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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.

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On Easter Sunday close to 1 billion Christians across the world will commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This Easter Sunday, I have decided to reflect on those who have been demonized and disparaged by America’s 40 year drug war.

Today many of our communities are forced to grapple with conditions akin to the socio- political and economic concerns that were the hallmark of Jesus’ ministry: social neglect and economic disinvestment of black and brown communities, political disenfranchisement, criminalization of the poor and the stigmatization of those who are different.

Living in the age of mass criminalization and mass incarceration causes me to question current policies that punish rather than restore the humanity of my brothers and sisters who are drug users and prisoners – neighbors and friends in our midst who may have done real or perceived harm to themselves or society.  Should redemption be denied to the drug user or the convicted? Who am I to judge and condemn my neighbor? 

To ignore these questions is to deny or diminish the central theme of Jesus’ message.  So this Easter I am committed to remembering the entirety of Jesus’ ministry – his advocacy on behalf of the poor, sick and oppressed is as poignant and pertinent today as it was two thousand years ago.

I am constantly saddened by the fact that in 2012, there were more than 1.5 million drug arrests in the United States, and by the destructive effects of mass incarceration and mass criminalization on communities of color.  The criminalization of poor and People of Color is a moral and criminal injustice that should be lifted up as our 21st century crucifixion, if the ministry of Jesus is to have full meaning and resonance this Resurrection Sunday.

As a Christian I cannot help but take my cloak of mercy, compassion and justice and cover those who have been unfairly burdened by the scourge of a criminal conviction and the stigma associated with problematic drug use. Let us commit to ending the further marginalization and discrimination of our brothers and sisters, and to dismantling unjust systems purportedly designed to protect us from each other.

This Easter Sunday I hope you will join me in contemplating what the rebirth and restoration of individuals and communities negatively impacted by the drug war and mass criminalization would look like from a Christian perspective. Ending over criminalization and the drug war should be a religious and moral imperative as we work to realize the Kingdom of God here on earth. 

Yolande Cadore is the director of Strategic Partnerships for the Drug Policy Alliance and a Young Adult Minister at her local church.

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Author: Yolande Cadore
Date Published: April 18, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

“Only dopes use dope.”

This anti-drug slogan from the 1980’s sought to drive home the myth that using marijuana decreases your intelligence. Since that time, this argument remains one of the main reasons that people fear marijuana legalization. Never mind that some of the most intelligent people in history, Carl Sagan, Steve Jobs. Bill Gates, even Barack Obama, used marijuana, the idea that marijuana makes you stupid has been hard to shake.

A recent study published in the journal of Neuroscience makes the claim that casual marijuana use may be linked to changes in brain structure. This study, based on a sample of 20 people, became fodder for the media claims such as: Even Casually Smoking Marijuana Can Change Your Brain, Study Says, and Recreational Pot Use Harmful to Young People's Brains. However, in their rush to confirm the myth around marijuana and stupidity, those reporting the story left out some very important details.

As previously mentioned, the study was conducted on 20 marijuana users, and 20 controls (non-users). Only healthy marijuana users were selected for the study, eliminating those with any physical or mental health problems.

What this means is, different brains or not, these were healthy people by definition. Even the brain structure differences did not result in illness or disability compared to their non-using peers. There are, of course, other issues with the study design, such as the way “casual use” was defined. As pointed out by fellow scientist Lior Pachter, a few of the participants were using 10 joints per week, and one was using 30 per week, above what most would consider “casual use.”

Secondly, brain changes are not the same as cognitive deficits. This study looked at brain imaging only, not at actual problems experienced by the participants, nor did it give the participants any kind of cognitive assessment above and beyond the shape of their brains. Men and women’s brains also differ in structure, but one would never then assume that one gender is somehow disabled by these differences.

Finally, as with much of the research on drug use, there is confusion over correlation and causation. While this study can claim that “casual” marijuana is use associated with varying brain structures, they CANNOT say that these differences were caused by marijuana use.

John Gever, at MedPage Today, provided an excellent analysis of this reporting inaccuracy. As Gever points out:

“Breiter (one of the authors) claims that this study, ‘raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn't associated with bad consequences.’ Um, no, it doesn't -- not without before-and-after MRI scans showing brain structure changes in users that differ from nonusers and documentation of functional impairments associated with those changes.”

So, what’s the bottom line? As we move towards marijuana regulation, rather than prohibition, research on the impacts of marijuana use and policies on public and individual health are essential.

However, if future policies are to be truly evidence based, we need to be careful about the accuracy and honesty with which we present the findings.

Amanda Reiman is a policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Amanda Reiman
Date Published: April 17, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

NEW ORLEANS—The Drug Policy Alliance filed an amicus brief today urging the Louisiana Supreme Court to review the egregious prison sentence of Bernard Noble, a 48-year old man who was sentenced to 13.3 years of hard labor in prison without the opportunity for parole for possessing the equivalent of two marijuana cigarettes.  

Noble’s original sentencing judge considered the 13 and a third-year sentence egregious and imposed a sentence of five years of hard labor. But the Orleans Parish District Attorney wasn’t satisfied with this punishment and appealed the sentence. Ultimately, the district attorney sought and obtained a prison term of close to triple the sentence imposed by the original sentencing judge.  

“Thirteen years in prison for two joints is obscene,” said Daniel Abrahamson, director of the Office of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and a lead author of the brief.  “The punishment is so far out of proportion to the conduct that we really can’t call it ‘punishment’ – it is more like torture.”

While Noble has two prior low-level nonviolent drug offenses that occurred 8 and 20 years respectively before his arrest in this case, he has never been convicted of anything more serious than possession of drugs for personal use.  Because of these prior, albeit dated drug offenses Mr. Noble fell within Louisiana’s Habitual Offender Statute, which brings his sentence for his marijuana possession offense to thirteen and one-third years and deprived him of the opportunity for earlier release on parole.  

The Drug Policy Alliance filed the amicus brief on behalf of DPA, the Micah Project, Prison Fellowship Ministries, Reason Foundation, and the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana. It highlights how Louisiana’s sentencing scheme for marijuana possession offenses is grossly disproportionate to the average sentence of marijuana offenders based on national standards and comparative state laws. In stark contrast to Louisiana, many states have decriminalized possession of marijuana for personal use, with the offense being punishable by a fine and with no threat of jail time.  And two states have outright legalized, taxed and regulated the cultivation, sale, possession and use of marijuana by and for adults.

“The sentence inflicted by Louisiana in this case for simple, low-level marijuana possession, on a gainfully employed father with absolutely no history any serious or violent crime, cannot be justified by any measure,” said Abrahamson.  “It does not enhance public safety.  It will destroy Mr. Noble and his family.  And it flies in the face of what Louisianans believe. “

Indeed, Noble’s sentence also runs counter to public opinion.  Independent public opinion polling undertaken in July and August 2013 by Public Policy Polling (“PPP”) underscores that Louisiana voters, by strong majorities, oppose lengthy prison terms for simple marijuana possession, including persons caught possessing marijuana on multiple occasions.   

Further, there is gross racial disparity in the rates of arrest for marijuana possession.  African Americans are 3.1 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than whites in Louisiana, and 61 percent of marijuana arrests are of African Americans while only 32 percent of Louisiana’s population is African American.  

“Finally, Mr. Noble’s prison sentence for possessing two joints will cost Louisiana taxpayers nearly one-quarter of a million dollars and will add to the majority of nonviolent offenders who currently fill Louisiana’s prisons,” Abrahamson said. “In fact, only 17 percent of the state’s prison inmates have committed violent crimes, whereas fully one quarter of the state’s prison population is there for drug crimes.”

Date Published: April 16, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

The news has been full this past week with what I consider progress: the state of New York and the FDA have both taken steps to keep people alive in response to the huge and growing incidence of fatal drug overdoses.

The Attorney General of New York is dedicating $5 million, obtained from criminal and civil seizures, to provide law enforcement officers with an antidote to opioid overdoses, called naloxone - also known as Narcan.  Also in New York, the state senate has unanimously passed a bill calling for expanded access to this life-saving antidote.  On the federal level, the FDA approved an easy-to-use device for administering naloxone – an auto-injector called Evzio – which could be available for use this summer.

But some people worry that this is not a good thing.  The governor of Maine is against this antidote; the head of pain medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital is worried that people who use drugs will use the antidote to party down, as is my landlord.

My son Casey died of a heroin overdose at the age of 24.  I wish someone had been around with this antidote when he was dying.  That’s what we’re talking about: life or death.

To my mind, anyone talking about possible negative societal effects of saving someone’s life is not thinking logically.  It’s a matter of rejecting a certain good out of fear of a possible evil.

And to speak logically even more, let’s look at facts about how this antidote actually does effect drug use.  Scientific studies have been done on the very question today’s opponents of Narcan raise.  Guess what?  Having the antidote available does not increase drug use.

One probable reason is that, despite its miraculous life-saving power, a person who’s brought back from an overdose is very unhappy because of how he/she feels in the moment.  They suffer for a while the extreme pangs of withdrawal.  They are not inclined to want to go through that again.

I would encourage people who worry about people using more drugs to do something about people using more drugs.  For example, there are a lot of reforms to be made to keep people away from harmful drugs, especially painkillers.  Plus, the whole area of treatment of people who abuse drugs needs change so that they don’t all end up dying or in prison.

So, don’t take away what saves lives.  Work to help people who are suffering, whether they’re dying or not.

Jack Mack is a resident of Croton-on-Hudson, NY and the father of an overdose victim.

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Author: Jack Mack
Date Published: April 16, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

A broad coalition of Christian leaders have taken the occasion of the holiest day on the Christian calendar to release a statement calling for the end of the war on drugs and mass incarceration.

“The cross that faith leaders are imploring others to take up is this unjust, and immoral war on drugs and mass incarceration of the poor. In particular, poor black and brown young adults whose futures are being ruined at the most critical point in their lives,” said Reverend John E. Jackson of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.

“We are guided by our religious principles to serve those in need and give voice to those who have been marginalized and stigmatized by unjust policies. We cannot sit silently while a misguided war is waged on entire communities, ostensibly under the guise of combating the very real harms of drug abuse. The war on drugs has become a costly, ineffective and unjust failure,” says Reverend Edwin Sanders, who is a Board Member of the Drug Policy Alliance and the Senior Servant for the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

The statement makes the following recommendations:

  1. Repeal laws that criminalize drug possession and replace them with policies that expand access to effective health approaches to drug use, including evidence-based drug treatment.
  2. Eliminate policies that result in racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates.
  3. End policies that unjustly exclude people with a record of arrest or conviction from key rights and opportunities.

These Christian leaders have chosen Easter season to release their statement because of the spirit of the Resurrection, which Easter commemorates and celebrates.

“We are called upon to follow Jesus’s example in opposing the war on drugs, which has resulted in the United States becoming the world’s biggest jailer, with about 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners,” added Sanders.

“Resurrection reality commissions and commands us to change these policies, laws and systems that rob whole communities of their most precious resource, their young. These are the ones Jesus faced betrayal, denial and desertion for. These are the ones Jesus gave up everything for. These are the issues Jesus was raised from a 3 day grave to speak truth to power to through our voices, through our crying loud and sparing not and through our organized efforts," added Jackson.

Religious leaders will hold a teleconference to discuss their statement and campaign against the drug war and mass incarceration.

What: Press Teleconference

When: Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Time: 2 p.m.  EST

Location:Please call Tony Newman 646-335-5384 for call-in instructions


  • Moderator: Rev Edwin Sanders, Senior Servant, Metropolitan Interdenominational Church, Nashville, Tennessee
  • Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, Founder and Executive Director of The Ordinary Peoples Society,  Dothan, Alabama
  • Rev Michael McBride, Director of Urban Strategies, Lifelines to Healing, Berkeley, California
  • Bill Mefford, director of Civil and Human Rights, The United Methodist Church
  • Rev. Dr. Madeline Mc Clenney –Sadler, Exodus Foundation, Huntersville, North Carolina
  • Rev. Robina Winbush, Churches United In Christ, Louisville, Kentucky
  • Rev. John E. Jackson, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Chicago, Illinois
Date Published: April 15, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Date Published: April 14, 2014
Published by SFGate

President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio will all join Reverend Al Sharpton at his National Action Network’s annual national convention being held April 9-12, 2014 in New York, NY.

The conference is being billed as the largest civil rights convening of the year bringing the nation’s top activists, political strategists and leading academia together to create an action plan for a civil rights agenda. Participants will address key policy issues such as jobs, voter ID and immigration; which will be key in this midterm election year.

The conference is also focusing on the failed drug war and mass incarceration. A panel called “Up in Smoke: Banning of Menthol, Legalization of Marijuana & Criminalization of African Americans” will address racial justice and the war on drugs.

"We are at a critical point where momentum to end the drug war and mass incarceration is gaining traction,” said Art Way, Senior Policy Manager, Colorado, of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It's not time to let up, it's time to ramp up."

In just the past six months, the Obama administration has made a series of moves indicating that they are serious about reducing our packed prisons and fixing our broken criminal justice system. The White House is giving the green light to Colorado and Washington to move forward with their marijuana legalization laws. AG Holder is forcefully speaking out against mass incarceration and mandatory minimum laws. The Treasury Dept. and Justice Dept. issued new guidelines for banks to work with legal marijuana businesses. The White House is asking for clemency candidates to help drug prisoners with unjust sentences. The President is planning to introduce an initiative to end the “school-to-prison pipeline” for young people of color. AG Holder is urging states to lift felony disenfranchisement laws. And of course, President Obama made headlines when he told the New Yorker that marijuana was no more dangerous than alcohol, lamented the racial disparities in marijuana arrests, and called Colorado and Washington’s new marijuana legalization laws “important.”
“President Obama and AG Holder want to make criminal justice reform a defining legacy of their administration,” said Way. “They should. After decades of mass incarceration, the public is demanding an exit strategy from the disastrous war on drugs.”

What: Up in Smoke: Banning of Menthol, Legalization of Marijuana, & Criminalization of African Americans
When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Who:   Moderator: Kendrick Meek, Former U.S. Representative
            Representative Joe Armstrong, President, National Black Caucus of State Legislators
            Chief John I. Dixon III, Chief of Police, Petersburg, VA; President National Organization of Black   Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE)
            Neill Franklin, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)
            Honorable Robert T. Russell, Jr., Judge, 8th Judicial District, Buffalo City Court
            Art Way, JD, Senior Policy Manager, Colorado, Drug Policy Alliance
Where: Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, 2nd Floor—Central Park East

In addition, another panel at Saturday at 3pm called “The State of Our Prisons: Where We Are and Where we Need to Be” will take a critical look at mass incarceration and strategies to scale it back.

The convention will be held at the Sheraton Times Square Hotel in New York, NY and is free and open to the public with select-ticketed events. Attendees can register and view a full schedule at:

Register today at

Date Published: April 10, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

The drug war has increasingly become a war against migrant communities. It fuels racial profiling, border militarization, violence against immigrants, intrusive government surveillance and, especially, widespread detentions and deportations.

Media and politicians have tried to convince us that everyone who gets deported is a violent criminal, a terrorist or a drug kingpin. But a newly released, first-of-its-kind report shatters that notion, showing instead that the majority (some two-thirds) of those deported last year were guilty of minor, nonviolent offenses – including thousands deported for nothing more than possessing small quantities of drugs, typically marijuana.

The report, an analysis of federal immigration data conducted by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, details how roughly 40,000 people have been deported for drug law violations every year since 2008. That means that nearly 250,000 – one-quarter of a million – people were deported for nonviolent drug offenses in just the past six years. A nonviolent drug offense was the cause of deportation for more than one in ten (11% of) people deported in 2013 for any reason – and nearly one in five (19%) of those who were deported because of a criminal conviction.

Much as the drug war drives mass incarceration, it also appears to be a major driver of mass deportation. Indeed, the report reveals that simple marijuana possession was the fourth most common cause of deportation for any crime, and the most common cause of deportation for crimes involving drugs. On average, more than 6,600 people were deported in each of the last two years just for personal marijuana possession, and overall, nearly 20,000 people were deported last year for simple possession of any drug or drug paraphernalia.

By contrast, relatively few of those deported were drug traffickers, let alone violent ones.  “Convictions for drug trafficking accounted for only one percent of deportees recorded as convicted of a crime,” the report’s authors note, “while marijuana possession was more than three times that level.”

What becomes of the people who are deported? The sad, simple truth is that they will first likely be disappeared within the (increasingly for-profit) U.S. prison and detention system; then sent back to their countries of origin, where they may no longer have any ties to family or community, may lack basic survival needs like food, housing and health services and may face serious threats to their security. Those who are removed from the country are usually barred from reentry, often for life – no matter if they have family members who are U.S. citizens or decades-long ties to their communities of residence here in the states.

The result, then, is thousands of families broken and communities torn apart every single year.

Because of these grave consequences, advocates for drug policy reform and defenders of migrants’ rights have begun to team up to demand humane reforms to both drug and immigration policies. Central to our demands is that no one be arrested, incarcerated or deported for merely using or possessing drugs – which necessarily entails two major drug law reforms: (1) legalize and regulate marijuana, and (2) stop arresting and criminalizing people for using or possessing everything else.

These commonsense reforms are hardly controversial: recent polls indicate that substantial majorities nationwide seem to favor both proposals. Yet, though modest, they would have a huge impact: sparing tens of thousands of people from deportation every year, while saving tens of thousands more from the anguish of an arrest, conviction, jail or prison sentence, and criminal record; and saving millions of dollars in currently wasted criminal justice resources.

Such steps are critical for dismantling the war on drugs and ending the war on immigrants – a fight that is, in many ways, one and the same.

Daniel Robelo is research coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Daniel Robelo
Date Published: April 10, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance