congress and by the Obama Administration to reform federal drug sentencing laws, as well as a broader effort to adapt federal policy to overwhelming public support for reforming drug laws, ending marijuana prohibition, and reducing collateral consequences of a drug conviction. In 2010 Congress unanimously passed legislation reducing the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Bipartisan legislation reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, the Smarter Sentencing Act, has already passed out of committee this year and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate. Attorney General Eric Holder has made numerous changes this year, including directing U.S. Attorneys to charge certain drug offenders in a way that makes ensures they won’t be subject to punitive mandatory minimum sentencing.

In just the past two months, the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to block the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending federal funds to undermine state medical marijuana laws and state hemp cultivation laws, and voted on Wednesday to allow banking institutions to accept deposits from marijuana stores and dispensaries in states that regulate marijuana. On Monday, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy that expressed strong opposition to a House Republican amendment by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) directed at blocking implementation of a recent law the District of Columbia passed replacing jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use with a small fine. The statement calls marijuana reform a “states’ rights” issue, a groundbreaking policy position for the White House to take.

Statement from Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  “But that’s what politicians do when they’re scared of allowing people out of prison early.  The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law.  What they did today was right and just.”

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission and a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, mandatory minimums have significantly contributed to overcrowding and racial disparities in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The BOP operates at nearly 140% capacity – and is on track to use one-third of the Justice Department’s budget.  More than half of the prisoners in the BOP are serving time for a drug law violation. Even though African-Americans are no more likely than Whites to use or sell drugs, evidence shows they are far more likely to be prosecuted for drug law offenses and far more likely to receive longer sentences than Whites. With less than 5% of the world’s population – but nearly 25% of the world’s prison population – the U.S. leads the world in the incarceration of its own citizens.

Anthony Papa, manager of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance who served 12 years in prison on a non-violent drug offense says that the retro-application of the guidelines would balance the scales of justice in reforming bad laws that dished out unfair sentences to individuals and allow them to be reunited with their families.

Date Published: July 18, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Washington, D.C. – A far-reaching marijuana decriminalization law took effect in the District of Columbia today that replaces jail time with a $25 fine for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. However, advocates emphasize that there is still more work to be done in the nation’s capital to reduce severe racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement by D.C. police officers.

The Drug Policy Alliance has published an online resource that explains what the public needs to know about D.C.’s new marijuana decriminalization law.

Here are a few highlighted facts from our new overview of D.C.’s new decriminalization law:

  • Under the new law, a person found in possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is issued a notice of violation that imposes a $25 fine for marijuana possession as well as forfeiture of any visible marijuana and any paraphernalia.
  • Police officers are prohibited from using the smell of marijuana as rationale for conducting criminal searches. D.C.’s decriminalization law is the first in the country to provide this protection in statute.
  • The possession of marijuana remains unlawful in D.C., and possession of marijuana weighing more than one ounce is still a crime in the District.
  • Smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana in a public space is still a crime.
  • While D.C.’s local police force, the Metropolitan Police Department, will enforce D.C.’s marijuana decriminalization law, a person caught by a federal law enforcement officer in D.C. may still be arrested and prosecuted under federal marijuana laws. In addition to patrolling federal lands and monuments in the District, numerous federal law enforcement agencies patrol D.C.’s neighborhoods and parks.

“We are hopeful that marijuana decriminalization will reduce excessive racial disparities in the enforcement of D.C.’s marijuana laws,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. “D.C. residents should get to know their new marijuana decriminalization law and learn about the extent it will still leave citizens vulnerable to arrest for a small amount of marijuana, even as the law represents a major shift away from criminalization.”

Adopted by the D.C. Council in April, the “Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014” replaces criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a $25 civil fine for possession as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.

By setting a $25 fine, which is the lowest civil fine for possession among eighteen states that have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, D.C. lawmakers cited the need to be responsive to social factors such as homelessness in the District and high rates of poverty in Wards that have seen the greatest number of marijuana arrests. In order to reduce racially-biased stop-and-frisks, this new law contains a provision that prohibits a police officer from using the smell of marijuana as a pretext for conducting criminal searches -- the first decriminalization legislation in the country to do so. The new law also shields people caught with a small amount of marijuana from collateral consequences like being denied public assistance or having their D.C. issued drivers’ license suspended or revoked. This decriminalization law is viewed by both D.C. council members and advocates as a model for other jurisdictions looking to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

“While marijuana decriminalization is undeniable progress, the real solution is to join states like Colorado and Washington and legalize marijuana,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. “D.C. voters may have an opportunity to legalize both the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana in November, and D.C. Councilmembers are eyeing legislation that would license and regulate adult marijuana sales in the District.”

Recent polls show broad support among District residents for following in the steps of Colorado and Washington and legalizing marijuana. D.C. voters will likely have the opportunity to decide Initiative 71 on the ballot this fall. If passed by D.C. voters, Initiative 71 would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana on their person at any time, and allow for the cultivation of up to six marijuana plants at home.

The District of Columbia currently has the highest per capita marijuana arrest rates in the U.S.  In 2010 African Americans in the District accounted for 91 percent of all marijuana arrests – even though African American and white residents use marijuana at roughly similar rates.

Date Published: July 17, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

*Editor’s note: In a new feature of the Drug Policy Alliance blog, DPA staffers, Dr. Malik Burnett and Dr. Amanda Reiman will lend their expertise to answer your questions about marijuana every other Thursday. Dr. Malik Burnett, policy manager in Washington, D.C., is a former surgeon and physician advocate. He also served as executive director of a medical marijuana nonprofit organization. Amanda Reiman, PhD, policy manager in California, holds a doctorate in Social Welfare and teaches classes on drug policy at the University of California-Berkeley.

Dear Docs:
Recently, I was at a party and someone brought some homemade marijuana brownies. I asked him how strong they were, and he just said, “Really strong.” I was afraid to try one because I had no idea how strong “really strong” is. Do you have any advice for how I can safely try a product like this with so little information?

A marijuana newbie


Dear Newbie,

That’s a great question! Even in places like Colorado, where marijuana edible products are labeled, determining the right dose can be tough.

But, there are a few things you can do to ease yourself into the cannabis pool, without diving in head first. Now, there are a couple of things to consider when consuming marijuana edibles and they can be divided into two areas: safety and potency.

Safety, refers to the actual composition of the plant and how it was grown. Think about other produce such as apples and spinach. As consumers, we want to know that those products are free from pesticides, molds, bacteria and other contaminants that might make us sick. We often hear of spinach being recalled because of safety issues.

In licensed marijuana stores, safety is controlled through testing requirements, similar to the food we buy at the grocery. However, if a neighbor shows up at your front door with apples from her garden, you have to trust that what she is giving you is safe, much as you have to trust that your friend who made the brownies used quality marijuana.*

The second question you have to answer, is that of the potency, and this can be very tricky. You said that you were told the brownies were “very strong.” Similarly to an alcohol-infused punch, it can be very difficult to know just how strong it is, especially when the taste is pleasing. In licensed marijuana stores, edible products should contain the amount of THC and CBD (the active ingredients in marijuana) in milligrams, and the dose per package (10 mgs=one dose).

Novice consumers, such as yourself should start with no more than ½ of a dose (5 mgs) or less. You might try cutting one dose into four pieces to start with. It is also important to wait at least one hour before consuming anymore, because it can take that long (and sometimes longer) to feel the effect.

Since you were in a situation with an unlabeled product of unknown strength, greater care should be taken, and I would recommend starting with a very small bite (maybe cut the brownie into five pieces), and then wait at least an hour before eating more. Also, water is your friend, alcohol is not! If you plan on consuming alcohol, it's best to put off the marijuana experiment for another day. But keep lots of water close by.

Finally, one question I get asked a lot is, “can I overdose on marijuana?” If we define an “overdose” as ingesting more of a substance than intended, then you, can overdose on marijuana just like cookies. The bigger question is what happens when someone takes more marijuana than intended? While marijuana overdoses have been known to occur, they happen more often with edible products than with smoking. It is important to remember that marijuana overdoses are not fatal and usually the effects, which can include anxiety, go away in an hour or two. However, for some people, especially those prone to anxiety and depending on the amount consumed, effects such as fatigue and clouded thinking can last for a couple of days. The most important thing to remember is, go slow.

You can always eat more of the brownie, but you can’t go in reverse.

*Note: the heating process used in turning raw marijuana into edible products decreases the likelihood of contamination.

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: July 17, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

In a historic vote today the U.S. House passed a bipartisan amendment by Representatives Heck (D-WA), Perlmutter (D-CO), Lee (D-CA) and Rohrabacher (R-CA) preventing the Treasury Department from spending any funding to penalize financial institutions that provide services to marijuana businesses that are legal under state law. The amendment passed 231 to 192.

In May, the House passed an amendment prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from undermining state medical marijuana laws and passed two amendments prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp laws.

“Congress is yet again rejecting the failed war on marijuana,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “They have read the poll numbers and are doing both what is right and what is politically smart.”

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that nearly three-in-four Americans (72 percent) believe that efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth, including 78 percent of Independents, 71 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans. There is strong support for state medical marijuana programs, with 80 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Independents, and 61 percent of Republicans supporting the sale and use of medical marijuana in their state. A majority of Americans support taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have laws that legalize and regulate marijuana for medicinal purposes.  Eleven states have laws on the books or about to be signed into law by their governors regulating CBD oils, a non-psychotropic component of medical marijuana which some parents are utilizing to treat their children’s seizures. Two states have legalized marijuana like alcohol – Colorado and Washington State. Alaska and Oregon voters will vote on legalizing marijuana in November.

The underlying spending bill that the Heck marijuana amendment was attached to also contains a an amendment, added in committee by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), that would block Washington, D.C. from carrying out any law, rule or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce criminal penalties for marijuana.  That amendment was originally directed at blocking implementation of a recent law the District of Columbia passed replacing jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use with a small fine.

D.C.’s marijuana decrim law, however, takes effect at midnight tonight, long before the Harris Amendment would take effect. It’s also likely that the Harris Amendment will not pass the Senate, where the appropriations process has ground to a halt. President Obama has also threatened to veto the underlying bill.

In a Statement of Administration Policy the White House declared:

“Similarly, the Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally- passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States' rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department's enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District.”

Advocates warn that if the Harris amendment does make it into law this year it could block implementation of Initiative 71 by local officials, should D.C. voters pass it this November, and block efforts by local lawmakers to tax and regulate adult marijuana sales.  If passed by D.C. voters, Initiative 71 would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana on their person at any time, and allow for the cultivation of up to six marijuana plants at home. District law prevents the ballot initiative from addressing the sale of marijuana. However, the D.C. Council is currently considering a bill that will tax and regulate marijuana within the District.

The District of Columbia has the highest per capita marijuana arrest rates in the U.S.  In 2010 African Americans in the District accounted for 91 percent of all marijuana arrests – even though African American and white residents use marijuana at roughly similar rates.

“That Congressman Harris would try to kill D.C.’s efforts to stop arresting people for marijuana possession is beyond disturbing,” said Dr. Malik Burnett, D.C. policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. “His amendment is an affront to the District’s right to home rule, while ensuring that thousands of District residents continue to be arrested and suffer the collateral consequences associated with a criminal record. Congress should be following D.C.’s example and end racist marijuana arrest policies, instead of defying the will of the people and reversing their decision.”

Date Published: July 16, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

DETROIT, MI—Marijuana arrests and mass incarceration will take center stage at Netroots Nation 2014 this week in Detroit.

On Friday, July 18 at 4:30 p.m. ET, the ninth-annual gathering of progressive voices will feature a panel, “Marijuana Arrests: the Gateway to Mass Incarceration.” The panel will feature Kassandra Frederique, a policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. Frederique is currently organizing with groups around the state of New York to address bias policing practices, unlawful marijuana arrests and collateral consequences of criminalization.

Every 48 seconds someone is arrested for marijuana possession in the United States. Most of these arrests are of people of color, despite the fact that white people use and sell marijuana at higher rates. In this panel they will explore how the drug war and biased policing practices fuel marijuana arrests and, in turn, mass incarceration. Panelists will discuss how in New York City, the marijuana arrest capital of the world, communities are organizing to end marijuana arrests and reverse the collateral consequences haunting the nearly half a million New Yorkers now living with criminal records.

“I’m thrilled to see Netroots Nation examine the failed war on drugs and how marijuana arrests fuel mass incarceration,” said Frederique. “Netroots Nation is a cutting-edge incubator of ideas and I’m excited to have a rich discussion during the panel and action from folks afterwards.”

This summer, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced a plan to stop prosecuting arrests for small amounts of marijuana - a major victory for advocates who will continue to push other District Attorney's across the state to take similar actions.

In 2015, DPA and VOCAL-NY will advocate for the passage of the Fairness & Equity Act - innovative state-wide legislation that will end discriminatory arrests, provide relief for communities already harmed by broken marijuana laws, and strengthen the integrity of New York's Penal System.

The panel will be moderated by Alyssa Aguilera, political director of VOCAL-NY.

"Fixing America's broken marijuana laws and ending mass incarceration must be a priority for all progressives," said Alyssa Aguilera of VOCAL-NY. "Thank you to Netroots Nation for the opportunity to share our campaign to end marijuana arrests in New York and facilitate a lively conversation on drug policy and racial justice with some of the most innovative and thoughtful advocates in the country."

Netroots Nation, an annual convention, aims to amplify progressive voices by providing an online and in-person campus for exchanging ideas and learning how to be more effective in using technology to influence the public debate. This year will feature 80 panels and 40 training sessions over three days.

People can view the Friday panel live at:

Date Published: July 16, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance