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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

The dramatic uprising in Ferguson, MO following the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, at the hands of a white police officer has become an international news story. As in the case of Trayvon Martin’s murder in Florida by a paranoid neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012, racism has been at the forefront of the discussion and so too inevitably has been the drug war.

The images of a militarized police force in Ferguson are shocking and disturbing but, as John Oliver brilliantly points out on his comedy/news show, many police forces around the country have gotten beefed up into veritable local armies with expensive battle equipment supplied in the name of the drug war. The show includes an excerpt with The Washington Post’s Radley Balko, who has long documented police excess under drug war militarization.

Aggressively punitive and extreme drug policies are steeped in racism. Inherent in the response to drug law enforcement is a biased approach and stark double standards in the perceived threat of drug use by marginalized people. Unfair targeting and racial profiling have had a profound impact on how young black men in the U.S. are viewed and their lives valued.

From clothing to intoxicants, what is normal and innocuous in another context becomes sinister when associated with black people. Marijuana use has become increasingly normalized, so much so that the majority of Americans think the plant should be made legal and Washington and Colorado have become the first states to put this into practice.

Television shows joke about weed, our country’s president was once a marijuana enthusiast, and an entire industry is emerging around recreational marijuana.  By contrast, for both Trayvon and Michael Brown, evidence of marijuana use in their toxicology reports was presented to news media to discredit their character in the wake of their murders. In fact, there is a long record of black murder victims being publicly smeared over marijuana.

Bringing up marijuana use in the context of the murder of these two young men is a blatant double standard and it is racist. What is happening in Ferguson, MO today has racism and the drug war written all over it.

Frank conversations about race at the national level are long overdue, and may be the only good things to come from these tragic situations. The drug war is a failed social experiment that leads to the disproportionate targeting, arrest, conviction and incarceration of people of color, despite overall equal rates of drug consumption for all people.

The drug war fuels the underlying thread of judgment, stigma and marginalization that permeates how we value human life and it enables acts of violence.

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

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Author: Sharda Sekaran
Date Published: August 20, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Santa Fe-  Today the city of Santa Fe's City Clerk announced the Reducing Marijuana Penalties Campaign submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the city's citizen initiative process setting the stage to give voters in Santa Fe a vote on reducing marijuana penalties.

The Reducing Marijuana Penalties Campaign headed by Drug Policy Action and ProgressNow NM, submitted close to 11,000 signatures in 52 days, more than twice the number needed to qualify for the ballot. The initiative now goes before the City Council where the governing body has two options, vote for the ordinance change outright or send the initiative to the people for a vote. Not only will this be the first time in history that New Mexican’s will vote on reforming marijuana laws, it is the first time that the people of Santa Fe brought forth an issue via the City’s citizen initiative process. The Santa Fe city charter permits voters to petition their government for changes to city ordinances, including those relating to marijuana.

“The sheer number of supporters who signed the petition shows that the citizens of Santa Fe are ready for a change in how we police marijuana in our city and they are ready to make history,” said Emily Kaltenbach, State Director, Drug Policy Alliance.  “Santa Feans want and can put an end to using tax payers’ dollars that could otherwise be used by law enforcement on more pressing crime; put an end to policies that scar low-level marijuana users with a serious criminal history that can prevent them from obtaining scholarships, future job placement and a prosperous future; and, put an end to racially disproportionate marijuana arrests.”

This measure will eliminate jail time for the possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana and possession of marijuana paraphernalia for personal use and will result in no more than a simple $25 fine as well as make marijuana possession the lowest priority for the Santa Fe Police Department. Currently in Santa Fe, first time offenders "shall be punished by a fine of not less than fifty dollars ($50) or more than one hundred dollars ($100) and by imprisonment for not more than fifteen (15) days" for possession of marijuana and "a fine of not less than fifty dollars ($50) nor more than one hundred dollars ($100) or by imprisonment for a definite term of ninety (90) days, or both" for possessing paraphernalia.

State law remains unaffected by this change, though officers, judges and city leaders would have discretion in choosing which statutes to charge under.

Reducing marijuana penalties for adults is neither unique nor cutting edge.  To date, sixteen states and the District of Columbia have reduced penalties for marijuana possession.  As of today, over 120 million people, or 1/3 of the U.S. population, live in jurisdictions where marijuana has been essentially decriminalized – meaning there is no jail time associated with possession.

Momentum is building for federal reform too. The U.S. House has voted five times in recent months to let states set their own marijuana policies – once to prohibit the DEA from undermining state medical marijuana laws, twice to prohibit the DEA from undermining state laws allowing the production of hemp, and twice in support of allowing state-legalized marijuana stores to open checking accounts and access other financial services. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have introduced bi-partisan legislation in the U.S. Senate to let states set their own medical marijuana policies. An amendment co-sponsored by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) allowing states to legalize hemp for research has passed the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Learn more about the campaign online at

Paid for and published by Practical Policies NM PAC, M. Garcia, Treas.

Date Published: August 18, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Action | ProgressNow NM

Denver, CO – Governor John Hickenlooper has introduced his administration’s marijuana prevention campaign to deter underage consumption.

The theme of the campaign is marijuana’s potential impact on the developing adolescent brain, using the slogan “don’t be a lab rat.” The administration plans to place human sized rat cages throughout the city of Denver, particularly at high-traffic bus stops. While flashy and memorable, the campaign has raised concerns among advocates who question the credibility of this approach. Drug policy reformers and prevention experts invoke the cynicism generated by 1980s-era scare tactic efforts such as the notorious “This is your brain on drugs” ad, widely recognized today as far more attention grabbing than drug deterring.

Advocates recommend instead an approach that focuses on credible drug education delivered through programs and initiatives that focus on overall youth health and development. Reality-based efforts engage students and prevent the cynicism resulting from simplistic scare tactics. Furthermore, to be successful, parents and/or guardians should be directly involved in drug education and prevention efforts.

According to recent data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, high school marijuana use rates – past 30 days – declined between 2011 and 2013 from 22% from 20%, compared to a national average of 23%. 

Statement from Jerry Otero, youth policy manager of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“We are aware this campaign is in its infancy and not fully funded at this point,” said Jerry Otero, youth policy manager of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Our goal is to continue good relations with the Governor’s office and help shape this campaign for the better moving forward. Ultimately, we hope to reveal that a youth development approach is a more realistic, honest and effective way to help kids avoid problems with drugs and other problem behaviors. This is where we need to focus our energy and tax revenue, providing infrastructure for schools and youth organizations to provide programs and initiatives to help youth develop into critical community assets and agents of change, capable of transforming their environments, and ready to take on more responsible roles within their neighborhoods and communities.”

Date Published: August 11, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

SACRAMENTO, CA — Yesterday, the California legislature passed Assemblymember Richard Bloom’s important drug overdose prevention bill (AB 1535), which would permit pharmacists to furnish the opiate overdose antidote naloxone, pursuant to procedures developed by the Board of Pharmacy and the Medical Board of California. The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

“The bipartisan support of the Legislature is gratifying and will directly help many California families,” said Assemblymember Bloom (D-Santa Monica). “As the bill heads to the Governor’s desk, I am committed to continuing our efforts to stop the epidemic of overdose deaths.”

While California was an early leader in drafting legislation permitting sales of naloxone without a prescription, the movement to expand access to the overdose antidote can be seen in other states including Washington, Rhode Island and New Mexico, where naloxone is becoming increasingly accessible to patients without prescription and via collaborative practice agreements between pharmacists and physicians. New York and Vermont recently passed similar legislation.

In addition to expanding access to naloxone, California also has a ‘911 Good Samaritan’ law, which encourages people to call for emergency assistance at the scene of an overdose without fearing arrest or prosecution for minor drug law violations.

“This bill reaching the Governor is a triumph for all Californians who love someone at risk of an overdose,” said Meghan Ralston, Harm Reduction Manager of bill co-sponsor the Drug Policy Alliance. “California has thousands of pharmacies, and lives can be lost in the minutes waiting for a police officer or ambulance to arrive with naloxone to reverse an overdose. This would make it easier for caregivers and family members to keep naloxone on hand for use in those critical moments."

Naloxone is a safe, generic, non-narcotic drug, approved by the FDA in 1971. It has been used in ambulances and emergency rooms for decades. In recent years, it has become more widely available, largely in response to the growing opiate overdose crisis across the US. It can be administered as a nasal spray via an atomizer or as an intramuscular injection. It works within minutes to reverse the effects of opiate drugs such as heroin and oxycodone, but has no effect if administered to someone not overdosing on an opiate.

“It's a model that can be followed by other states,” said Ralston. “This approach reduces some of the traditional constraints that make it time-consuming or difficult to implement pharmacy sales of naloxone directly to the consumer. It represents a quantum leap in overdose prevention in California.”

The bill remained unopposed throughout its movement through the Legislature and benefited from unanimous, bipartisan support in committee hearings.

AB 1535 is supported by a long list of public health organizations, drug treatment providers and advocacy groups including: California Pharmacists Association (co-sponsor); Drug Policy Alliance (co-sponsor); California Narcotic Officers’ Association; Medical Board of California; California Hospital Association; California Society of Addiction Medicine; A New PATH; Addiction Research and Treatment; Amity Foundation; Bay Area Addiction Recovery Treatment; Behind the Orange Curtain; Broadway Treatment Center; Broken No More; California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives, Inc.; California Mental Health Directors Association; California Opioid Maintenance Providers; California Retailers Association; California United for a Responsible Budget; Center for Living and Learning ; County Alcohol and Drug Program Administrators Association of California; CRI-HELP, Inc.; Drug and Alcohol Addiction Awareness and Prevention Program; Families ACT!; Fred Brown Recovery Services; Gateways Hospital and Mental Health Center; Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing; Health Officers Association of California; Health Right 360; Hillview Mental Health Center; Homeless Health Care Los Angeles; Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission; In Depth; Legal Services for Prisoners with Children; Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse; Los Angeles Community Action Network; Los Angeles County HIV Drug & Alcohol Task Force; Mary Magdalene Project; National Federation of Independent Business; Not One More; Paramedics Plus; Paving the Way Foundation; Phoenix House of Los Angeles; Primary Purpose Sober Living Homes; Safer Alternatives thru Networking & Education; San Fernando Recovery Center; SHIELDS For Families; Soberspace; Solace.


Date Published: August 15, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

SACRAMENTO, CA — Facing its final Assembly hearing, the California Fair Sentencing Act (SB 1010) authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) won approval today.

Mitchell’s bill will correct the groundless disparity in sentencing, probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for possession of crack cocaine for sale versus the same crime involving powder cocaine that has resulted in a pattern of racial discrimination in sentencing and incarceration in California. SB 1010 returns to the Senate for a final procedural vote before being sent to the Governor.

“As Assemblymember Bradford said in presenting the bill today, the current disparities in our drug laws amount to institutional racism,” said Lynne Lyman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Fair Sentencing Act will take a brick out of the wall of the failed 1980’s drug war era laws that have devastated communities of color, especially Black and Latino men. The time has long come.”

Crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug. Scientific reports, including a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrate that they have nearly identical effects on the human body. Crack cocaine is a product derived when cocaine powder is processed with an alkali, typically common baking soda. Gram for gram, there is less active drug in crack cocaine than in powder cocaine.

People of color account for over 98 percent of persons sent to California prisons for possession of crack cocaine for sale. From 2005 to 2010, Blacks accounted for 77.4 percent of state prison commitments for crack possession for sale, Latinos accounted for 18.1 percent. Whites accounted for less than 2 percent of all those sent to California prisons in that five year period. Blacks make up 6.6 percent of the population in California; Latinos 38.2 percent, and whites 39.4 percent.

“It’s time to end discriminatory sentencing for cocaine: whether possessed or sold as crack or as powder, it’s the same drug and violators should get the same treatment under the law,” said Senator Mitchell, chair of the Black Legislative Caucus. “Let’s stop demonizing drug-use when committed in communities of color while minimizing consequences for the white-collar version.”

Mitchell’s bill is sponsored by a dozen civil rights, racial justice, and criminal justice reform organizations across the state, and supported by District Attorneys of four counties: Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Santa Barbara and San Francisco. Cosponsors include the Drug Policy Alliance, ACLU of California, A New Way of Life, California State Conference of the NAACP, Californians for Safety and Justice, California Public Defenders Association, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Ella Baker Center, Friends Committee on Legislation, National Council for La Raza, and the William C. Velasquez Institute. The California Fair Sentencing Act has garnered over 150 letters of support from across the state and the nation, including legal scholars and drug treatment associations.


Date Published: August 14, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

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 Doctors,

I have not smoked, vaporized or eaten any marijuana in about seven months but I continue to use a topical application for pain every few days or so. Am I likely to test positive for cannabis use in a urinalysis?

Thank you,

Dear R.,

Thank you for your question. Topical cannabis applications can be extremely helpful for localized pain and inflammation. Many people like them because they work on contact and are non-psychoactive.

In theory, the same reason you can’t get high from rubbing them on your skin related is to why using topicals will not cause you to test positive in a drug test.

The THC level in topical products tends to be far lower than that in smokable or edible products. Add that to the fact that applying a topical to the skin only allows it to break the skin/muscular barrier, but not enter into the blood stream. I have not seen any reported cases of positive drug tests from topical applications and the research supports this.

However, depending where you live, there might also be transdermal patches on the market. These work similarly to nicotine patches and do contain components that allow the THC to break into the bloodstream and will cause intoxication and a positive drug test.

The topicals I am referring to only include lotions, balms, salves, and others products that contain cannabis and are rubbed on the skin.

Think about rubbing alcohol. You can rub it on various places on your body, but you will not feel intoxicated or have a BAC over the legal limit if you use it, even though it has a very high concentration of alcohol in it. However, remember that, like the transdermal patch, consuming marijuana in other ways will show up on a drug test.

Note: Since we have gotten a lot of questions about marijuana use and drug testing in general, below is an overview of the different types of drug tests and their relationship to marijuana use.

There are three main types of drug tests, urine, blood and hair tests, and saliva tests are becoming more common, especially for detecting marijuana smoking*. However, a urine test is the most commonly administered because of ease and cost.

In reality, the only thing that will ensure a clean drug test is abstaining from ingesting drugs, at least for a while, but each test is different in terms of how long you need to abstain and what the test can tell about your use history.

Urine tests can detect the THC in the fat cells, since some of it gets washed out with the urine. THC can reside in fat cells for up to 4 weeks, sometimes longer if the person consumes large amounts of marijuana.

In a blood tests, THC is usually eliminated from the blood within 48 hours, however, blood tests are costly and harder to administer so they are not used as often. Hair follicle tests work by detecting THC metabolites that have been passively diffused from the blood stream to the base of the hair follicle. Hair follicle tests can detect drug use within the past three months, including patterns of use. However, they often show false positives due to environmental pollution and other factors.

Drug tests can be administered in a discriminatory way that many times includes violations of privacy and an assumption of drug use leading to negative consequences. However, in today’s world, it is a part of many opportunities for employment, athletic participation and part of criminal justice sanctions.

Whether you support the idea of drug testing or not, the consequences of having a positive test can be far reaching and detrimental.


Amanda Reiman, PhD.

*A less commonly used method is the sweat test in which a small square patch is worn on the body for an extended period of time and then tested. This test is usually reserved for those in prison, on probation/parole and military personnel.

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.

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View more Ask the Doctors about Marijuana blog posts.

Author: Amanda Reiman, PhD
Date Published: August 14, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

National news headlines as of late have focused on immigration reform as the main Latino issue that will drive Hispanics in numbers to the polls come midterm season, but immigration reform should not be the only thing on Latino voters or politicians’ minds. Drug policy reform is very much a Latino issue and something that more Hispanic organizations should pay mind to.

In 2011 nearly 52 million Hispanics lived in the U.S., accounting for 17 percent of the U.S. population, a modest jump from 13 percent back in 2000. The Latino population, already the nation’s largest minority group, is set to transmogrify the demographic profile of the United Sates according to the Pew Research Center.

If current trends continue, the center predicts that the Latino population will triple in size and will account for most of the nation’s population growth from 2005 through 2050. Hispanics will make up 29 percent of the U.S. population in 2050, compared with 14 percent in 2005. But why do these numbers matter?

They matter because in the same way that marijuana arrest rates have managed to sweep thousands of people into the criminal justice system, particularly blacks in disproportionate numbers, I foresee similar arrest rates and patterns happening to Latino communities.

In fact, these disproportionate arrest rates may already be happening. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), the federal government’s data source for national crime statistics, does not keep data on ethnicity, and thus it is impossible to determine if an arrest is of a Latino or non-Latino. New York is one of only two states that have Latino arrest data available; Latinos are arrested at nearly four times the rate of whites for marijuana.

This is both alarming and concerning for a couple of reasons. First, as a Hispanic-American and future policy maker it makes me apprehensive towards the clear racist and classist bias our criminal justice system is embedded in. Second, this means that the disparity between black and white arrest rates may be even larger than previously thought as white arrest rates may have been artificially inflated. And thirdly, and perhaps the most worrisome is that thousands of Latino American born citizens will face discrimination for something as arbitrary as the color of their skin.

Because let’s be honest the war on drugs has never been about drugs, it has been about going after people we don’t really like in our society.

The life-long penalties and exclusions that follow a drug conviction have created a permanent second-class status for millions of Americans, who may be prohibited from voting, being licensed, accessing public assistance and any number of other activities and opportunities. The drug war’s racist enforcement means that all of these exclusions fall more heavily on people and communities of color.

California has already taken the initiative proving that with enough momentum and support que ¡Si se puede!

Stephanie Izquieta is an intern with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Stephanie Izquieta
Date Published: August 12, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Have you seen the viral anti-drug PSA making the rounds this week? The one where the wholesome looking guy at the rave is rolling really, really hard on some unknown substance, feverishly rubbing it on his gums and sweating up a storm while blathering about pretty hair and the amazing beats? And the pretty girl thinks he’s kind of gross and scary?

It’s your basic, old-school ‘just say no’ public service announcement, where there are no actual facts about drugs and not a single tip for how to stay safe in that environment. It would be easy to laugh at it and write it off—except for the fact that potentially tens of thousands of festival-goers are going to be forced to watch it in order to gain admission to Electric Zoo music events.

Talk about a missed opportunity.

A couple of years ago, some of the most prominent DJs at the time (including Kaskade and Steve Aoki) came together to make an equally heavy-handed Ecstasy PSA, and while the standard ‘just say no’ message rings loud and clear, that PSA at least got the critical element exactly right: it featured the DJs advising the viewer what to do if they encounter someone having a problem, as well as telling people how to help themselves if their own drug experience goes awry and becomes dangerous.

It’s not perfect, but at least it provided actual tips.

An anti-drug PSA is pretty useless without any actual facts or lifesaving advice. Scare tactics and over-the-top drug PSAs (U.S. Navy’s “Zombie Bath Salts,” anyone?) geared at teens and 20-somethings incite apathy at best and mockery at worst.

Young people are so sophisticated and so up-to-speed about so many things, including drugs, drug videos and anti-drug messages handed down from on high, that presenting them with images that do not reflect their real lives and typical experiences is likely a waste of time.

Let me be clear about one thing: Electric Zoo should be applauded for at least taking this step. The PSA needs some work, to be sure, but the impulse is good: require event-goers to receive at least a little bit of information that can save their lives or someone else’s life  before allowing them to entrance to the event. Make them look at a 30-second video that says helpful things like, “In crowded, hot environments, mixing drugs with other drugs or alcohol can become extremely dangerous. Stay hydrated, take frequent chill-out breaks in quiet, cooler areas. Immediately seek medical help—don’t wonder, don’t wait, just do it,” etc.

Burning Man is way, way, way overdue for this kind of thing, but I digress.

Good intentions are great, for sure. The impulse to help young people stay safe at music festivals and events is commendable, and other promoters should follow suit. But good intentions minus the actual “here’s how to stay safe” part does nothing to help anyone.

It’s an eye-catching video, but unfortunately, that’s about it.

Let’s hope the leaked PSA is just a preview of a much better and much more helpful final version yet to come.

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

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Author: Meghan Ralston
Date Published: August 8, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance