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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

Last night was an end of an era. After nine years on the air, Stephen Colbert is stepping away from his award winning show, The Colbert Report.

Like millions of others, I tuned in regularly to get the news of the day from the hilarious show. I loved how the show could educate people and explain complicated issues in such an entertaining way.

The segments were often more informative than networking news, and a hell of a lot funnier.

Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, had the honor of going on his show three times. I’ve seen Ethan do interviews on many shows, from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, to the O’Reilly Show to the Lehrer News Hour, but I was always most excited when Ethan would go on Colbert's show.

My favorite clip of Ethan and Colbert is from 2009. In this short segment, Ethan was able to make important points about the disastrous war on drugs - from the violence that has taken tens of thousands of lives in Mexico, to the millions arrested every year in the US because of drugs, to the parallels between failed alcohol prohibition and today’s drug prohibition.

Ethan showed his own sense of humor when Colbert asked Ethan during his interview if he ever used drugs. Without missing a beat, Ethan said, “I have smoked an occasional joint when I watch ya, but never when I’m on ya.”

The crowd cheered and Stephen looked at a loss for words. A few seconds later, Colbert said smiling, “You mean on my show right?”

It’s worth noting that when Ethan spoke about the support for marijuana legalization, at that time he said close to 40 percent of Americans supported it.

That was in 2009.

Five years later the support for legalization is over 50 percent. Four states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for adult use.

That is incredible progress in just 5 years. And I would argue, that Colbert and his show helped build some of that support.

Thanks for the laughs and the lessons, Mr. Colbert.

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

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Author: Tony Newman
Date Published: December 19, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Today, Nebraska and Oklahoma sued the state of Colorado over its marijuana legalization law, saying the law has created an increased law enforcement burden in neighboring states. The suit, filed by Nebraska Attorney General John Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, claims federal marijuana prohibition preempts Colorado’s law. Colorado voters decisively adopted Amendment 64 in 2012.

Statement from Tamar Todd, Director, Marijuana Law and Policy, Drug Policy Alliance:

“This is a misguided effort to undo cautious and effective state-level regulation of marijuana and to undermine the will of the voters and legislators who enacted it.  Today’s action isn’t just a challenge to Colorado but to the ability and authority of all states to regulate and control marijuana within their borders as they see fit. It implicates the four states that have adopted ballot initiatives by decisive margins to tax and regulate marijuana for adults as well as the 34 states that have adopted laws to regulate medical marijuana.

“The Federal government itself has not challenged the regulatory law in Colorado nor did they choose to interfere with its implementation. To the contrary, the government has deprioritized enforcement of state-level marijuana reforms and acknowledged the interests that both states and the Federal government have in openly regulating marijuana. And just this past week, a historic vote in Congress barred the use of federal resources from interfering with state medical marijuana programs. Today's action is nothing more than an effort to cling to the failed policies of the war on drugs and interfere with a new common sense, less harmful approach to marijuana.”

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

New York – Today, the NY Department of Health released the draft regulations for the medical marijuana program. While full analysis of the regulations is still underway, an initial review suggests New York will be one of the more restrictive programs in the country, which could inhibit patients from obtaining the relief they need. For instance, the draft regulations restrict the number of brands of medical marijuana to five initially without any clear rationale. There are dozens of therapeutic strains of medical cannabis, each having benefits for particular conditions. Had such a restriction been in place in a state like Colorado, it very well may have prevented the development of marijuana strains beneficial to some children with epilepsy. Such a provision could prove to be a deterrent to industry groups. Patients and doctors deserve the flexibility to find which medicine works best.

Absent from the draft regulations is any provision for emergency access to marijuana for those patients who cannot wait for the system to come online in January 2016. Patients, family members and activists will gather outside Governor Cuomo’s New York City Office tomorrow to urge the Governor to establish an emergency access program for medical marijuana.

The rally comes one week after the death of Donnella Nocero, an eight-year old with brain cancer, who could have benefited from medical marijuana. Several other children, who had life-threatening seizures that could have been treated with medical marijuana, have died since the bill was signed into law in July. Since July, advocates have pressured the Cuomo Administration to create an interim emergency access program for patients who may not survive the eighteen months or longer that the Governor has said he needs to get the full medical marijuana program up and running.

As part of a campaign known as #MyHolidayWish, families and patients are asking Governor Cuomo to show mercy and grant their holiday wish of emergency access to medical marijuana to stop the suffering and save the lives of their loved ones. Currently, these families are forced to break the law, move to a state where medical marijuana is legally available, or watch their loved ones suffer knowing that there is a medication that could help them. Patients and families will joined by HIV/AIDS activists, who understand too well the deadly cost of delaying access to potentially life-saving medication.

New York passed a medical marijuana bill that Governor Cuomo signed into law in July, but the Administration has said the program won’t be up and running until at least January of 2016. In July, Governor Cuomo issued a letter to the Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker urging him to do everything possible to expedite access to medical marijuana for children with treatment-resistant epilepsy.  More than 140 days later, the Administration has made little progress in finding a solution, and no patients have yet received emergency access. Draft regulations, released today, contain no provision for emergency access.

What: Compassionate Care NY Rally and Press Conference
When: Friday, December 19 at 11:00 AM
Location: 633 Third Ave., New York NY

Who (families and patients, including):   

  • Maryanne Houser and her daughter Amanda from Suffern, NY. Amanda, who suffers from Dravet’s syndrome, a severe form of intractable epilepsy, stood next to Governor Cuomo when he signed the medical marijuana bill into law.
  • Missy Miller, her daughter Katy, and her son Oliver from Atlantic Beach. Oliver, who suffered a stroke in utero, has a severe seizure disorder.
  • Amy Piperato, MD, from Thiells. Dr. Piperato is physician and parent to a child with Dravet’s syndrome.
  • Roza and Tariq Kessaci from Scarsdale, whose sister Mellina needs emergency access to medical marijuana to control her life-threatening seizures.
  • Wanda Hernandez, Leader from VOCAL New York and person living with HIV/AIDS.

For months, patients and caregivers have been asking Governor Cuomo to take action to grant emergency access to critically and terminally ill New Yorkers. In a letter to Acting Commissioner Zucker in late July, Cuomo himself acknowledged the need to expedite access to children with treatment-resistant epilepsy. While the Administration has suggested that a very limited number children may be eligible for medicine through a pilot program, hundreds more children and other critically ill patients will continue to suffer. Some will die needlessly.

The Governor has several options for helping these critically ill patients. More than one company has said that they could get medical marijuana into the hands of the neediest patients within 90 days. The Administration could work with these companies, fast-tracking a producer in New York. The Cuomo Administration could also offer patients who acquire medical cannabis from other states assurances that they will not be arrested or penalized for using medical marijuana to try and save their or their love one’s life. They could use their considerable resources, power and talents to come up with other creative ideas to help save lives.

Frustrated with bureaucratic delays, patients and family members are asking Cuomo to use his authority to insure that no more families, who could be helped by medical marijuana, spend the holidays worrying about the death of a child or loved one.

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

With more than 30,000 people dying from accidental drug overdose annually in the U.S. – recently overtaking automobile accidents for the first time – you might think that policymakers, the media, and health advocates would be calling for action. After all, that’s roughly 720 people dying every week, equivalent to two large passenger jets crashing every seven days. But the response so far has been tepid.

DPA has taken the lead in combating this overlooked problem and is responsible for passing more overdose prevention laws than any other group in the country. We advocate for a range of ways to prevent overdose, such as 911 Good Samaritan laws, improved naloxone access, fact-based education for people who might potentially be at risk of an overdose, and incorporating overdose prevention into existing drug education programs.

This situation with overdose policy is akin to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, when the government’s response was entirely inadequate while the nonprofit sector was slow to come around, with the exception of a few key visionaries. Hundreds of thousands of people died as a result. It’s happening again, and people who care about health and safety – and have the resources to do something about it – have a moral obligation to respond.

Jag Davies is the publications manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Jag Davies
Date Published: December 18, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Dear Doctors,

“With all the recent change taking place in marijuana policy in recent months, I am sure the topic is going to come up when my family gets together for the holiday season. Given the controversial nature of this topic, how do I discuss it without dampening the good tidings?”

The Other Mistletoe

Dear Mistletoe,

Thanks so much for your question.

You’re right, marijuana policy reform has gotten a lot of coverage this year, so the topic just may become a hot topic of conversation amongst friends and family during the holiday season.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, our colleague Jill Harris wrote a great blog post, “Talking Turkey about Drug Policy,” where she outlines the importance of beginning with areas of agreement, making the issue about people, and listening.

All those principles apply here and will serve you well as you talk about marijuana policy with your friends and family members. We offer some additional insight specifically related to marijuana policy which you might find helpful in rounding out your discussions:

Results from Colorado and Washington continue to be positive: Earlier this year, Drug Policy Alliance released a report analyzing the first six months of Colorado legalization. The report revealed that crime rates were down 10 percent, the state had collected $10.8 million in tax revenue, and was on track to save between $12-40 million by not enforcing marijuana prohibition.

Since that time, Colorado has raised approximately $60 million in tax revenue and is using that funding to help schools, construction projects, and conduct research on the effects of marijuana. In Washington state, which began recreational sales in July, similar results are occurring in terms of crime and traffic fatalities. Additionally the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council has increased the projected tax revenue for the state from $25.5 million to $42.7 million.

Federal Marijuana Policy is shifting: This year, we witnessed a significant shift in federal policy on marijuana. Prior to this year, the only acknowledgement of the need for marijuana policy reform came from the Executive Branch, with President Obama commenting that marijuana is safer than alcohol. Attorney General Eric Holder expressed a willingness to work with Congress to reschedule marijuana.

Now Congress is getting into the act, recently passing amendments in its $1.1 trillion spending bill which protects medical marijuana dispensaries in states with medical marijuana laws. Additionally, Congress passed the Agricultural Act of 2014, which allows universities and state departments of agriculture to cultivate hemp. They followed this up by preventing the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere in states with hemp production.

The Judicial Branch is even considering a case in California federal court which will review marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug. While the fundamentals of this case are not on the side of reform, the arguments are very timely.

Public Health is improving: As states and the federal government continue to reform their policies around marijuana, public health indicators continue to vindicate these moves. Many who have expressed concern about the message marijuana reform sends to kids can put their minds at ease as the most recent Monitoring the Future survey on teen drug use shows a decline in teen marijuana use from 26 percent in 2013, to 24 percent in 2014. Daily use is also down to 5.8 percent in 2014 from 6.5 percent in 2013.

This is largely attributed to the fact that teens are reporting marijuana is more difficult to attain, mostly due to the increased regulatory framework around marijuana and the strong adherence to these rules in states which have reformed their marijuana laws.

Interestingly, marijuana is beginning to show promise in combatting the prescription drug problem in the U.S. In a study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October, states which have reformed their marijuana laws have seen a 25 percent decrease in prescription overdose deaths.

Overall, 2014 has been a year of significant progress for marijuana policy reform nationwide. More and more people are realizing that prohibition has failed. They are voting and encouraging their elected officials to pursue a different course.

As you discuss this issue with your family, have an open mind to their concerns, and dispel misconceptions without disrespecting them. We all have to play a role in shaping the society we envision, therefore it is imperative to maintain an open dialogue.

Being able to disagree without being disagreeable, ultimately makes for better holiday cheer.

Season’s Greetings,

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: Dr. Malik Burnett and Amanda Reiman, PhD, MSW
Date Published: December 18, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Today President Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates convicted of drug offenses. Deputy Attorney General James Cole released a statement saying that the eight individuals "were sentenced under outdated and unfair laws," and "their punishments did not fit their crime."

This year, Attorney General Eric Holder has made a number of forceful public statements against mass incarceration in the U.S., promising significant rollback of mandatory minimums and harsh sentencing guidelines. The Administration also promised improvements in the commutation process. Yet, despite his administration’s declared support for substantive criminal justice reform, until now Obama has used his power to grant clemency less frequently than nearly all other U.S. Presidents.

Mr. Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.

“It’s wonderful news that Obama has granted clemency to these individuals. We hope this is the just the beginning of the President using his executive powers to right the wrongs of the criminal justice system,” said Anthony Papa, media relations manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, who was granted clemency in New York State in 1997 after serving 12 years under the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws. “I hope governors with the same power at the state level follow his lead and reunite more families.”

There is much legislation that the next Congress must move forward with if the country is to address its mass incarceration problem. Chief among them is the Smarter Sentencing Act. This bipartisan legislation would cut mandatory minimum sentences, expand the "safety valve" to give judges more discretion in sentencing, and would make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive.

"The President's actions today are welcome, but they are nowhere near enough," said Michael Collins, policy manager at DPA's office of national affairs. "We need a more wide-reaching clemency effort and we need Congress to move quickly on sentencing reform when it comes back in January. It's time to rectify the US's embarrassing record on mass incarceration."

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

New York — Today, Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblyperson Crystal Peoples-Stokes sponsored a public forum about the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. Under the proposal, those over 21 would be able to purchase small amounts of marijuana from a state-regulated store. The bill would rectify the many problems associated with marijuana prohibition, including the arrests of tens of thousands of primarily young people of color.

“There is no question that New York’s marijuana policies are broken,” said Kassandra Frederique, Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.  “Each year, tens of thousands of New Yorkers are swept into the maze of the criminal justice system for nothing more than possessing small amounts of marijuana. Enforcement of these policies is focused almost entirely focused on young people, primarily young people of color, such that our laws are now applied differently to different people based on the color of their skin and their income level – this must stop.”

The hearing comes amidst a wave of marijuana policy reform nationally. Four states and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize marijuana for adult use. At the federal level, Congress has just passed and President Obama yesterday signed the omnibus bill that contained an amendment that prohibits the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with states that have passed medical marijuana laws. Closer to home, marijuana arrests have been the subject of much debate, particularly in New York City where Mayor de Blasio recently proposed giving people a summons instead of arresting people for possessing marijuana in public view. The proposal, while well intentioned, only underscores the need for statewide legislation that will fix problems with New York’s marijuana possession law and address the legacy of injustice associated with these broken policies.

Just yesterday, the federal government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse released its annual Monitoring the Future survey showing that rates of marijuana use have declined among teens nationally. Monitoring the Future is now in its 40th year and is considered the ‘gold standard’ of teen drug use surveys. These declines in marijuana use among teens follow the implementation of the nation’s first marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington. Those laws were adopted in 2012, and retail sales of marijuana in those states began earlier this year. Each of the marijuana legalization laws clearly specifies that legalization applies to adults 21 and over and contains built-in safeguards that restrict sales to minors.

Increasingly, jurisdictions across the country are realizing that prohibition is the absence of control and are working to implement regulatory systems that are fair and effective.

“New York made small progress earlier this year when it passed a medical marijuana bill, though that bill was narrowed considerably before passage and patients continue to suffer without access to the medicine they need,” said gabriel sayegh, Managing Director of Policy & Campaigns at the Drug Policy Alliance. “The legislature in Albany is now considering the Fairness and Equity Act, which seeks to address the problem of marijuana arrests in New York. They should pass that bill immediately. But for all the strengths decriminalization, it leaves prohibition intact. New Yorkers have suffered long enough under this failed system of prohibition. New York needs to catch up with other states and tax and regulate marijuana. ”

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

December 17 marks the 100-year anniversary of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, generally considered the beginning of the oppressive, expensive, and devastating drug war.

This year, more than eight major U.S. cities will be holding demonstrations today trying to get one simple message promoted: end the war on drugs. But what exactly is the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act and how did it discriminate against people who use certain drugs?

In the early 1900s the U.S. was becoming an important voice in international affairs. Issues surrounding opium consumption and production began to cause major problems globally, and the U.S. declared a need for an international opium conference. From this meeting came the first international opium agreement from the Hague convention in 1912, which “aimed to solve the opium problems of the far east” by eliminating opium supplies.

Two years later, led by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, the Narcotics Tax Act surfaced in Congress. The supporters of the bill said very little about the dangerous effects of addiction, instead emphasizing the importance of upholding the new international agreement to eradicate opium.

In fact, the act on its surface was not prohibitive at all. It was “an act to provide for the registration of, with collectors of internal revenue, and to impose a special tax upon all persons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations, and for other purposes.”

Almost immediately, damaging effects were felt from the bill’s passing. A vaguely worded clause in the bill declared that doctors could no longer prescribe opiate-based drugs, since “addiction was not a disease.” This led to numerous doctors being targeted by police and eventually imprisoned. In turn, the cloudiness of wording led to underground market formation, resulting in criminal involvement by both users and producers of opiates and cocaine. Police enforcement began to go up, and quality of life for those using opiates and cocaine began to plummet.

The government also began an aggressively racist propaganda attack against cocaine-using black Americans and opium-using “Chinamen.” Hysterical media stories claimed that white women using these substances were running off with men of different races. Doctors were targeted for helping those in need, and citizens who previously were medical patients suddenly became criminals, forced to hang out in unscrupulous areas to attain their drugs of choice. In one fell swoop, the Harrison Act set the foundations of the drug war as we know it today.

This December 17, look around and see that not much has changed. Doctors are still targeted for supplying pain medications. Certain people using certain drugs are still treated as criminals and denied medical treatment for addiction. Racial disparities in drug related arrests are a bigger problem than ever.

It is time to get outside and show that you are fed up with the status quo. Recent marijuana legalization laws show hope, but we still have a long way to go.

This war is 100 years old, and that’s 100 years too many.

Jeremy Lesser is an intern with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Jeremy Lesser
Date Published: December 17, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance