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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

D.C. lawmakers voted today in favor of legislation that would legally regulate and license the production, distribution and sale of marijuana in the District of Columbia during a meeting of the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which is chaired by D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At Large).

Today’s action by D.C. lawmakers on a tax and regulate bill comes just three weeks after nearly 70 percent of voters in the District of Columbia approved Initiative 71, a ballot initiative that legalizes possession of up to two ounces of marijuana for adults over the age of 21 and allows individuals to grow up to six marijuana plants in their home. However, due to D.C. law, the initiative was not allowed to address the taxation and regulation of marijuana sales.

The panel of Councilmembers voted to approve sections six through eight of the “Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2013” (Council Bill #20-466), which was introduced in 2013 by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large). Today’s vote followed a hearing on Council Bill 20-466 that was jointly held by the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Committee on Finance and Revenue. The remaining ten sections of Council Bill 20-466 must first be approved by the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety and the Committee on Finance and Revenue before the entire tax and regulate bill (Council Bill 20-466) can proceed to all thirteen Councilmembers for a vote. Advocates do not expect further action on this legislation before the Council adjourns next month, however. Procedurally, the Council would be unable to complete work on the bill in December. Advocates anticipate that Councilmembers will resume consideration of a similar tax and regulate bill in January.

"Today’s vote in support of regulating marijuana like alcohol in the nation’s capital is a validation of the overwhelming support among District residents for an end to the racial disparities and harm caused by marijuana prohibition,” Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance.  “D.C. lawmakers have a clear mandate from the community they serve to pass a bill that regulates marijuana and restores those communities that have been harmed the most by decades of marijuana prohibition," said Smith.

In recent months, a diverse group of community organizations, policy reform advocates and faith leaders has called for an end to marijuana prohibition in the nation’s capital, which has resulted in gross racial disparities in the arrests of marijuana users. They are emphasizing the need to repair the damage done to many African-American communities as a result of this policy by reinvesting resources from taxation and regulation of marijuana into the communities that have suffered the most from its criminalization. Advocates also urge the Council to eliminate collateral consequences of a marijuana arrest and plan for the release of people who are currently incarcerated for marijuana law violations. Advocates have urged the Council to use the proceeds from legalization towards rebuilding the communities harmed by the war on drugs.

Initiative 71 was endorsed by the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the D.C. Branch of the National Organization for Women, D.C. Working Families and the local chapters of Service Employees International Union and United Commercial Food Workers. Since D.C. laws prevented Initiative 71 from addressing the taxation and sale of marijuana, the D.C. Council is actively considering Council Bill 20-466. 

“On election day, District of Columbia voters threw their support behind legalizing marijuana, and polls consistently show that local residents are ready for taxation and regulation of marijuana,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. “D.C. lawmakers must act quickly to end decades of failed marijuana prohibition laws that have criminalized tens of thousands and devastated communities of color,” said Smith.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released groundbreaking reports documenting enormous racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession in D.C. These reports found that Washington D.C. leads the country in per capita marijuana arrests, doubling that of any other U.S. state, the majority of all drug arrests in the District are for simple possession of marijuana and ninety-one percent of all marijuana arrests are of black people. The possession of one ounce of marijuana is currently decriminalized in the District of Columbia, and persons found with more than this amount face a $25 civil infraction. However, data from the Metropolitan Police Department reveals that 77 percent of tickets written during decriminalization have been in communities of color.

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

Each holiday season, A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing) and moms from around the country share their stories of loss while calling for an end to the war on drugs -- which has been so disastrous for tens of millions of families. Many of the moms leading this campaign have been personally impacted by the war on drugs.

The holidays are a particularly painful time for families – whether they are separated because of a loved one’s incarceration, lost on the streets due to drug problems, in danger because of drug war violence, or have lost a loved one to accidental overdose.

Leaders of the Moms United campaign from around the country include: Gretchen Burns Bergman (San Diego, CA), founder of A New PATH, Moms United lead organizer and the mother of two sons who have struggled with heroin addiction and incarceration; Julia Negron (Florida), a mother of a son whose son served several prison terms for drug possession; Denise Cullen (Palm Desert, CA), founder of Broken-No-More and a social worker specializing in grief counseling, whose son died from an overdose,  Joyce Rivera (New York, NY) founder of St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction and the sister of an injection drug user who died of HIV/AIDS, Kathie Kane-Willis (Chicago), Director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy Roosevelt University, Charmie Gholson (Michigan), Director of Michigan Moms United, Joy Strickland (Dallas, Texas), founder of Mothers Against Teen Violence, who lost her son to drug war violence, Yolande Cadore (NY, NY) director of Strategic Partnerships, Drug Policy Alliance.

“I have painful memories of holidays when my son was absent because he was locked behind bars for drug use, and of family celebrations when one of my sons wasn’t included because he was lost in the maze of his addiction.” - Gretchen Burns Bergman

“We haven’t celebrated the holidays since 2008, when my son died of an accidental overdose. We can’t escape the emptiness.” - Denise Cullen

"In each of these years, 1987, 1994 and 2012 I lost a sibling because they/their partners were prevented access to a $0.07 sterile syringe.  Their children lost parents.  Let's take responsibility for our drug policy.  Let's welcome our loved ones back home because their foibles are human.   Let's not allow any more empty chairs at anyone's table."  - Joyce Rivera

Each holiday season Moms United gathers photos featuring a chair with a picture of a lost or missing loved one, and a sign with one of these statements: incarceration, accidental overdose, drug war violence, or stigma. These photos will become a part of a growing collection of personal stories of loss. Moms United has also created a moving and poignant video featuring these haunting pictures.

Moms United is asking mothers and others to take action during this holiday season in three ways:

The Moms United campaign mission is to “end the violence, mass incarceration and overdose deaths that are a result of current punitive and discriminatory drug policies. We are building a movement to stop the stigmatization and criminalization of people who use drugs or who are addicted to drugs. We are urgently calling for health-oriented strategies and widespread drug policy reform in order to stop the irresponsible waste of dollars and resources, and the devastating loss of lives and liberty.”

Moms United to End the War on Drugs is a project of San Diego-based A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing), a 15-year old nonprofit organization that works to reduce the stigma associated with addictive illness through education and compassionate support, and to advocate for therapeutic rather than punitive drug policies.

Join us and follow the campaign on Facebook – Moms United to End the War on Drugs.

For more information: or
To schedule interviews: gretanewpath [at] cox [dot] net or 619-670-1184

Date Published: November 25, 2014
Published by Moms United to End the War on Drugs

The election victories for marijuana legalization and other reforms to our current drug laws will likely bubble up at holiday dinner tables this year – and undoubtedly there will be some differing opinions on how our country should handle drug policy.

I speak with people across the political spectrum about these issues, and I’ve got a few tips. Here is how to talk “turkey” about drug policy reform … without igniting a family feud:

  • Start with areas of agreement: what we’re doing now isn’t working. Most people, of whatever political stripe, agree that the war on drugs has been a decades-long, expensive failure. Moreover, most people, when asked whether drug use should be dealt with as a criminal issue or a health issue, agree that it is better dealt with as a health issue. This is an excellent starting point for a conversation.
  • Make it about people: Many of us know someone who has faced a painful terminal illness that could have been eased by access to medical marijuana, or someone who had a problem with drug use and needed treatment, not jail. Anyone with a drug problem should be treated the way we’d want our loved ones to be treated.
  • The numbers don’t lie: You want to avoid burying folks in numbers, so here’s one killer fact to put out there. The U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population, yet almost 25% of the world’s prisoners. A huge number of those people are incarcerated for drug offenses. It’s costing us a fortune, it’s unsustainable, it’s wrong – and it’s not what America should stand for.
  • Talk about the benefits: Many of our opponents focus on negative “what if” situations when it comes to legalization and reform – ignoring economic growth and regulation, medical benefits to patients, and an end to egregious arrests for “crimes” that do not directly harm others.
  • Above all, listen: Keeping an open mind is the best way to ensure your opinions are heard. Your knowledge of our country’s drug policies may inspire someone to learn more.

Our victories on Election Day prove that we can accomplish great things when we work together.

Wishing you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

Jill Harris is managing director of strategic initiatives at the Drug Policy Alliance.

View more blog posts.

Author: Jill Harris
Date Published: November 24, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Dear Doctors,

I keep hearing about how marijuana is a good treatment for all kinds of things. What conditions do we have actual research about when it comes to marijuana as a medicine?

MMJ Curious

Dear Curious,

Thanks for your question.

You have heard the statement time and again from politicians and opponents of policy reform alike: “…we need more time to conduct research and study the plant before we think about changing the laws.”

This statement is largely disingenuous. The cannabis plant is actually one of the most widely studied plants worldwide.

A search of the US Library of Medicine database, PubMed, revealed approximately 28,000 studies on the use of cannabis. The problem is that the vast majority of these studies come from outside of the United States.

Because marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, it makes the regulatory burden for studying marijuana in the United States extremely high.

Earlier this year, in collaboration with our partners at MAPS, DPA put out a report at which explains the “Catch 22” scientists in the United States face when trying to conduct research on the health effects of marijuana. Additionally, most of the research being conducted around marijuana in the United States originates out of the National Institutes for Drug Abuse, and if the name of the agency doesn’t give you insight into the bias of its approach to research, the mission of the agency should give you a clue.

Nevertheless, there is promising research around the benefits of cannabis around a significant number of health conditions. One of the most promising and timely research studies which has come out this year looks at the growing evidence that cannabis can be used as a substitution therapy for prescription narcotics. The study in JAMA, looked at states which have reformed their laws around marijuana whether medical or recreational and found a 25 percent decrease in prescription overdose deaths.

Our friends at NORML and ASA have developed excellent websites which organizes research based on disease condition.

However, it is only half of the battle to get access to a study if you have never been instructed on the proper way to read one. With this in mind, here’s a crash course on how to interpret a scientific study:

Abstract: This is the “Cliff notes” version of a scientific study. It quickly summarizes everything about the study from introduction to conclusion in about four to five sentences. After reading a good abstract you should be able to understand what the study is about.

Introduction: This section lays out the problem and rationale for why the study is taking place. Good introduction sections will even reference previous work which has been done in the area and what question the study in question is hoping to answer that will provide new information on the topic.

Materials and Methods: This is often the most overlooked section in a scientific paper, but is often the most important. This section outlines how the study was done, the number and type of people included and excluded from the study, and any statistical analysis conducted to arrive at the results. This section is important in order to determine whether or not the results can be applied to a larger audience.

Results: This section is pretty self-explanatory - it describes what the study found.

Conclusion: This section puts the results back in the context of the problem which was described in the introduction. It is also the section which outlines the limitations of a study and what future studies should consider exploring to provide more insight.

Now that you have the basics on how to read a scientific paper, you should practice reading one yourself. Naturally it may be difficult and time consuming the first few times, but over time you will get better at it.

Not only with this make you better informed about the research that is coming out around cannabis, it will also better prepare you to take a critical look at the negative studies which come out around cannabis, many of which overstate the claims in order to make news.

The Doctors

Dr. Malik Burnett is a former surgeon and physician advocate. He also served as executive director of a medical marijuana nonprofit organization. Amanda Reiman, PhD, holds a doctorate in Social Welfare and teaches classes on drug policy at the University of California-Berkeley.

Have a question for the Doctors? Click here to submit your question.

View more Ask the Doctors about Marijuana blog posts.

General Disclaimer: Site Provides No Medical Advice

This site is not designed to and does not provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual. Through this site and linkages to other sites, the Drug Policy Alliance provides general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this site, or through linkages to other sites, is not medical advice and is not a substitute for medical or professional care. The Drug Policy Alliance is not liable or responsible for any advice or information you obtain through this site.

Author: By Dr. Malik Burnett and Amanda Reiman, PhD, MSW
Date Published: November 20, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

The Drug Policy Alliance is entering an exciting new partnership with Brigade, a technology startup dedicated to tackling the problem of declining citizen power and engagement in democracy.

Brigade offers a promising opportunity for the Drug Policy Alliance and our growing base of supporters. The failure of the drug war has become impossible to ignore, and there is a growing consensus that a major shift needs to happen in drug policy. We saw this phenomenon vividly in the last U.S. election, when voters from across political and ideological backgrounds united in overwhelming support of marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform.

Brigade is a nonpartisan network with the mission to empower people on both sides of the aisle to engage on issues that matter most to them. As part of Brigade’s beta launch in early 2015, they are partnering with a number of prominent and respected national advocacy organizations, which in addition to DPA include Americans for Tax Reform, Forecast the Facts, FreedomWorks, Generation Opportunity, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Rainforest Action Network and Represent.Us.

Brigade’s mission is to create a nonpartisan network where people can express themselves, learn about friends, and find common ground with others who share their views and beliefs. They do that by bringing together people who are passionate about different issues in their communities, cities, states and countries, and allowing them to take action through a standalone social network that combines advocacy with electoral politics.

DPA is looking forward to building on the momentum for drug policy reform through our partnership with Brigade and their innovative platform to advance civic engagement.

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

View more blog posts.

Author: Sharda Sekaran
Date Published: November 19, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

A small town in Massachusetts made national news recently when the local health board moved to make Westminster, MA the first place in the country where no one could buy cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco.

You can predict the rationale behind the proposed tobacco ban.

“Cigarettes kill!”

“400,000 people die prematurely from smoking every year!”

“We need to protect the kids!”

“The Board of Health permitting these establishments to sell these dangerous products that, when used as directed, kill 50 percent of its users, ethically goes against our public health mission,” said Ms. Andrea Crete, chairwoman of the Board of Health, in an article in the New York Times.

While I sympathize with the urge to protect people from dangerous products, banning of all things tobacco is a major move toward the slippery slope of making cigarettes illegal. If towns and cities – under the rationale that cigarettes kill – can prohibit selling cigarettes today, it is easy to imagine the next step of prohibiting them completely tomorrow.

But with all of the good intentions in the world, outlawing cigarettes would be just as disastrous as the prohibition on other drugs. Let’s imagine what our country would look like if cigarettes became illegal.

People would still smoke, just as they still use other drugs that are prohibited, from marijuana to cocaine. But now, in addition to the harm of smoking, we would find a whole range of "collateral consequences" that come along with prohibition.

A huge number of people who smoke would continue to do so, but now they would be considered criminals. We would have smokers hiding their habit and smoking in alleys and dark corners, afraid of being caught using the illegal substance.

We would have cops using precious time and resources to hassle and arrest cigarette smokers. Our prison overcrowding crisis would rise to an unprecedented level with "addicts" and casual cigarette smokers alike getting locked up.

We would have an illicit market, with “outlaws” taking the place of delis and supermarkets and stepping in to meet the demand and provide the desired drug.

Instead of buying your cigarettes in a legally sanctioned place, you would have to hit the streets to pick up your fix. The cigarette trade would provide big revenue to "drug dealers," just as illegal drugs do today.

Cigarettes are prohibited in many state prison systems, like in California, and we have seen that smoking continues, with cigarettes being sold on an underground market. There is a violent, illicit market that fills the void and leads to unnecessary deaths over access and the inflated profits.

Fortunately, the people of Westminster get it and they are furious with the proposed banning of tobacco. Smokers and non-smokers are uniting in their outrage against the ban. 500 people (out of a town of 7,800) showed up at a board meeting and were so passionate, the meeting was shut down after 20 minutes.

They are right to draw a line in the sand. We have seen towns, cities and states copy each other when it comes to restricting not only smoking, but products like e-cigarettes than help people stop smoking.

We need to stop this prohibition virus before it spreads.

We need to realize that drugs, from cigarettes to marijuana to alcohol, will always be consumed, whether they are legal or illegal. Although drugs have health consequences and dangers, making them illegal – and keeping them illegal – will only bring additional death and suffering.

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

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Author: Tony Newman
Date Published: November 18, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Having worked with out-of-school-youth in Harlem, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating consequences a marijuana arrest record has on a young person trying to find a job or apply to school. It’s time for the leaders elected to represent communities of color to step up and speak out. And last week, Melissa Mark-Viverito, speaker of the New York City Council did just that when she became NYC's highest-ranking elected official to come out in favor of marijuana legalization.

When questioned on her support for legally regulating and taxing marijuana, she cited the successful legalization measures implemented in Colorado and Washington, and “based on the conversations that we see happening nationally, and how people feel about it, I think that it’s just something that is appropriate at this time.”

Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton announced that the administration will end low-level marijuana possession arrests in New York City. In light of a cutting report released last week illustrating that there were more marijuana arrests under de Blasio than the Bloomberg  administration, Mayor de Blasio announced that moving forward, those found with small amounts of marijuana would be issued a court summons and immediately released, as opposed to arresting people for a misdemeanor .

But this step, one that is optimistically in the right direction, does not go far enough for Mark-Viverito. The new policy fails to address the glaring systemic racial disparities in the application of the law - disparities that could continue on under the new summons policing framework.

Speaker Mark-Viverito is standing up and speaking out for her district, a historically Latino and Black constituency, one that has borne the brunt of the NYPD’s racially targeted arrests. According to the report, the two neighborhoods with the highest rate of marijuana arrests are East Harlem North and Washington Heights. In fact, East Harlem's rate of marijuana possession arrests is an astonishing 1128 per 100,000 residents (110 times higher than in the Upper East Side).

Moreover, 74 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession in 2014 have never been convicted of even a single misdemeanor, and only 11 percent have a misdemeanor conviction, i.e. the people the NYPD arrests for marijuana possession are not criminals; they are ordinary high school and college students and young workers.

In NYC and across the country, the argument for legalizing marijuana is increasingly less about personal freedom and more about correcting the grave injustices marijuana prohibition has perpetuated on black and Latino communities.

In its July 28, 2014 editorial, which called for the end of federal marijuana prohibition, The New York Times wrote: "America’s four‐decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war... The sheer volume of law enforcement resources devoted to marijuana is bad enough. What makes the situation far worse is racial disparity...”

In Washington D.C. recently, voters overwhelmingly passed Initiative 71, the first legalization initiative in which the racial disproportionality of marijuana enforcement played a major role. DPA’s Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said “Initiative 71 sets the stage for the D.C. Council to create a new model for legalizing marijuana – one that places racial justice front and center.”

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito took a bold leap forward past incremental modification and called for far-reaching  action for her district in pushing New York City toward real reform. Let's hope her courage is contagious.

Melissa Franqui is a communications coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Melissa Franqui
Date Published: November 17, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

TODAY: New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced her support for marijuana legalization at the November pre-stated meeting. Speaker Mark –Viverito joins a growing list of elected officials coming out in support of marijuana legalization, including New York City council members Stephen Levin, Jumaane Williams, Rafael Espinal, and more recently Mark Levine.
When asked about NYC Mayor de Blasio’s new marijuana policy to issue court summons instead of arresting people for low-level marijuana possession arrests in New York City, Speaker Mark-Viverito expressed her support but said that the policy does not address key issues that she is concerned about, namely the reasons why young people of color are targeted on the street.
A reporter then asked the Speaker if she supported marijuana legalization, the Speaker replied, “It’s not something we can just do randomly, but with a thought process, and looking how it’s being implemented in other areas. But I do support the legalization of marijuana…States are speaking. Based on the conversations that we see happening nationally, and how people feel about it, I think that it’s just something that is appropriate at this time.”
The Speaker’s announcement comes at a pivotal moment for drug policy reform in national politics, as last week’s election accelerated the unprecedented momentum for marijuana law reform and other criminal justice reforms. With marijuana legalization measures passing in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., and with groundbreaking criminal justice reforms passing in California and New Jersey, the election solidified drug policy reform’s place as a mainstream political issue. Both in New York and nationally, public opinion has shifted dramatically over the last decade in favor of reforming marijuana laws and dismantling the egregious excesses of the drug war. 
Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has led the charge in the New York City Council since 2012 for sensible marijuana reform. She was the lead sponsor on the successful NYC Council resolution 986-A which called for an end to racially biased, costly, unlawful arrests. The resolution was co-sponsored by a majority of Council members and passed by an overwhelming majority during the June 2012 Stated meeting. 
Last winter, New York State Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly member Crystal People Stokes introduced a bill to tax and regulate marijuana for adult use in New York State. The bill would end the criminalization of adults 18 years and older who possess up to two ounces of marijuana and would create a regulatory system allowing for the retail sale of marijuana to those over the age of 21, much like the current system for regulating alcohol. Earlier this year, New York City Council member Stephen Levin introduced the NYC Council resolution 0011 in support of the Krueger/ People Stokes tax and regulate bill with several city council co-sponsors, including, Council members Maria Del Arroyo, Jumaane Williams, Antonio Reynoso, Rosie Mendez, Karen Koslowitz, Daniel Dromm, and Mark Levine.
Statement by Kassandra Frederique, NY policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance: 
“Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito’s announcement further proves that marijuana legalization is a mainstream issue. This is about putting forth innovative policy solutions that will reduce the role of criminalization in the lives of her constituencies. New York can do this with the guidance of smart, bold, and pragmatic leaders like Speaker Mark Viverito. It is especially important that elected officials of color lead and frame this conversation as the harms of marijuana prohibition and criminalization overwhelmingly affect their communities. This is a major step to address the harms in communities of color.” 
Statement by Alyssa Aguilera, Political Director of VOCAL-NY:
"Speaker Mark-Viverito's public support for marijuana legalization is exactly the type of progressive and bold leadership we need to end the failed war on drugs and reform our broken criminal justice system. She understands that it is unjust and unfair to criminalize mostly black and brown New Yorkers for an action that poses no public safety threat and happens in every corner of the city. I hope other elected officials will follow the Speaker's lead so that we can move forward a vision of drug policy that is rooted in public safety and health, not costly and biased incarceration."
Date Published: November 13, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance