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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

A report released this week by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, finds that in the first full year after the passage of Proposition 47: The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, felony drug arrests fell by over 92,000 while misdemeanor drug arrests increased by only 70,000. Taken together, these shifts produced a 10 percent decline in total drug arrests between 2014 and 2015 statewide—that’s 22,000 fewer Californians who had their lives devastated by the life altering impacts of criminal justice involvement.

Drug offense arrests in California, 2005-2015

Source: DOJ, 2016. Note: From 2010 to 2011, misdemeanor drug arrests declined sharply as a result of Senate Bill (SB) 1449, which took effect on January 1, 2011 and reduced personal possession of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction (SB 1449, 2010).

Passed by Californian voters in 2014, Prop. 47 reduced certain offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and earmarked the savings from reduced incarceration costs for direct services such as, substance use treatment, housing, victim services, and K-12 programs. The passage of Prop. 47 was a significant step toward reforming the criminalization of drug use by reclassifying three drug possession offenses (possession of a narcotic, concentrated cannabis, or a non-narcotic) to misdemeanors, removing some of the harshest impacts and barriers resulting from a felony conviction.

Previously, the discretion to prosecute drug possession offenses as felonies instead of misdemeanors was held by prosecutors. This left the door open for uneven and harsher sentencing, usually targeting people of color. The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through racial discrimination by law enforcement who more heavily enforce drug laws in communities of color. Although rates of drug use are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites.  The passage of Prop 47 eliminated prosecutorial discretion for drug offenses, and the prevalence of “justice-by-geography.”

Critics of the policy, claim that it limits police authority and constrains the effectiveness of drug control, a contention that has led some law enforcement agencies to deemphasize the enforcement of Prop 47-related offenses. But the decline in arrests has freed up millions of dollars that would have been spent on policing, prosecution and incarceration. Reducing these criminal justice costs has created an opportunity to shift these savings from the criminal justice system into enhancing treatment options and availability within the health care domain. The question remains: Will state and local governments actually undertake the hard work on reinvesting these dollars in health and community based services that have been proven to be the most effective deterrents of recidivism.

Californians have led the country in criminal justice reform efforts in recent years and have been demanding prioritizing treatment over punishment since 2000 with the passage of the first Proposition 36. We know that the punitive criminalization of drug use has only led to the incarceration of generations of our communities and has failed to increase safety or reduce the availability of drugs within our communities. This week, Gov. Jerry Brown stated that California is projected to run a $1.6-billion deficit by next summer, and while his Department of Finance only allocated $69 million in Prop. 47 savings for direct services he increased the corrections budget by over $1 billion dollars.

Decades and millions of arrests later, have proven we cannot arrest our way out of the personal and community harms of problematic substance use. We are in a critical moment in history, and we must hold our legislatures accountable to our priorities. We cannot allow for our legislatures to continue prioritizing the needs of the law enforcement industry and prison industrial complex over the needs of our communities.

Eunisses Hernandez is a California policy associate for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Eunisses Hernandez
Date Published: January 13, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

ALBANY—Yesterday, Governor Cuomo announced his renewed commitment to decriminalizing marijuana possession in his State of the State Book, which outlines his agenda for the 2017 Legislative Session.

New York State first decriminalized personal marijuana possession in 1977, recognizing the harmful impact an arrest could have on young people. Criminalization of the offense has continued, however, due to a loophole left in the law by lawmakers that distinguished between personal and public view possession, where possession in public view is still a misdemeanor. Enforcement of this loophole has impacted primarily communities of color, who represented more than 83% of those arrested statewide in 2015. The racial disparities in enforcement have been a significant motivator for groups who have called for reform.

“In 2016, Brooklyn Defender Services represented 1,070 of the many thousands of New Yorkers arrested for low-level marijuana possession, of whom 85% were Black and/or Latinx and 371 were 21 or younger. Our clients can lose their jobs, homes, and children, and even be detained by immigration authorities and deported for this offense, which a majority of Americans believe should be legal. We applaud any legislation that will reduce or—better—eliminate these senseless and discriminatory arrests,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services.

Citing the costliness of marijuana possession arrests and the devastating collateral consequences faced by New Yorkers who are arrested for the offense, Governor Cuomo said this proposal was in line with his existing “commitment to reduce the number of nonviolent individuals who become needlessly entangled in the criminal justice system.”

“We are pleased that Governor Cuomo remains committed to ending arrests for low-level marijuana possession in New York and that he recognizes the human and financial cost of marijuana prohibition.” said Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director, VOCAL-NY. “However, without real political muscle we know that this proposal will continue to languish, as it has for several years now. We hope that by including marijuana decriminalization in his State of the State Book that the Governor will not only support - but also fight for - long overdue marijuana reform.”

More than 800,000 New Yorkers have been arrested for low-level marijuana possession offenses in the last 20 years. A significant portion of those arrested for these offenses still have criminal arrest records that prevent access to services and restrict their opportunity to find meaningful work. The Governor acknowledged the challenges posed by a marijuana possession arrest: “Individuals can miss work, be fired, establish a record that prevents them from finding work in the future, and spend time in jail awaiting trial if they are unable to post bail.”

Governor Cuomo pushed heavily for closing that loophole in 2014 but was blocked by Senate Republicans who opposed a measure that would have standardized the penalty for all low-level possession as a violation, which would have resulted in a fine instead of arrest. These arrests continue, which is why action to remove the penalty is so important.

“New York’s marijuana arrest crusade has resulted in significant harms for those who are most vulnerable and has been used as a justification for the hyper-policing of communities of color. We see the Governor’s proposal as a positive step and also hope to engage with the Governor’s office on sealing the records of those who have been unjustly targeted so that this meaningful change can have the type of impact that is needed” said Chris Alexander, Policy Coordinator, New York, Drug Policy Alliance. “Ultimately, the best way to address the disparities and challenges posed by prohibition is to legalize and regulate marijuana in New York. We look forward to discussing a pathway to ending prohibition with the Governor this session.”

Governor Cuomo’s proposal comes just a few months after California, Maine, Nevada and neighboring Massachusetts joined the four other states that have already voted to tax and regulate the marijuana for adult use.

Date Published: January 13, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Today the National Academy of Sciences released a comprehensive review of research on marijuana and concluded that marijuana does indeed have medical value.

The review concluded: “One of the therapeutic uses of cannabis and cannabinoids is to treat chronic pain in adults.  The committee found evidence to support that patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids were more likely to experience a significant reduction in pain symptoms.  For adults with multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms, there was substantial evidence that short-term use of certain “oral cannabinoids” – man-made, cannabinoid-based medications that are orally ingested – improved their reported symptoms.  Furthermore, in adults with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, there was conclusive evidence that certain oral cannabinoids were effective in preventing and treating those ailments.”

This is not the first time that the scientific community has made claims about marijuana as medicine.

The La Guardia report was commissioned by then-Mayor of New York Fiorello La Guardia in response to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the Feds' first attempt at controlling marijuana use in the general public. The report confirmed what La Guardia suspected, that the effects of marijuana did not impact a person’s sensibilities or ability to make good decisions and that it likely was not as dangerous as Anslinger and his buddies were making it out to be with their Reefer Madness campaign.

The next scientific assessment of marijuana was commissioned by Richard Nixon in the early 1970’s. The passage of the Controlled Substances Act created drug schedules, a system for classifying drugs based on their medical value and dangerousness. Nixon commissioned the Shafer Report to study the effects of marijuana and make a recommendation as to what the appropriate schedule might be. The report concluded, “Considering the range of social concerns in contemporary America, marihuana does not, in our considered judgment, rank very high. We would deemphasize marihuana as a problem. The existing social and legal policy is out of proportion to the individual and social harm engendered by the use of the drug.”  Nixon disregarded the report and marijuana remained a schedule I drug.

As the use of marijuana for medical purposes began to gain favor in the U.S., the Institute of Medicine decided to weigh in with a comprehensive review in 1999. This was not the first time the IOM had weighed in on the potential therapeutic benefits of marijuana. A 1982 report concluded, “Cannabis and its derivatives have shown promise in the treatment of a variety of disorders. The evidence is most impressive in glaucoma, where their mechanism of action appears to be different from the standard drugs; in asthma, where they approach isoproterenol in effectiveness; and in the nausea and vomiting of cancer chemotherapy, where they compare favorably with phenothiazines. Smaller trials have suggested cannabis might also be useful in seizures, spasticity, and other nervous system disorders.”

Both reports from the Institute of Medicine were discounted in the political realm.

Today’s marijuana landscape in the U.S. is vastly different from the one in 1999. Currently 28 U.S. states have medical marijuana laws, and 16 additional states have CBD laws. Yet, last summer, the DEA announced that it would not reschedule marijuana; leaving it with the definition of having no medical value.

Once again, the scientific community has come back with evidence against the Schedule I categorization of marijuana. Like the reports that came before it, the NAS report explicitly calls out marijuana's Schedule I status as a barrier "that impede[s] the advancement of cannabis and cannabinoid research.”

Science has spoken, again. Politicians have a choice. They can continue to ignore the evidence brought forth by the scientific community, or they can reevaluate how marijuana is regulated at the federal level.

The people are waiting for an answer.

Amanda Reiman is manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Amanda Reiman
Date Published: January 12, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Today, the National Academy of Sciences released a groundbreaking report, “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research.” The report states that there is conclusive evidence that marijuana can be used as a medicine. The report did not find clinical evidence for all conditions marijuana treatment is often associated with, but it recognizes its efficacy for treating many medical conditions such as “chronic pain in adults…chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms.”

“This report is vindication for all the many researchers, patients and healthcare providers who have long understood the benefits of medical marijuana,” said Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “To have such a thorough review of the evidence conclude that there are benefits to medical marijuana should boost the case for federal reform. It also underlines how out of touch the DEA and other marijuana reform opponents are when they claim otherwise.”

The report is skeptical of marijuana’s benefit in treating some medical conditions, such as cancer. Nonetheless, the report, “a comprehensive review of the current evidence regarding the health effects of using cannabis and cannabis-derived products,” is a strong rebuke to many of those who have denied that marijuana can be used as medicine. It also found evidence that suggests "smoking cannabis does not increase the risk for cancers often associated with tobacco use – such as lung and head and neck cancers."

Currently 28 U.S. states have medical marijuana laws, and 16 additional states have CBD laws (a non-psychoactive component of medical marijuana). Last summer, the DEA announced that it would not reschedule marijuana.  The NAS report notes that “There are specific regulatory barriers, including the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance, that impede the advancement of cannabis and cannabinoid research.”

Just this week, President-elect Trump’s candidate for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions, was asked at his nomination hearing about what he would do about medical marijuana patients who are following state law but violating federal law. Sessions gave a wishy-washy answer, acknowledging the Department of Justice’s limited resources but ominously saying, “I won’t commit to not enforcing federal law.”

Medical marijuana amendments routinely passed the Republican-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee over the past three years, while an amendment to end federal marijuana prohibition outright failed by just nine votes last year in the House.

The uncertainty over medical marijuana and how the Trump administration will approach the issue is expected to drive efforts at reform in Congress. Advocates anticipate the reintroduction of the CARERS Act, a bill that would let states set their own medical marijuana policy without federal interference, and would remove many research barriers.

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

Listen to the teleconference.

Representatives from a broad spectrum of organizations will offer their reactions to Senator Sessions’ responses during his confirmation hearings this week to questions on criminal justice reform, marijuana reform, civil and human rights and other issues. The spectrum of organizations represented on this call share strong concerns that Jeff Sessions threatens to expand mass criminalization and drug war policies that will put communities at risk and intensify the marginalization and stigmatization of Muslims, immigrants and others.

During his time in the U.S. Senate, Jeff Sessions has been the chief opponent of recent bipartisan efforts to reduce sentences for drug offenses and has a long track record of opposition to marijuana reform – even for medical use. Sessions has also pushed for the expanded use of the criminal justice system to disproportionately target minority groups and deport noncitizens.

Speakers on this call will discuss how Senator Sessions’ responses to questions put to him on sentencing and criminal justice reform, drug policy reform and civil rights indicate that his positions on these issues have not fundamentally changed.

As Attorney General, Sessions could accelerate federal prosecutions for drug law violations that carry draconian mandatory sentences.  He could also try to undermine state marijuana laws, positions that would put him at odds with bipartisan majorities in Congress that want to reform sentencing laws and let states set their own drug policies without federal interference. Sessions also could expand the use of surveillance and policing against immigrant and marginalized communities.

The Drug Policy Alliance is fighting to put the brakes on Sessions’ AG nomination and will hold a national teleconference tomorrow Thursday, January 12 at 2 p.m. ET / 11 a.m. PT

What:  Teleconference: Broad Spectrum of Organizations React to Confirmation Hearings for Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General

When:  Thursday, January 12, 2 p.m. ET

How:    Contact Tony Newman for call-in information: 646-335-5384, tnewman [at] drugpolicy [dot] org


  • Natasha Lycia Ora Bannon, Associate Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF
  • Jonathan Blanks, Managing Editor,, Project on Criminal Justice, Cato Institute
  • Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, Founder and National President, The Ordinary People Society
  • Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel, Washington, D.C. office, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
  • Robert McCaw, Director of Government Affairs Department, Council on American Islamic Relations
  • Alison Parker, Director, US Program, Human Rights Watch
  • Bill Piper, Senior Director, Office of National Affairs, Drug Policy Alliance (Moderator)
  • Bernard Simelton Sr., President of Alabama State Conference of the NAACP
Date Published: January 11, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Statement from Bill Piper, Senior Director of the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs:

“Senator Jeff Sessions’ response to questions about marijuana & federalism during his Attorney General confirmation hearing today was wishy-washy at best. It is clear that he was too afraid to say the ‘reefer madness’ things he said just a year ago, and that’s progress. But he made it clear throughout the hearing that he will enforce federal law. He could have said he will respect state marijuana law, which is what President-elect Trump said on the campaign trail, but instead he said it is up to Congress to change the law.

“Sessions has a long history of opposing marijuana reform, and nothing he said at the hearing suggests he has changed his mind. Hopefully he will clarify his position in his written response to Senators’ questions.”

Date Published: January 10, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

In a statement sent to Senate offices today the Drug Policy Alliance urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. The committee is holding confirmation hearings on Sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sessions favors hardline drug law enforcement approaches over emphasizing treatment and rehabilitation. He will likely escalate the failed war on drugs, and could interfere in states that have reformed their marijuana laws (including 15 states represented by Judiciary Committee members).

“Jeff Sessions is a nightmare,” said Bill Piper, senior director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “He is a threat to progress, especially marijuana reform, sentencing reform, and asset forfeiture reform.”

In recent years, 28 states have legalized marijuana for medical use (including nine states represented by members of the Judiciary Committee). An additional 16 states, including six states represented by members of the Judiciary Committee, have legalized CBD oils, a non-psychotropic component of marijuana that has shown effectiveness in managing epileptic seizures that afflict children. Additionally, people who use marijuana in Louisiana with a doctor’s recommendation are protected from arrest. Eight states have voted to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana like alcohol, including California (the home state of Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein).

Jeff Sessions has said “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” disparaging the tens of millions of Americans who have used marijuana, including the last three presidents.  He has criticized the Justice Department’s guidance respecting state marijuana laws, and even opposes marijuana for medical use. If confirmed as Attorney General Sessions could increase marijuana arrests and prosecutions, threaten state officials, and undermine the ability of local agencies to regulate marijuana. In a recent article in the Hill, former Department of Justice officials and Session allies said states that voted to legalize marijuana “may be in for a reckoning.”

Sessions was the chief opponent of 2016 bipartisan efforts to reduce sentences for drug offenses, voting against the bill in committee. Sessions has also been critical of the Obama Justice Department’s guidelines around sentencing that were designed to limit harsh sentencing and reserve mandatory minimums for major offenders. He opposes “any” reform of civil asset forfeiture, a process that allows government agencies to seize money and property without having to charge anyone with a crime.

Last week the Drug Policy Alliance launched a digital campaign to put the brakes on Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General. The Drug Policy Alliance campaign includes a new video launched on The Root that exposes Jeff Sessions’ appalling record on drug policy, civil and human rights, and criminal justice reform.

The Drug Policy Alliance video, created by award-winning filmmaker dream hampton, alternates between archival media footage of Jeff Sessions’ troubling racist words and actions, and DPA staff and allies talking about what Sessions would mean for drug policy and criminal justice. The video ends with a call to action asking people to call their Senators to reject Session for Attorney General.

Last month, the Drug Policy Alliance organized a teleconference for reporters to discuss Sessions’ record on civil and human rights, criminal justice reform, and drug policy. Representatives from LatinoJustice, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Council on American Islamic Relations, Cato Institute, the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference and the Drug Policy Alliance expressed their concerns about Sessions.

The Drug Policy Alliance is flooding Senate offices with phone calls and emails this week, urging senators to reject Sessions.

“Sessions is out of touch with the American people, and most members of Congress, who want sensible drug policy reform,” Piper said. “The Senate should reject him, so President-elect Trump can nominate someone who will support – not oppose – criminal justice reform.”

Date Published: January 9, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

For years there has been a widespread misperception that CBD – or cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive marijuana component with several beneficial medical applications – is legal to possess and make under federal law.

When the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) established a new code number for marijuana extracts on December 14, 2016, many mistakenly believed that the DEA’s newest action made CBD federally illegal. But CBD has long been illegal under federal law and has been a Schedule I drug since the enactment of the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 (CSA).

This misunderstanding can be explained, in part, because some people think hemp oil (which is legal under federal law) is the same as CBD oil (which is not legal under federal law). All types of cannabis (including hemp plants), and their leaves and flowers are now illegal and have been illegal under the CSA.

The only exception are hemp plants grown by academic institutions or by state departments of agriculture in accordance with the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill. But hemp byproducts already made outside the United States – including oil, mature stalks and sterile seeds – may be lawfully imported into the country and possessed, processed, sold, and transferred from state to state.

CBD oil is produced from cannabis flowers and leaves, which are illegal under federal law, and is high in CBD. This product is what marijuana patients frequently seek out to use as medicine. In contrast, hemp oil is produced by pressing sterile hemp seeds and only contains trace amounts of the CBD that patients seek. The oil and the seeds may be lawfully imported and processed. Yet some hemp companies are deceptively taking large amounts of hemp products and processing them with harsh chemicals to derive enough CBD to call their oil a “CBD product.”

The FDA has issued warnings to some of these companies for falsely advertising their effectiveness. While these CBD oils from hemp seeds may be lawful to produce, they often do not contain therapeutic levels of CBD patients need and the chemicals used in the extraction process may harm, more than help, patients.

CBD has amazing potential when the product is created from the non-hemp varieties of marijuana and when proper extraction processes are used. For instance, CBD has been used to treat epilepsy in children, opioid addiction, and cancer.

But CBD only helps a minority of patients. There are over 70 different cannabinoids (chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors in the brain) in marijuana, including THC and CBD, each with its own unique therapeutic properties. Some illnesses respond better to THC-rich strains of marijuana than to CBD strains. And, even patients who respond best to CBD have better outcomes when it is derived from the whole plant, rather than synthetic forms of CBD.

The whole medical marijuana plant, rather than CBD alone, needs to be legalized to best address the needs of patients. Medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states plus the District of Columbia, and an additional 15 states have passed CBD-only laws. For the time being these laws are safe from federal interference under the 2016 omnibus spending bill. But this provision will expire if it is not renewed by Congress next year. The best way to ensure that patients are protected is to pass comprehensive federal legislation, such as last year’s CARERS Act, to permit states to legalize medical marijuana and CBD for patients.

Jolene Forman is a staff attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Jolene Forman
Date Published: January 5, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance