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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

As Oregon voters consider Measure 91, a bill on the November ballot that would regulate, legalize and tax marijuana for adults 21 and older, many are looking to how similar laws are affecting Colorado and Washington.

Colorado began implementation of Amendment 64 in January of this year.  According to the state’s department of revenue, the first seven months of legal marijuana sales resulted in more than $27 million in taxes and fees.  Currently, $5.3 million has been raised to improve Colorado's Schools via the Best Fund as mandated by Amendment 64.  Also after six months, there was a 5.2% decrease in violent crime since the same time last year in Denver.   And, according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, by removing criminal penalties for marijuana, the state could save anywhere from $12 to $40 million in one year. Read the Drug Policy Alliance Amendment 64 Six-Month Status Report HERE and the Brookings Center for Effective Public Management Report on Amendment 64 HERE.

In Washington, since retail stores licensed under Initiative 502 began opening on July 8, customers have bought more than $16 million of legal marijuana. Total sales doubled in August to $6.9 million from $3.2 million in July, and the first three weeks of September generated $5.8 million in sales.  Meanwhile, these sales have generated $4 million in marijuana excise tax revenue for the state, plus state and local retail sales and business and occupation taxes. Over the next five years, tax revenues from regulated marijuana sales are projected to reach $636 million.  And according to data from the state Administrative Office of the Courts, the number of misdemeanor charges against adults over the age of 21 for marijuana has plummeted from 5,531 in 2012, to just 120 in 2013. The ACLU of Washington points out that this reduction in criminal charges represents a freeing up of limited police and prosecutorial resources for more important public safety concerns like violent crime. Read the Brookings Center for Effective Public Management Report on Initiative 502 HERE.

WHAT:  Press Teleconference: Impact of marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington.  Hear from experts followed by Q&A. Read background summary on CO and WA marijuana laws here.

WHEN:  Tuesday, Sept. 30, 11am – noon PT / 2- 3pm ET

HOW:  Please contact Tony Newman for details: 646-335-5384


  • CO State Representative Jonathan Singer, who sponsored bills in the state general assembly addressing regulation of edibles and marijuana concentrates, and the marijuana banking bill
  • Pete Holmes, Seattle City Attorney
  • Lewis Koski, Director of Marijuana Enforcement, Colorado
  • Norm Stamper, Retired Chief of Seattle Police Department
  • Tony Ryan, Retired Denver Police Officer
  • Art Way, State Director, Colorado Office, Drug Policy Alliance
  • Alison Holcomb, Criminal Justice Director, ACLU of Washington
  • Anthony Johnson, Chief Petitioner of Measure 91
  • Jill Harris (moderator), Managing Director, Strategic Initiatives, Drug Policy Alliance
Date Published: September 29, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

New York — Friday, the Cuomo Administration sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Cole following up on an earlier letter to U.S. Attorney General Holder sent on August 13, 2014. Both letters asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to extend a narrow, time-limited exception to federal law to allow the importation of certain strains of medical marijuana from other states for use by children in New York with severe forms of epilepsy.

The letters follow the deaths of several children and a sustained campaign by advocates pressuring 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. 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. To establish emergency access for patients in need, medical marijuana can either be produced within New York state, or, with appropriate federal clearances, acquired from a different jurisdiction. The Cuomo Administration’s letters address one of those two options.

“We are glad to see that the governor has engaged DOJ about the need to establish an interim, emergency access program for those who cannot afford to wait for full implementation to occur. Now, we need the governor to move forward on other avenues that might also help get medicine to those who need it. The governor has a moral obligation to try absolutely everything in his power to prevent New Yorkers from needlessly suffering,” said Kate Hintz from Westchester, parent of a child who has a severe seizure disorder.

The Administration is asking the Department of Justice to allow the state to identify one or more producers from a jurisdiction that allows for the legal production of a strain of medical marijuana that is high in cannabidiol (CBD), which has shown promise in reducing seizures in children with severe forms of epilepsy. Once a producer is identified, the state would import the medicine into New York and make it available to a small group of patients until New York’s program is fully operational. Federal law prohibits the transport of marijuana across state lines, and, thus, the Cuomo Administration is seeking permission from the DOJ.

“In many ways, this issue points out the absurdity of our federal marijuana laws,” said Christine Emerson of Rochester, a nurse practitioner and mother of a child with severe epilepsy. “I hope DOJ allows New York to import medicine from other jurisdictions, but the Cuomo Administration also must move quickly to get a producer up and running in New York.”

Advocates noted that action on the federal level is a long shot, and that there are things that the governor has the authority to do himself to create an emergency access program right away. For instance, he could fast track one or more producers in New York to begin growing medicine as soon as possible. Some private companies have submitted proposals to the Administration saying that they could make medicine available to New Yorkers within 90 days. Advocates also noted that, if the governor believes the law doesn’t allow for emergency access, he should call a special session of the legislature immediately to amend the bill, reinserting language that he removed during the final bill negotiations last June.

Missy Miller of Atlantic Beach said, “My son, Oliver, who has severe seizures from a brain stem injury, cannot wait much longer to get the medicine he needs. We asked Governor Cuomo to try a number of things to create an emergency access program after he removed language from the bill that would do just that. While reaching out to the DOJ is a meaningful first step, there are other additional steps he can and should take to get Oliver and other critically ill children the medicine they need ASAP. He needs to realize that every day that passes we lose more of Oliver to these seizures.”

Additionally, were DOJ to grant the waiver, state legislative action will still likely be required. In June, during the final negotiations around New York’s medical marijuana law, the governor explicitly removed a provision to allow for emergency access to medical marijuana. In its place, the final bill included a provision requiring that only those marijuana products produced in New York would be legal for patient use, and marijuana products from other states would be illegal. Thus, legislative action to fix the medical marijuana law may be needed should DOJ grant the waiver so that patients can legally use the marijuana under state law.

Over the last four years, numerous governors around the country have petitioned the Department of Justice on a range of issues related to the medical use of marijuana, including a request to reschedule marijuana and requests to protect workers in state medical marijuana programs from federal prosecution. Such inquiries led to the two memos from Deputy Attorney General Cole in 2012 and 2013, which clarified the stance of the Department of Justice on state medical marijuana programs. The letter by the Cuomo Administration appears to be the first public request seeking a federal waiver for medical marijuana to be acquired from another U.S. state.

The federal government, including the Obama Administration, has not done enough to fix federal marijuana policy, although it has been widely acknowledged that marijuana prohibition has hurt patients across the country and been a primary driver of the failed war on drugs. Advocates, who have asked the governor to take action around creating an emergency access program, have also reached out to Senators Gillibrand and Schumer asking them to do everything within their power to move the issue forward on behalf of critically ill New Yorkers.

“Many patients who face life-threatening or terminal illnesses need access to this medicine immediately. The eighteen month implementation timeline is not realistic for patients, like myself, who do not have the luxury of time,” said Beverly McClain, a stage four metastatic cancer patient, "I've already passed the median survival time so I'm living on borrowed time now."

“Lives are literally hanging in the balance, so we appreciate the Cuomo Adminstration reaching out to the Department of Justice,” said gabriel sayegh, Managing Director of Policy and Campaigns at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Federal action represents one of two pathways to provide emergency access to medical marijuana products for those patients who cannot wait another day for relief. The other path for emergency use is for the state to license a company to produce marijuana in New York on an interim basis until the full system comes online. Governor Cuomo should be moving forward on both options. To save lives, every option must be explored, and we cannot allow bureaucracy and politics to impede getting medicine into the hands of those who need it.”

Date Published: September 29, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

SACRAMENTO, CA — Late yesterday evening, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Fair Sentencing Act (SB 1010) authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). The legislation eliminates the groundless disparity in sentencing, probation, and asset forfeiture guidelines for possession of crack cocaine for sale versus the same crime involving powder cocaine that has resulted in a pattern of racial discrimination in sentencing and incarceration in California. The law takes effect in January.

“The California Fair Sentencing Act takes a brick out of the wall of the failed 1980’s drug war era laws that have devastated communities of color, especially Black and Latino men,” said Lynne Lyman, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, “we are actively dismantling institutional racism. I hope California’s action gives momentum to the remaining 11 states that still retain this unjust and irrational racial disparity in their penal codes,” Lyman concluded.

Crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug. Scientific reports, including a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrate that they have nearly identical effects on the human body.  Crack cocaine is a product derived when cocaine powder is processed with an alkali, typically common baking soda.  Gram for gram, there is less active drug in crack cocaine than in powder cocaine.

People of color account for over 98 percent of persons sent to California prisons for possession of crack cocaine for sale.  From 2005 to 2010, Blacks accounted for 77.4 percent of state prison commitments for crack possession for sale, Latinos accounted for 18.1 percent. Whites accounted for less than 2 percent of all those sent to California prisons in that five year period. Blacks make up 6.6 percent of the population in California; Latinos 38.2 percent, and whites 39.4 percent.

“Whether sold as crack or powder, used on the street or in a corporate penthouse, the penalty for cocaine use should be the same for everybody,” said Senator Mitchell, chair of California’s Legislative Black Caucus. “My bill establishes fairness in sentencing. We must break the drug-driven cycle of arrest, lock-up, unemployability and re-arrest,” Mitchell went on to say. “The law isn’t supposed to be a pipeline that disproportionately channels the young, urban and unemployed into jail and joblessness.”

Mitchell’s bill was sponsored by a dozen civil rights, racial justice and criminal justice reform organizations across the state, and supported by District Attorneys of four counties: Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Santa Barbara and San Francisco. Cosponsors include the Drug Policy Alliance, ACLU of California, A New Way of Life, California State Conference of the NAACP, Californians for Safety and Justice, California Public Defenders Association, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Ella Baker Center, Friends Committee on Legislation, National Council for La Raza, and the William C. Velasquez Institute. The California Fair Sentencing Act garnered over 150 letters of support from across the state and the nation, including legal scholars and drug treatment associations.

Date Published: September 29, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Call on Pres. Obama to appoint a replacement for Attorney General Holder who will take drug policy reform to the next level.

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

Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that he will be resigning from office once a replacement is found. Drug policy and criminal justice reform advocates expressed disappointment he is leaving office, praising his leadership and calling on President Obama to nominate a replacement who will carry on Holder’s reform work.
"Holder will go down in history as the Attorney General who began unwinding the war on drugs and steering our country away from mass incarceration,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “President Obama should replace him with someone who is going to carry on that legacy of reform."
"I applaud Attorney General Eric Holder for working to help improve sentencing laws that have broken our criminal justice system and led to the mass incarceration of many low-level nonviolent drug offenders," said Anthony Papa of the Drug Policy Alliance, who served 12 years under New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws.
Attorney General Eric Holder’s accomplishments include:
  • Calling on policymakers at all levels to find ways to reduce the number of people behind bars.
  • Supporting efforts in Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce punitive sentencing. 
  • Supporting policies that made the sentences of thousands of prisoners shorter and fairer.
  • Changing how the Justice Department charges people to reduce the application of draconian mandatory minimum sentencing.
  • Establishing guidance allowing states to legalize and regulate marijuana with less federal interference.
  • Establishing guidance to make it easier for banks to deal with state-legalized marijuana businesses.
  • Promoting efforts to re-integrate formerly incarcerated individuals into society and eliminate barriers to successful re-entry.
  • Working to end the “school-to-prison pipeline”, including working with the Departments of Education to scale back "zero tolerance" school discipline policies. 
  • Advocating for the restoration of voting rights for the formerly incarcerated.
  • Urging federal law enforcement agencies to identify, train and equip personnel who may interact with a victim of a heroin overdose with the overdose-reversal drug naloxone.
Late last year, Attorney General Eric Holder offered a forceful critique  of U.S. mass incarceration policies, at a meeting of the hemisphere's security ministers in Medellín, Colombia: 
"The path we are currently on is far from sustainable," said Holder. "As we speak, roughly one out of every 100 American adults is behind bars. Although the United States comprises just five percent of the world's population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world's prisoners. While few would dispute the fact that incarceration has a role to play in any comprehensive public safety strategy, it's become evident that such widespread incarceration is both inadvisable and unsustainable. It requires that we routinely spend billions of dollars on prison construction -- and tens of billions more, on an annual basis, to house those who are convicted of crimes. It carries both human and moral costs that are too much to bear. And it results in far too many Americans serving too much time in too many prisons -- and beyond the point of serving any good law enforcement reason."
"From rolling back punitive sentencing laws to letting sensible marijuana policies move forward, Attorney General Holder moved the U.S. away from the failed policies of the past,” said Piper. “Now is the time for President Obama to double-down on these reforms by replacing him with someone who will be as bold or bolder."
Date Published: September 25, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Dear Doctors,

“Medical marijuana laws are popping up all over the country, however some of them only allow for strains high in CBD, for kids with seizures. I always thought of THC and marijuana. What’s all this CBD talk about?”

CBD Skeptic

Dear Skeptic,

Thank you for your question.

CBD stands for cannabidiol, and it is a compound which has shown remarkable benefits in children with severe epilepsy. However, CBD is just one of the estimated 66 cannabinoids which work in conjunction with over 400 additional compounds each and every time someone uses marijuana.

There indeed has been a significant amount of CBD legislation which has been enacted in the past year. In fact, 11 states currently have laws on the books which allow only for marijuana with a high CBD concentration as an option for medical marijuana patients.

What is important to understand about the marijuana plant is that each plant has a particular chemical profile, and the percentage of cannabinoids found this profile vary from plant to plant. Marijuana cultivators can increase or decrease the cannabinoid percentages in each plant through selective breeding.

In addition to cannabinoids, the chemical profile of the marijuana plant contains other compounds including terpenoids, amino acids, proteins, sugars, enzymes, fatty acids, esters, and flavinoids, just to name a few.  All of these compounds work together through a process called “entourage effect,” which is responsible for the therapeutic benefits of the marijuana plant.

First described in 1998 by Israeli scientists Shimon Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam, the basic idea  of the entourage effect is that the cannabinoids within the marijuana plant work together, or possess synergy, and affect the body in a mechanism similar to the body's own endocannabinoid system. This theory serves as the foundation for a relatively controversial idea within the pharmacology community, that in certain cases whole plant extractions serve as better therapeutic agents than individual chemical extractions.

Or to put it more plainly, the therapeutic effects of marijuana work better when the whole plant is used rather than when any of the compounds are used by themselves. 

In addition to helping maximize the benefits of the plant, the entourage effect plays a role in helping to minimize the side effects of various cannabinoids. The most fitting example of this is CBD’s ability to modulate the potentially negative side effects of THC.

Many cannabis users are familiar with the side effect of increased anxiety and paranoia sometimes associated with cannabis consumption. Thanks to the entourage effect, research has shown that CBD can be effective in minimizing the anxiety associated with THC, lowering users’ feelings of paranoia.   

Ultimately, these new CBD medical marijuana bills are an attempt to acknowledge the medical benefits of marijuana in states where the politics of marijuana is otherwise untenable. However, by highlighting the benefits of one particular cannabinoid over another, lawmakers are continuing to perpetuate stigmas associated with marijuana use and denying many people the benefits of whole plant medicine.


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: September 24, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

The blatant contradiction of America's drug war, that prohibition will protect young people, has to end.

From Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No,” to the adoption of D.A.R.E. programs in public schools, young people have been used as political leverage to continue prohibitive drug strategies in spite of the detrimental effects to our welfare. And because young people are ushered into the criminal justice system under the guise of fighting drug use, it’s incumbent for young people to say no more, not in our name.

I call upon all students to advocate for change. So on September 26-29 I hope students, will join us at the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Conference and Lobby Day.

One out of every 400 students is denied financial aid because of drug convictions, according to a report issued by Students for Sensible Drug Policy in 2006. The Children Defense Fund, a non-profit child advocacy organization, reports that a child is arrested for a drug offense every three minutes. Access to financial aid could mean the difference between a student continuing their education, like it is for me, and facing a depressed job market with the burden of legal discrimination.

The more I learn about the drug war, the more I realize that fighting for a multicultural egalitarian democracy that renders obsolete those personal considerations which are morally irrelevant to justice is a multi-generational fight that must galvanize the same, if not greater, numbers than that of the People’s Climate March, because the drug war, like climate change, is up against the same intentional exclusion found across our politics: money.

When I was three, my mother separated from my father because he was addicted to crack cocaine. When I was 11, my mother parted ways from my stepfather because of his alcoholism. At 18, I struggled with the complexities of such an upbringing and the conflicting guilt of my own drug use.

Now at 21, I am a senior in college, a semester away from graduating and running to be a board member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. I decided to break up with the word ‘addict’ and all the negative connotations that followed drug users.

I am not a statistic nor will I look back on this era’s major social justice issue and question my contribution. I know what I’ve contributed and I only hope to be given more time to lend my voice and support.

The shift from regulating drugs to criminalizing their trade developed from, and was marked by, other dilemmas facing an increasingly globalized America.

I am a part of a movement of scholars, professionals, and activists who have at some point all posed the same question to themselves: “if not me, who? If not now, when?”

Stephanie Izquieta is a former intern at the Drug Policy Alliance and a candidate for board member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy

View more blog posts.

Author: Stephanie Izquieta
Date Published: September 24, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Can the ballot really end marijuana prohibition and the drug war? The short answer is yes.

As my esteemed colleague, Stephen Gutwillig, wrote earlier this week, “voter initiatives -- primarily reforming or repealing marijuana laws -- appear on the ballots in seven states, at least 17 municipalities and one U.S. territory.”

And today, National Voter Registration Day, provides us with a great opportunity to remember one of the most powerful weapons against the failed war on drugs: the ballot.

In 2010, there were nearly  222 million eligible voters in the United States and a little over half of them actually turned out to vote. That means that nearly 42 percent of eligible voters let someone else decide their future for them.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like letting someone else choose my salad dressing let alone the future of my country. And this year, in places  like Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C., voting means the difference between choosing to end marijuana prohibition or choosing to continue  the failed policies that have given us over 40 years of mass incarceration, wasteful government spending, and the out of control militarization of our communities via the failed war on drugs.

Yes, Congressional inaction is frustrating, if not downright infuriating, but skipping the polls is not an act of protest, it's an endorsement of their failed leadership.

Politicians assume drug policy reform activists working to end prohibition aren't going to make it to the polls and are disengaged from the democratic process. That's why we have heard so much rhetoric about being tough on crime over the years despite the evidence showing it doesn’t make our communities any safer and have seen, and continue to see,  so many laws misguidedly increasing the penalties for non-violent offenses like marijuana possession- politicians are pandering to the people they think will donate to their campaigns, turn out to vote and keep them in power.

But the reality of the matter is that 23 states currently have medical marijuana laws and two states have full on legalization. Marijuana prohibition didn’t end itself- people like you and me have made our voice heard at town halls, at community board meetings, at lobby visits, and at the polls and forced our elected representatives to feel our democratic power and act accordingly.

Too easy to be true?

If voting didn't effect change, then over $7 billion wouldn't have been spent influencing voters in the 2012 election cycle.

That's why it's so imperative to get to the polls and help get out the vote. Marijuana prohibition will never end itself and the drug war will continue to spiral out of control, devastating our communities, until we fight back with the ballot.

I’m registered to vote and I will be joining organizations like VotoLatino and HeadCount in making sure as many people as possible register to vote.

What about you?

Jeronimo Saldaña is the legislative and organizing coordinator for the movement building team at the Drug Policy Alliance.

View more blog posts.

Author: Jeronimo Saldaña
Date Published: September 23, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance