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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

NEW YORK—Today, the New York State Department of Health announced that they will expand New York’s beleaguered medical marijuana program by adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition under New York’s Compassionate Care Law. This decision by the Department of Health is a victory for patient advocates and for all New Yorkers who suffer from debilitating pain,  which medical marijuana has been proven to help treat.

"Medical marijuana is a scientifically proven intervention for people who are suffering from chronic pain and we applaud New York State for added it as a qualifying condition to access medical marijuana,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director, VOCAL-NY. “We hope to see additional improvements to the state's medical marijuana program, and eventually the full legalization of cannabis, so that no New Yorkers are criminalized for possessing and using the plant."

Since New York’s medical marijuana program was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in July 2014,  advocates have raised serious concerns about the onerous regulations—more than100 pages in total--that make New York’s program one of the most restrictive in the country. Nearly 11 months after medication became available to the public under the program, patients and advocates are pleased that the Department of Health has begun to listen to patients and take steps to make the program more accessible to those who will benefit from this medicine.

“I am so pleased to hear that the Department of Health is moving forward to allow patients suffering with pain symptoms to access our medical marijuana program. Cannabis has been studied and proven to be an effective treatment in managing pain, and is a possible alternative to prescription opioid use. I hope that this is a significant step to remove some of the needless barriers New York’s chronically ill patients have faced when trying to access this program. Let’s hope the program continues to be enhanced and expanded so that more New Yorkers can afford and access this safe alternative," said Kate Hintz, a representative of the patient advocacy group Compassionate Care NY.

The addition of chronic pain as a qualifying condition is the second change to the medical marijuana program within its first year of operation. Earlier this year, the Department of Health issued 12 recommendations to improve the program, including home delivery, allowing nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana, and increasing the brands and forms available, which are in the process of being implemented. 

"The patient advocates at Compassionate Care New York are excited to learn that the Department of Health will add chronic pain as a qualifying condition to the medical marijuana program. With the national concern about American’s overuse of prescription opioids to manage pain, it is important that patients are able to access alternative treatments. We hope that the Department of Health will allow New York’s doctors to ultimately determine which patients suffering with pain qualify for the program and not complicate the criteria. The addition of chronic pain to our current program could benefit thousands of New Yorkers,”  said the Compassionate Care NY patient advocacy group.

“The addition of chronic pain is a positive step in the right direction overall,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “While significant barriers remain surrounding access and implementation of New York’s medical marijuana program, we applaud the Department of Health for turning a corner and putting patients first. We remain committed to the expansion and improvement of the medical program and the end to overall marijuana prohibition in New York State. 

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Author:
Date Published: December 2, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day. In 1989, I was arrested in front of the White House on World AIDS Day, demanding that then-President Bush take action on HIV/AIDS.

Among the issues we were demanding action on then, so many years ago, was the availability of sterile syringes for people who inject drugs, so they could stop the transmission of HIV. In the decades since, we have celebrated amazing victories against HIV/AIDS. We now have treatments we could only dream of then. We have pills that will prevent HIV. We have a National HIV/AIDS Strategy. We even have an effective cure for hepatitis C. And we are keeping many, many more people with HIV alive now.

And yet, it is syringe access – needle exchange – that we have been the slowest to win. It is unequivocally one of the most effective and most cost effective HIV prevention interventions we know of. It was developed and promoted by people who use drugs, always on the lookout for ways to protect themselves, their family members, and communities. It has stayed too long in the shadows of the larger HIV/AIDS advocacy movement. Syringe access still happens in urban parking lots and back alleys, provided by unpaid volunteers (of which I am proud to be one), many of us current or former drug users. It was only last year that Congress grudgingly allowed federal funds to be used for syringe access programs (except for the actual purchase of the syringes).

It is not without some anger at the cost of this very slow learning curve that I note the announcement this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that:

“The science is clear: Syringe Services Programs reduce HIV risk and are not associated with an increase in injection drug use. They are a powerful tool that can help us avoid new HIV infections, reduce injection drug use in our communities, and address other health problems faced by people who inject drugs.”

I appreciate the clarity of the CDC’s statement of support for syringe access. It comes with some very nice infographics. It also highlights the concern about increasing injection drug use among whites  – but fails to mention how racially disproportionate drug arrests and incarcerations have led to racial disparities in HIV.

The CDC points out that use of syringe access programs has increased over the last decade but “most people who inject drugs still don’t always use sterile needles” – as if that were the fault of people who use drugs, rather than the fault of drug laws, stigma against drug users, and the belief among too many elected officials that this isn’t their community’s problem. The reality is that the expansion in services has happened because of the Drug Policy Alliance and Harm Reduction Coalition’s work to change laws; determined champions like Hansel Tookes in Miami, Robert Childs in North Carolina, and UC Irvine medical students in Orange County, CA; and the many harm reduction heroes across the country still running unauthorized, underfunded programs in their communities. 

We’re not going to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic until we end the war on drugs. We aren’t going to get to zero – meaning zero deaths, zero new infections, and zero stigma – until we end the war on drugs. Syringe access is essential, as is decriminalizing drug use and opening safer drug use spaces or supervised consumption facilities.

I fear the cost in lives of a Congress and presidential administration that doesn’t understand that. And I’m ready to get arrested in front of the White House again if that’s what it takes to save the lives of people who use drugs. 

Laura Thomas is the Deputy State Director, California, of the Drug Policy Alliance. 

View more blog posts.

Author: Laura Thomas
Date Published: December 1, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Time is running out: urge Pres. Obama to free prisoners of the drug war. 

Author:
Date Published: November 22, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Listen to the teleconference.

On Friday, news reports named Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next Attorney General. The Drug Policy Alliance is convening this call with reporters to highlight Jeff Sessions’ track record on civil and human rights, criminal justice reform and drug policy. Representatives from invited organizations will highlight how an Attorney General Sessions threatens to expand mass criminalization and drug war policies that will put communities at risk and intensify the marginalization and stigmatization of Muslims, immigrants and others, and should not be entrusted with the enforcement of our nation's civil rights laws. He was rejected for a federal judgeship in 1986 when the Senate Judiciary Committee was confronted by Sessions’ extensive history of racist comments and incidents. As just one example, Sessions is on record saying that the Ku Klux Klan was, “OK, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.

During his time in the U.S. Senate, Jeff Sessions has been the chief opponent of recent bipartisan efforts to reduce sentences for drug offenses and has a track record of opposition to marijuana reform.  He is likely to use his power as Attorney General to accelerate federal prosecutions for drug law violations that carry draconian mandatory sentences and close down state-legal marijuana and medical marijuana programs. A Senate confirmation of Sessions would also position Sessions as a powerful foe of bipartisan criminal justice and sentencing reform efforts in Congress. Sessions has also pushed for the expanded use of the criminal justice system to disproportionately target minority groups and deport noncitizens. Sessions is likely to expand the use of surveillance and policing against immigrant and marginalized communities.

The Drug Policy Alliance is fighting to put the brakes on Sessions’ AG nomination and will hold a national teleconference tomorrow Tuesday, November 22 at 1 p.m. ET / 10 a.m. PT

What: Teleconference: What Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General Would Mean for Criminal Justice Reform, Drug Policy Reform and Civil and Human Rights

When:  Tuesday, November 22, 1 p.m. ET

Speakers:

  • Jonathan Blanks, Managing Editor, PoliceMisconduct.net, Project on Criminal Justice, Cato Institute
  • Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF
  • Todd A. Cox, Director of Policy, NAACP-LDF
  • Robert McCaw, Director of Government Affairs Department, Council on American Islamic Relations
  • Bill Piper, Senior Director, Office of National Affairs, Drug Policy Alliance (Moderator)
  • Rev. Susan Smith, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
Author:
Date Published: November 22, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Today, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 79 people incarcerated in federal prison, almost all of whom were serving time under outdated and harsh drug sentences. This round of commutations brings the number of prisoners whose sentences have been commuted under President Obama to more than 1,000.

The commutation of these prison sentences represents what the White House hopes will be just one prong of a broader push to overhaul the criminal justice system, making it fairer while saving the government money.  President Obama has been pushed to do more to release those serving time in prison under harsh drug laws that have imprisoned an enormous amount of individuals.

“These commutations are great but there are thousands of more people being warehoused in federal prison for drug offenses. They probably won’t get any relief under Donald Trump, which is why President Obama should commute all their sentences before he leaves office,” said Bill Piper, Senior Director of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.

“President Obama deserves praise for commuting the sentences of people who deserve to be reunited with their families,” said Tony 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 Rockefeller Drug Laws for a first-time nonviolent drug offense. Papa just released his new book, “This Side of Freedom: Life after Clemency,” which speaks about the roadblocks he faced after he was released. “It’s my hope that the president continues to grant freedom to those who deserve a chance to re-enter society.”

Author:
Date Published: November 22, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

I began working, advocating and lobbying for federal-level drug policy reform in Washington, DC in the last year of Bill Clinton’s presidency. I’ve continued to do so ever since: I was a loyal soldier in the war against the War on Drugs through eight years of George W. Bush and then eight years of Barack Obama. But now, with the election of Donald Trump, it feels like the work during those three presidencies was just basic training—the real challenge is just beginning.

Like many people, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the very idea of Donald Trump as president. But what’s certain is that drug policy reformers are going to have to play it smart in the new era, and I do have some initial thoughts.

First, we’re in uncharted territory. We have never had a president like this—so far removed from establishment norms, openly promoting white supremacy, believing in and promoting wacko conspiracy theories. Complicating matters, he doesn’t seem to have fixed positions, rarely gives specifics and contradicts himself often. No one knows for sure what exactly to expect, but we should assume the worst.

His administration, which looks set to be staffed by drug-war extremists, could go after state marijuana laws. Instead of just opposing sentencing reform, they could push for new mandatory minimums. They might demonize drugs and drug sellers to build support for mass deportations and a wall. Trump’s law-and-order rhetoric could fundamentally alter the political environment, nationally and locally.

Right now there is a bipartisan consensus in favor of reducing incarceration—that consensus is in danger. We could be set back decades if we’re not careful. We need to rethink a lot of what we’ve been planning and think about how we message. And it’s more important than ever that we support our allies in other movements and stand strong for racial justice. We need to re-learn how to play defense.

Second, I know few people on my side of the fence want to hear this, but the threats posed by Donald Trump and his people are threats we will be facing for four years, maybe eight. We will be fighting them for a long time, and we need to recognize and internalize that.

We need to pace ourselves, choose our battles carefully, be strategic, and perhaps most importantly, keep our morale up. We need to find ways of supporting each other.

Third, we got to be crafty. We need to be careful not to box the Trump administration into making bad decisions, and we should try to box them into making at least semi-good decisions.

As one example, Trump said during the campaign that he would protect states’ rights on marijuana and that he supports medical marijuana. The more we repeat that and hold him to that, the better.

Trump has a yuge ego, his policy positions are fluid, he will want to get re-elected and he is easily influenced by media. We should exploit his weaknesses.

It’s especially important that we find ways to create division among Republicans, who now hold Congress and the White House. The more they disagree, the less they can get done. Two areas that stand out for us are marijuana and sentencing reform. We have enough Republican support on both these issues that we might be able to create dissent within the GOP if Trump tries to do something bad in these areas.

Finally, the rise of Trump and Trumpism has put a national spotlight on white supremacy and misogyny. Everywhere, people are now organizing against hate. Drug policy reformers should be part of that fight.

We can start by taking a hard look at our movement and the marijuana industry we have created. If groups draft legalization laws that ignore racial justice, we need to call them out. If dispensaries, marijuana magazines or other marijuana businesses objectify and demean women to sell their products, or if they exclude people of color, we need to call them out. It is long past time to clean up our own house.

A recent Saturday Night Live skit featuring Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock really resonated with me. The skit revolved around a room full of white people expressing shock that Donald Trump won, and being surprised that so many Americans were racist or blind to racism. Chapelle and Rock got real sarcastic, making fun of the white people for just now figuring out what people of color have known forever.

It is my hope that for all the chaos and oppression a Trump administration is likely to unleash, his presidency will wake people up. That means us: Drug policy reform could be a revolution within a revolution.

Bill Piper is Senior Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

This piece originally appeared on The Influence.

View more blog posts.

Author: Bill Piper
Date Published: November 22, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

This summer, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced its intent to ban kratom, a medicinal plant used for millennia in Southeast Asia and currently used by millions in the United States. After DPA members and activists sent over 70,000 messages to Congress, 51 U.S. Representatives and almost a dozen Senators asked the DEA to postpone their ban.

In October, the DEA took the unprecedented step of delaying the ban – and is now soliciting public comments until December 1.

With an incoming presidential administration that’s looking more hostile to equitable drug policies by the day, it’s imperative for us to make the most of this opportunity to stop the senseless criminalization of millions more people.  Ominously, drug war extremist and professional racist Jeff Sessions has been tapped to lead the Justice Department, which oversees the DEA, making it hard to imagine them showing restraint on kratom prohibition post-inauguration. (You can ask your Senator to oppose Sessions’ nomination here.)

Given the widespread moral, political and scientific consensus that drug use and addiction are best treated as health issues, there’s no good reason for people who use kratom to be treated as criminals – especially considering how much we already know about prohibition’s shamefully disproportionate impact on people of color and other marginalized groups.

Please consider submitting a comment to the DEA explaining why kratom should not be banned. Here are some useful talking points:

  • Banning kratom expands the war on drugs, while the public overwhelmingly supports ending it.
  • If kratom is added to any one of the five drug schedules, people who use it will be criminalized and locked up behind bars.
  • Kratom has been used safely by millions of people in the U.S. and evidence supports kratom’s potential as a pain reliever and opioid replacement.
  • Many people struggling with opioid addiction have turned to kratom to help them cut back or quit, but now all promising scientific studies on kratom’s role in opioid treatment could be immediately shut down.
  • Side effects of kratom are minimal, and its withdrawal symptoms are weak and nearly inconsequential compared to the suffering of people trying to quit opioids.
  • Prohibiting kratom will worsen the country’s problems of opioid addiction and overdose.

(Be respectful in your comments and mindful that everything you submit is a matter of public record.)

In the long run, what we really need is a new, post-prohibition drug classification system that’s based on science and best public health practices. Kratom is suffering the same fate as countless other medicinal plants that have been used by our ancestors for millennia -- there’s no profit incentive for pharmaceutical companies to do years of clinical research to gain FDA approval for a plant that they can’t patent for prescription use, which leaves it in a regulatory gray area.

It makes no sense for the DEA to be in charge of federal decisions involving scientific research and medical practice, especially when its successive directors have systematically abused their discretionary powers in this area. Responsibility for deciding drug classifications and public health policies should be completely removed from the DEA and transferred to a health or science agency. (Check out DPA’s “Fire the DEA” campaign to learn more about how the DEA has fueled mass incarceration, wasted taxpayer money, and blocked scientific research.)

In the meantime, it’s crucial for us to accelerate a new vision for ethical drug policies before the next misguided “drug scare” inevitably rears its head.  Now’s the time to strike while the iron’s hot and we still have a fighting chance to stop the madness of kratom prohibition.

Jag Davies is the director of communications strategy for the Drug Policy Alliance.

View more blog posts.

Author: Jag Davies
Date Published: November 21, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Jeff Sessions is a drug war extremist. Fight back: tell your Senators to oppose him for Attorney General. 

Author:
Date Published: November 18, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance