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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 New York Times editorial board made history yesterday, as the first major national paper to call for an end to marijuana prohibition. And how they did it is half the story – with rare flash and panache, as well as the intellectual and moral substance to back it up.

The Times’ editorial has the feel of legendary CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite coming out against the Vietnam war. They dropped a bomb on our country’s disastrous war on marijuana with unprecedented force.

Some people think of the Times’ editorial page as a liberal mouthpiece – but when it comes to marijuana prohibition and the drug war, they've been extremely cautious and conservative.  In previous decades, the Times did as much as any other media outlet to legitimize drug war hysteria and its disastrous policies.

For them to pull no punches in rejecting the prohibitionist policies that their predecessors embraced speaks to the broader inter-generational transformation underway in America – not just with the issue of ending marijuana prohibition, but also LGBT rights and other issues as well.  It gives us hope that America can evolve, both morally and intellectually, in a more enlightened direction.

Just look at the content. The paper of record forcefully called the federal government to end the ban on marijuana, linking marijuana prohibition to the failed alcohol prohibition policy of the 1930’s, while noting that marijuana is a less dangerous substance than alcohol. They also cited our country’s massive, racially disproportionate numbers of marijuana arrests as further provocation for their position.

But the content is only part of the story – the paper also put passion and juice behind it. The cover of the Sunday Review was splashed with an enormous image of an American flag, with marijuana leaves replacing the stars. I have never seen a Times editorial take up three-quarters of the cover of the Sunday Review.

In addition to the cover editorial, two Times’ columnists wrote accompanying pieces, “Let States Decide on Marijuana” and “The Public Lightens Up About Weed.”

These editorials had the feel of a manifesto and a campaign for the Times, and the paper announced that they were just the start. There will be a six-part series on marijuana legalization in which editorial staff examine a range of related issues such as criminal justice, public health, regulatory models, and so forth.  As the “paper of record,” the Times’ advocacy on this issue has already created a tidal wave of media attention, with TV coverage on the Sunday morning shows and a worldwide echo of follow-up stories.

It’s worth noting that the Times’ position is not actually that cutting-edge – they are simply catching up with the majority of Americans who now support marijuana legalization.

And think about what this means for electoral politics. Even though marijuana reform has moved from the fringes to the mainstream of American politics in recent years, support has lagged among elected officials and other major institutions. 

The Times has now provided elected officials with more evidence that ending marijuana prohibition and the drug war is not just the right thing to do – it’s also smart politics.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in this year’s election, and especially in 2016 – when Presidential candidates and other key figures will be obliged to take a position on this issue.

Marijuana arrests have been the key engine driving our country’s devastating war on drugs. Tens of millions of lives have been damaged because of a marijuana possession arrest. The most powerful news outlet in the world coming on board, with the passion they did, should speed up an exit strategy from this long-lost war.

Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance (

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Author: Tony Newman
Date Published: July 28, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

The New York Times editorial board made history today by calling for an end to marijuana prohibition. The paper of record broke new ground by calling for the federal government to end the ban on marijuana.

The forceful editorial linked marijuana prohibition to the failed alcohol prohibition policy of the 1930’s, and said marijuana is a less dangerous substance than alcohol.

The Times cited mass marijuana arrests and racist marijuana law enforcement as further provocation for the paper's position on this issue: “The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.”

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance commented on the groundbreaking editorial:

“This is of historic consequence – far bigger than most people assume. Some people in the country may perceive the Times editorial page as a liberal organ, but they should know that on this issue they've been cautious to a fault, even conservative, said Nadelmann.  “So for them to write what they did, at this juncture, demonstrated intellectual and moral clarity as well as courage.”

Date Published: July 26, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Most arguments in favor of prohibition don’t pass the smell test anymore, yet some of the more entrenched positions remain. Here is some perspective on these arguments, and why they’re plain wrong.

1. Prohibition doesn’t inhibit drug use, just our ability to prevent drug abuse.
Legal or not, people will continue to use drugs. Prohibition makes it socially acceptable to treat drug users as criminals, and to prevent people with substance abuse problems from accessing treatment for fear of legal repercussions. Decriminalization and legalization would promote compassion and allow people to receive treatment for substance abuse problems when they need it.

In many cases, prohibition can prevent reasonable dialogue about drugs. The widely-used DARE program was generally considered a failure due to its abstinence-only approach and hyperbolic anti-drug rhetoric. In contrast, anti-tobacco campaigns have drastically reduced tobacco use through science-based education and restrictions on use and advertisement. The best way to reduce drug use is through evidence-based education, harm reduction, and regulation, none of which can be effective as long as drugs remain illegal.

2. If you’re worried about dangerous drugs, start with your medicine cabinet.
There is no doubt that drugs can be dangerous, but that is not a valid reason to make them illegal. In the U.S. more than half of drug overdoses involve prescription drugs, and more people die every year from overdosing on pain killers than from heroin and cocaine combined. Alcohol alone is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States, yet you never hear anyone argue that we should outlaw pain killers or alcohol. History shows us that making drugs illegal creates criminal enterprises, and prohibition exacerbates the very real dangers of impurity, violence, and poverty. Education and harm reduction strategies are much more effective ways to reduce the dangers of drugs than prohibition.

3. “Protect the children”... by locking them up?
The biggest risk to a teenager who chooses to use drugs is not addiction, but being caught and introduced to the criminal justice system. No one is arguing that kids should have access to drugs, unless it’s for specific medical purposes. Rather, the best way to prevent youth drug abuse is through science-based education, and smart restrictions on access and advertising. Sensibly regulating access will be part of any legitimate drug legalization policy, but locking up youth over drugs is just counter-productive.

4. Prohibition doesn’t reduce crime, it institutionalizes racism.                
Drug violations are the most common reason for arrest in the U.S. The vast majority of these arrests (82%) are for possession, not sale or manufacturing. While studies have consistently shown that drug use is distributed relatively evenly across racial demographics, the vast majority of people in jail for drug-related offenses are people of color. More than four decades of the War on Drugs has systematically criminalized certain populations while doing very little to reduce violent crime.

Aaron Juchau is an intern with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Aaron Juchau
Date Published: July 25, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Last week, nine year-old Anna Conte died after a long battle with a seizure disorder.  Anna and her family had been at the center of a successful fight to pass a medical marijuana law in New York.  Medical marijuana has dramatically reduced life-threatening seizures in other children with Anna’s condition.

Her family, working with patients and caregivers across New York, persuaded lawmakers, who had been considering legislation for eighteen years, to finally pass a medical marijuana law this June. Unfortunately, this legislation came too late for Anna. New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed the bill into law three days after Anna slipped into a coma, has said it will take 18 months or longer to implement the program.

I got to know Anna and her family because their fierce and unrelenting love led them to the halls of Albany where they told their story of Anna’s condition and stood shoulder to shoulder with cancer patients, people living with HIV/AIDS, those living with multiple sclerosis, and other caregivers and patients. They generated thousands of phone calls and signatures to leaders in Albany and organized a community forum in Buffalo that was standing room only.

Despite Anna’s illness, the life-and-death circumstances they faced daily, and the difficulty of engaging in such intense advocacy with a sick child, they made the multiple trips to Albany and always did so with great warmth, humor and passion.

Even now, in the midst of their tragic loss, the Conte family has said they will continue to fight for expedited access to medical marijuana for patients, like Anna, who cannot wait 18 months for the program to be implemented.

Indeed, there are families all across New York who, like the Contes, have lost a loved one since the bill was signed or who are facing the real possibility that their child, parent or partner will simply not survive the 18 months that Gov. Cuomo has said it will take to implement New York’s full medical marijuana patient access system. While not all of these deaths can be prevented by medical marijuana, we have a moral obligation to make this medicine available as soon as possible to those for whom 18 months is simply too long.

That’s why Compassionate Care NY is calling on the Gov. Cuomo and leaders in Albany to work swiftly to establish a temporary emergency program for expediting access to medical marijuana for those with life-threatening or terminal illnesses. By establishing a temporary, interim emergency access program, patients with life-threatening or terminal illnesses won’t have to wait 18 months or longer for the full system to come online.

We can immediately save lives and ease suffering at the end of life by establishing emergency, expedited access. New York cannot stand by while more people die needlessly.

Julie Netherland is the New York deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Julie Netherland
Date Published: July 25, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Trenton—To commemorate World Hepatitis Day, advocates are launching the Hepatitis C Action Campaign and collecting petition signatures urging the New Jersey Legislature to take action on Senate Bill 876 / Assembly Bill 2555, which would require hospitals and health care professionals to offer hepatitis C testing to people born between 1945 and 1965. Three quarters of individuals with hepatitis C are in this age group and the vast majority are unaware that they are infected with the virus.

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease spread by through-the-skin exposure to the blood of an infected person. If left untreated, hepatitis C can cause extensive liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and ultimately death. Because it has no symptoms people often go for decades without discovering they are infected, allowing the virus to progress untreated and with devastating consequences. Early diagnosis can improve health outcomes and facilitate access to curative treatments.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for hepatitis C. African Americans and veterans also have substantially higher rates of hepatitis C infection. More people now die from hepatitis C than die from HIV/AIDS in the United States. Without concerted action, the CDC predicts that deaths from hepatitis C will double or even triple in the next 20 years. Widespread testing will enable those infected to receive life-saving treatment and prevent transmission to others.

“We are incredibly excited to be launching this campaign with such an inspiring group of public health advocates,” says Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Hepatitis C is a silent killer that affects millions of people; until now it hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Our goal is to raise awareness and save lives.”

Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Chairman Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex), the prime sponsor of the senate legislation, emphasizes that, “It’s not uncommon for someone with hepatitis C to be completely unaware that they have the disease until irreparable damage is done to their liver. By increasing awareness and encouraging those with high risk factors to get a simple test by a health care professional, those infected can receive treatment that will help them to continue to live a normal life. Knowing whether or not you have hepatitis C is important, not just to ensure you receive the quality health care you need, but also to protect others from contracting the disease.”

Lisa Gallipoli, Executive Director of the Greater New York Division of the American Liver Foundation, which serves North Jersey, says “It is an exciting time for the treatment of hepatitis C. Just about every patient with the disease is a candidate for the latest generation of drugs, which offer treatment and cure with far less side effects than previous treatment regimens. More than ever, it is critical that patients are getting tested and diagnosed, and this legislation will help to make this happen.”

Senate Bill 876 is sponsored by Senator Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex) and Senator Richard Codey (D-Essex and Morris).  The Assembly companion, A2555, is sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Hunterdon and Mercer).

The Hepatitis C Action Campaign and Senate Bill 876 / Assembly Bill 2555 are supported by a coalition of public health, nonprofit, and advocacy organizations, including the New Jersey office of the Drug Policy Alliance, the Hepatitis C Association, the Greater New York and Mid-Atlantic Divisions of the American Liver Foundation, the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, the North Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI), Paterson Counseling Center, Camden AHEC, Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, Well of Hope Community Development Corporation, Inc., Comprehensive Liver Care of New Jersey, Iris House, Buddies of New Jersey, Inc., PROCEED, Inc., Hepatitis Foundation International, Vietnam Veterans of America, The Wave Set, and Trinitas Regional Medical Center – Early Intervention Program.

Date Published: July 25, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

New York -- Anna Conte, a nine year old from Orchard Park, NY who passed away last week after falling into a coma following a severe seizure, was laid to rest today. Anna suffered from Dravet Syndrome, a life-threatening seizure disorder that has been treated with medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Medical marijuana has dramatically reduced the number of seizures in many children with similar seizure disorders.

In an effort to help their daughter, the Conte family joined the successful fight to pass a medical marijuana bill in New York. The Contes travelled repeatedly to Albany, persuading several powerful New York senators to support the bill and generating thousands of phone calls and emails to Albany leadership. Advocates around the state came to know and love Anna and her family and admire their selfless advocacy which was always accompanied with a sense of humor.

Tragically, Anna Conte did not live long enough to benefit from the law that her family helped pass. Governor Cuomo, who signed the bill into law just days before Anna’s passing, has said that it will take eighteen months or longer for New York to implement the law and develop the full medical marijuana patient access system. Families and advocates are urgently calling upon Governor Cuomo to take immediate action establishing expedited access to medical marijuana for those patients and families, like the Conte’s, who cannot wait until the full system is up and running.

Statement from Julie Netherland of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“We are deeply saddened by the death of Anna Conte and two other New York children with severe seizure disorders who have died since New York’s medical marijuana bill was signed into law. Anna and her family played a central role in passing New York’s medical marijuana law. Our hearts go out to the Conte’s and the other patients and families during this time of tragedy. Part of Anna’s legacy is having changed history to benefit thousands of seriously ill New Yorkers.

These deaths have made even clearer what we already knew – the eighteen month or longer timeline for implementing New York’s recently passed medical marijuana law is simply too long for some patients who face life-threatening or terminal illnesses. These patients and their caregivers, including the parents of children with severe seizure disorders, have been at the forefront of the fight to create safe and legal access to medical marijuana.  In fact, at the bill signing ceremony, Governor Cuomo stood with a young girl who suffers from Dravet Syndrome, the same life-threatening seizure disorder that tragically took Anna Conte’s life.

Unfortunately, several more children are likely to die waiting for New York to implement its medical marijuana program. While not all of these deaths can be prevented by medical marijuana, we have a moral obligation to make this medicine available as soon as possible. Because implementation of the full medical marijuana patient access system will take 18 months, Governor Cuomo and leaders in Albany must work swiftly to establish a temporary emergency program for expediting access to medical marijuana for those with life-threatening or terminal illnesses. By establishing a temporary, interim emergency access program, patients with life-threatening or terminal illnesses won’t have to wait 18 months or longer for the full system to come online. We can immediately save lives and ease suffering at the end of life by establishing emergency, expedited access. New York cannot stand by while more people die needlessly.”

Date Published: July 23, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

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

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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