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Drug Policy Alliance
New York, NY (Headquarters)
givvers: 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

Today, the Drug Policy Alliance released Marijuana Facts, intended for non-expert audiences seeking answers to some of the most common questions asked about marijuana use, its effects, and the rapidly-shifting legal landscape.

The booklet addresses 15 frequently-asked questions about subjects such as driving, mental health, brain development, potency, edibles and concentrates.  It touches on marijuana’s history as one of the earliest cultivated crops in many parts of the world, the racial prejudice that motivated the first marijuana prohibition laws – which continues to this day – and the historically significant shift toward decriminalization and legal systems of regulation over the past two decades. It also touches on some of the potential benefits of legal regulation, as well as the challenges, such as ensuring that the communities worst harmed by prohibition are able to participate in the emerging legal industry.

Twenty-five U.S. states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, while four states – Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State – and D.C. have legalized marijuana more broadly. A slew of recent polls show majority support across the political spectrum for removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession and legally regulating its production and sale to adults 21 and over.

This November, voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada will decide whether to legalize marijuana in their states, while Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Montana will vote on medical marijuana initiatives.

For more than 20 years, DPA has been at the forefront of marijuana law reform, supporting new policies that regulate marijuana effectively and that no longer arrest, incarcerate, disenfranchise and otherwise harm millions – particularly young people and people of color, who are disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.  DPA also works to promote the development of a safe, responsible, inclusive and ethical marijuana industry.

For additional resources on marijuana and marijuana policies, check out:

Date Published: July 28, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Today, the President of the Philippines delivered his “State of the Nation Address."  He vowed to show “no mercy” in his bloody war on drugs and crime, warning criminals that priests and human rights advocates cannot protect them from being killed.

Rodrigo Duterte was elected last month after promising to wipe out crime and corruption throughout the country, relying heavily on an anti-drug campaign centered around murdering people who use or sell drugs. Duterte has encouraged law enforcement, and even civilians, to kill people suspected of selling drugs and people who struggle with addiction. He said, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.”

“I strongly suspect that Filipinos will come to regret their election of a president who expresses such contempt for basic principles of due process and human rights,’ said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “A government that condones extra-judicial killings of people who use or sell drugs will eventually turn its terror on others – it’s just a matter of time.”

During his campaign, Duterte estimated that 100,000 people would die as a result of this crackdown. According to AFP, Duterte has not been deterred by the human rights concerns opponents have raised about lack of due process. Additionally, as part of his initiative, Duterte promises to fully pardon anyone involved with the killing of people who use or sell drugs. Last week, police announced a plan to erect a large electronic billboard outside their headquarters in Manila that will keep track of all these drug-related killings.

There has been a notable silence from the international community. So far, the only country to weigh in has been China – and they have been supportive of Duterte’s drug policies.

Historically, the Philippines has had a conservative approach to drug policy and maintained harsh drug laws, such as 20 years of imprisonment for possession of 5 grams or more of any type of drug. But Duterte’s approach is unprecedented; he has escalated an already-tough drug policy to the extreme, eliciting terror and violence throughout the country.

“In 1985 I was sentenced to 15 years-to-life for a first time, nonviolent drug offense, and it blows me away to hear about the draconian drug policy that the President of the Philippines is championing,” said Anthony Papa, author of This Side of Freedom and manager of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance. “We have some terrible drug policies in the U.S., like mandatory minimum sentences, but I have never seen anything like the killings that are happening in the Philippines right now.”

Date Published: July 25, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Bucking the national trend toward progressive reform, the Albuquerque Police Department recently doubled down on its aggressive policing of minor drug offenses. Recently, the department arrested seven men – six of whom were homeless – as part of a reverse drug sting. One man, struggling with homelessness and mental health issues, agreed to trade the jacket off his back in order to pay for $20 worth of crack cocaine. Others traded medication, a cellphone, or a tablet – along with whatever loose change they had on them. All seven now face felony drug charges for possession.

The reverse sting, or “reverse buy and bust,” involves an undercover police officer posing as a drug seller and selling drugs to unsuspecting drug users. Police then arrest the buyers – homeless men in this case. Inducing criminal activity through reverse stings treads close to the line of illegality. Such practices are barred in many European countries as outright entrapment.

Yet some police departments and federal agencies have increasingly relied on the tactic in their enforcement of drug laws. In Albuquerque, police obtained drugs from the evidence room – and even sought permission from a judge to manufacture crack cocaine – to sell to users.

This reliance on reverse stings flies in the face of clear evidence that such tactics don’t work. Despite millions incarcerated and billions spent in the War on Drugs, the rate of drug use has remained steady.

Reverse drug sting operations targeting users exploit addiction to lock people ever deeper into cycles of homelessness, petty crime, incarceration, and overdose. Despite this widely accepted truth, and condemnation by the Mayor and City Councilmembers, the Albuquerque police chief has vowed to continue use of the reverse stings.

Meanwhile, an hour north, the Santa Fe Police Department has embraced evidence-based approaches to handling drug use. In 2014, recognizing the real needs of communities and families struggling with addiction, overdose, and incarceration, Santa Fe implemented the pre-booking diversion pilot program, otherwise known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD).

First implemented in Seattle in 2011, LEAD allows police officers to redirect people facing petty offenses, including low-level drug possession, from jail and prosecution into treatment and social support. Public approval and scientific studies indicate the success of the program. Informed by harm reduction strategies, Santa Fe’s LEAD program is a model for dealing with a problem that often cannot effectively be addressed through the criminal justice system.

In these two cities we see two radically different approaches to drug use. One replays the failures of the War on Drugs and continues to target and criminalize drug users; the other acts on evidence of best practices to treat problematic drug use as a public health issue.

New Mexico, like any state, wants to build and sustain strong, healthy, safe communities. But it needs strategies that work, strategies that re-imagine the role police officers are asked to play in our communities. The Albuquerque Police Department can do better.

Emily Kaltenbach is the senior director of criminal justice reform strategy and state director of New Mexico with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Emily Kaltenbach
Date Published: July 21, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Italy may become the next country to legally regulate marijuana, with a legislative proposal expected to be debated in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies on Monday, July 25.

“Italy has rarely if ever provided leadership in Europe on drug policy reform,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the US-based Drug Policy Alliance, “which is why this bill, if it becomes law, will be of great significance not just within Italy but regionally and even globally.  With five more U.S. states preparing to vote on marijuana legalization on November 8, and Canada poised to legalize marijuana next year, Italy could well provide the catalyst that Europe needs to move forward in ending marijuana prohibition.”

The bill would decriminalize the possession of 15 grams of marijuana for recreational use at home, and 5 grams for use outside of the home. Furthermore, it would allow the cultivation of up to 5 plants for personal use, and authorize cannabis clubs for up to 50 members. In terms of distribution, the Italian government would grant licenses for the production and sale of marijuana inside national territory. The bill prohibits import and export of marijuana, public use of marijuana, and driving under the influence.

The bill proposal was drafted by the Inter-gruppo Parlamentare Cannabis Legale, a cross-party committee of senators and representatives organized by Senator Benedetto Della Vedova, and was signed by 294 representatives – a third of the Parliament – last September. Signatures came from members of liberal and conservative parties, demonstrating broad support for the bill across the political spectrum. Major figures outside the parliament, including Francesco Curcio and Franco Roberti, the Chief Prosecutors of the Anti-Mafia and Anti-Terrorism Offices, have also endorsed the bill.

“Prohibitionist policies have failed in their impossible aim to eliminate the use of drugs and have not reduced the illegal market for cannabis. Instead, organized crime has controlled the whole chain: production, processing and sales. By legalizing cannabis, the State would cut off substantial income from organized crime and transfer the illegal profits to the State budget,” said Senator Della Vedova.

Marijuana reform enjoys broad support among Italian citizens.  According to a recent survey by IPSOS Public Affairs, 60% of Italian citizens agree that the country’s parliament should consider policy alternatives to the current prohibition regime, and 83% think that the current laws prohibiting marijuana consumption are inefficient. Furthermore, over 70% of Italians believe that the country should seek to implement a model of marijuana regulation similar to that of Colorado.

Marco Perduca, coordinator of Legalizziamo! (Let’s legalize!)—a campaign to collect 50,000 Italian voters’ signatures on a bill to legalize marijuana—welcomed the development: “We are asking Italians to take part in the legislative process with a proposal to strengthen and complement what Parliament is discussing. We welcome their compromise text but we believe that Italy is ready for an even more radical reform on illicit substances.”

In recent years, marijuana reform has gained unprecedented momentum across the world. In the United States, medical marijuana has been legalized in 25 states, while Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. legalized marijuana for non-medical use. Jamaica has enacted wide-ranging marijuana decriminalization; Colombia and Puerto Rico issued executive orders legalizing medical marijuana; Chile allows for the cultivation of marijuana for medical use; and medical marijuana initiatives are being debated in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana on a national level, and Canada’s governing Liberal Party has promised to do the same. If Italy passes the bill currently under consideration, it would become the first European country to legalize marijuana for non-medical use.  

Date Published: July 21, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Every individual has a fundamental right to health, regardless of age, race, gender, income, or nationality. This important human right is intimately connected to our understanding of a life in dignity because it is in good health that individuals can reach their full potential.

One of my closest friends back home in India met with a terrible car accident last year.  His recovery has been defined by months and months of pain. Sustaining traumatic injuries to his hip and leg, one would imagine that he’d be given the strongest pain medication possible. However, despite having undergone multiple surgeries, he was only given morphine a handful of times in the first year of his recovery. Oral morphine, prescribed in many countries, wasn’t given to him until many months after his accident.

It is unfair and unjust that my friend in New Delhi who gets into an accident cannot access the medication he requires, but if a friend in New York or Paris were in one, they would probably get the medication with ease.

The UN is based on the primary tenet that every individual has a set of inalienable rights; drug laws cannot override those rights. For several decades, international drug control has been characterized by an overwhelming focus on suppression and punishment, ignoring the central concern of the UN drug convention – the health and welfare of mankind. The repressive stance taken by the UN on drugs has had a damaging impact on human rights, including the right to health.

For those suffering from extreme physical pain, morphine is indispensable; it’s cheap and highly effective in providing relief and has accordingly been designated an ‘essential medicine’ by the World Health Organization. It is important to understand the impact severe pain can have on a patient; not only is it physically unbearable, but it can affect a person’s ability to eat, sleep, and interact with others. It also greatly increases likelihood of developing depression and anxiety, and can even influence the course of the patient’s illness. Pain relief is thus a critical component of the right to health.

Among the millions of drug war victims worldwide are 5.5 million cancer patients, 1 million people with end stage AIDS, women in labor, people recovering from surgery, and accident victims, who suffer from moderate to severe pain, but cannot access the pain relief medication they need, if they live in countries with inadequate access to essential medicines.

While the War on Drugs may have started in the U.S., it is mostly patients in the developing world that are paying the price. 92% of the world’s morphine is consumed by 17% of the world’s population, with use concentrated mainly in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The international psychosis and hysteria created by the drug war has pushed governments to introduce rules and regulations for access to morphine and other illicit pain relief drugs that go far beyond what the UN conventions require, thereby ignoring their medical need and importance.

The issue finally got some attention at the recent UN Session on Drugs and many countries, including India, are trying to change policies at the national and international level. However, real change will require a shift away from a punitive approach towards one emphasizing health and human rights.

How much pain you have to suffer shouldn’t be determined by where you live, and it is unacceptable that we let stigma and misguided fears of addiction get in the way of allowing patients to realize their right to health.

For more information, check out the Drug Policy Alliance's fact sheet: The Global Drug War: Fueling Lack of Access to Essential Medicines

Suchitra Rajagopalan is pursuing her Bachelor of Laws at the University of Mumbai and is a former intern of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Photo by Sage Ross from Wikimedia Commons

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Author: Suchitra Rajagopalan
Date Published: July 19, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Today, Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and several other House Democrats introduced the “Veteran Visa and Protection Act,” which would establish a visa program allowing certain deported veterans to re-enter the U.S. as lawful permanent residents. They will also be eligible for the existing naturalization process for military service and will regain access to their military and veteran benefits. The bill will also stop the deportation of eligible veterans who are currently in removal proceedings.

“The thought that people who have sacrificed so much for our nation’s defense and safety are kicked out with such disregard is utterly appalling,” Rep. Grijalva said. “When someone is willing to lay down their life for the country they love, what more could we want in a fellow citizen? Many of these deportations result from minor drug-related offenses; instead of providing our veterans with the help they desperately need, we kick them out. My bill is about ensuring every single veteran, regardless of where they were born, is treated with the same deference and respect that they all earned through their service in uniform.”

According to the Immigrant Defense Project, one out of every four “criminal removals,” over 250,000 deportations, involved a person whose most serious conviction was for a drug offense. Last year, Human Rights Watch released a report on drug deportations, noting that “Thousands of families in the United States have been torn apart in recent years by detention and deportation for drug offenses.” And last week, the ACLU released a report noting that veterans who have served the country as lawful permanent residents have been “subject to draconian immigration laws that reclassified many minor offenses as deportable crimes, and were effectively banished from this country.”

“We know that the war on drugs has been a war on immigrants,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Marijuana is legal in four states and the nation’s capital. Republicans and Democrats alike see the need to reduce harsh sentences for drug offenses. So it is especially cruel to deport tens of thousands of people, some of whose most serious offense related to a small amount of marijuana.”

Immigrants have served in the U.S. military since its inception, and 2008 Department of Defense figures reported that 65,000 lawful permanent residents were serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. The Grijalva bill would allow those deported for nonviolent offenses to apply for re-entry, and would stop deportation proceedings for vets who had committed a nonviolent offense. Many of the vets impacted by this bill will be those found guilty of drug-related offenses.

Date Published: July 14, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Washington, D.C. – Last night the U.S. Senate voted to send opioid legislation known as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) to President Obama for his signature. The U.S. House voted last week 407-5 to approve CARA. This bipartisan measure co-sponsored and championed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and many other lawmakers advances a large number of treatment and prevention measures intended to reduce prescription opioid and heroin misuse, including evidence-based interventions for the treatment of opioid and heroin addiction and prevention of overdose deaths. This bill, however, does not provide federal funding. Republican leadership have maintained that opioid funding must be appropriated through regular order and have repeatedly pledged to fund the programs authorized in CARA this year. Advocates urge Congress to deliver on this promise.

“CARA promotes many evidence-based interventions that have the potential to more effectively address opioid and heroin dependence and save lives,” said Grant Smith, deputy director, national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Lawmakers in Congress now must deliver on promises to fully fund CARA if we are to realize its potential,” said Smith.

CARA contains many interventions but three stand out as crucial for turning the tide on the opioid and heroin crisis, provided these interventions are fully funded by Congress:

  • CARA supports the expansion of diversion programs, such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, that direct people stopped by law enforcement for low-level drug law violations away from the criminal justice system and into evidence-based treatment and other services.
  • CARA supports the expanded provision of buprenorphine, methadone and other forms of medication-assisted treatment, including to people involved with the criminal justice system. The vast majority of correctional facilities do not provide medication-assisted treatment despite an overwhelming need among incarcerated people and the strong evidence base supporting medication-assisted therapy to treat opioid dependence.
  • CARA supports the expanded use of naloxone by first responders and community members such as family members in a position to administer naloxone to a person experiencing an opioid overdose. Naloxone effectively reverses opioid overdoses and is safe to use but people who are at-risk of experiencing or witnessing an overdose often cannot access this lifesaving drug.

Advocates urge lawmakers to fully fund these interventions:

“A massive infusion of funding this year for medication-assisted treatment, naloxone and diversion programs by Congress is essential if we are to truly turn the tide on the opioid crisis,” said Grant Smith, deputy director, national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance.

CARA also includes a provision that permits nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine for the first time. This change, along with a separate decision by the Obama Administration to raise next month the number of patients that a practitioner can treat with buprenorphine from 100 to 275, should improve patient access to this form of treatment.

Date Published: July 14, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

This morning New Yorkers awoke to news in the New York Times and New York Post that on Tuesday dozens of people in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn had severe reactions to a batch of K2, a commonly used name for synthetic cannabinoid products.  This most recent outbreak follows a spate of emergency room admissions last summer centered on K2 use in East Harlem and unfortunately illustrate all too clearly the continued failure of our prohibitionist and punitive drug laws.  The outbreak also serves as an important cautionary tale of basing policy on fear instead of facts.

Synthetic cannabinoids, work by acting on various cannabinoid receptors in the brain. However, their effects are different and often stronger than marijuana.  Synthetic cannabinoids in their original form are powder or liquid chemicals, sometimes sprayed on herbal matter and sold in packages. One of the main risks of use of K2, as well as other novel psychoactive substances (NPS), is that very little is actually known about their composition or their effects on people who use them. Because the synthetic cannabinoid market is completely unregulated, people who use these substances never know what they are getting, and bad batches can easily flourish on the illicit market.

Last month, the Drug Policy Alliance, the New School for Social Research, and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice hosted New Strategies for Novel Psychoactive Substances, in an effort to bring some concrete facts to the conversation about how to respond to NPS. In the case of K2, researchers, service providers, and people who use K2 concurred that one of the primary factors driving the use of K2 is marijuana prohibition. Unlike marijuana, K2 cannot be routinely detected by drug tests, and people who use K2 often do so to avoid detection on drug tests that may be required by probation, parole, shelters, or drug treatment programs. Moreover, according the limited epidemiology available, the vast majority of those ending up in NYC hospitals from K2 use are people who are homeless, have a mental illness, or both. It’s no coincidence that use spikes in our most impoverished neighborhoods -- many people are using these drugs to cope with desperate social circumstances.

Given these motivations for using K2, it is perhaps not surprising that an effort to take K2 products off shelves has failed to solve the problem. Policymakers in New York responded to last year’s outbreak in East Harlem by criminalizing the sales of K2, failing to heed to call of advocates who suggested that this approach would only worsen the problem. While K2 may no longer be on bodega shelves, the ban has merely moved the problem to another part of the city, and such bans can lead to the proliferation of new, often riskier versions of K2 as illicit manufacturers create new chemicals that skirt the latest laws.

Prohibitionist policies are not the only problem. The media needs to take some of the blame here for exacerbating the stigma surrounding the people who use these drugs and fomenting fear rather than focusing on solutions. Headlines that sensationalize the problem and refer to people who use these drugs as “zombies” only serve to dehumanize a group of people who clearly need our help and compassion, not our scorn. This kind of stigmatizing language and the inciting of “drug scares” in the absence of real facts is part of a long, despicable history in this country of using drugs to promote racist attitudes and policies.

So what does work?  First, we need to take a step back from the fear and the rhetoric and ground our responses in research and science. We need more research and more timely research on what these substances are, what effects they have, who is using them, and how and why people are using them. This kind of information can help guide the thoughtful responses we need at both at the individual and policy level.

At the New Strategies Summit last month, for example, clinical and harm reduction providers offered a number of suggestions for immediate responses to people, such as offering them a safe space to come down from the substances, while monitoring their health and ensuring their safety. Peer education and programs that allow those using these substances to check or test them to know what they are getting could also help avoid large-scale severe reactions like the kind we saw yesterday. Public health experts at the Summit also noted that we need to address the underlying social circumstances of those using these substances, including providing housing, medical services, and mental health care. Investments in a comprehensive harm reduction and public health response would be much more effective than stigma and criminalization.

Beyond responding to the immediate crisis, we need to take a broader look at our approach to drug policy writ large. The emergence of so many new “synthetic drugs” like K2 is yet another sign of the failure of the war on drugs.  For instance, as the New York City Council Speaker has pointed out, one response to the emergence of synthetic cannabinoids ought to be revisiting our marijuana policies. K2 use would likely dramatically decrease if marijuana were legal and drug testing for marijuana was no longer used to penalize people.

Finally, it is time to acknowledge that prohibition does not work, and it never has. If we really want to improve the health and safety of our communities, we need look at system of regulation, not prohibition. Were we to enact a regulatory scheme, like that proposed in New Zealand, we could permit commercial sale of these substances but hold retailers accountable for products they sell, restricting access to vulnerable populations, like youth. We cannot afford to keep repeating the mistakes of the past. It’s time for thoughtful and innovative solutions based on science and compassion, not fear and stigma.

Julie Netherland, PhD, is the Director of the Office of Academic Engagement for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Julie Netherland
Date Published: July 13, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance