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

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

Los Angeles -- While opioids have understandably received a lot of attention recently, stimulant drugs -- including powder cocaine, crack, methamphetamine and Adderall -- are often overlooked. In fact, nationally, more people use stimulants than use heroin. While many people use stimulants without problems, excessive stimulant use can put people at risk for a number of health issues, including heart issues, psychological distress, and blood-borne diseases.

Despite these risks, not much is known about best ways to reduce the harms associated with stimulant use and to treat those with problematic use. On Monday, September 25th, over 100 researchers, services providers, students, and policy advocates will come together at a free one-day conference in Los Angeles entitled, Stimulant use: Harm reduction, treatment, and future directions.

“It’s time to take a fresh look at the research and innovative practices for stimulant use so we can better understand why people use these drugs and help to reduce the harms associated with their use,” said Jules Netherland, PhD, Director of the Office of Academic Engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance and one of the event organizers. “By bringing together such a wide array of experts, this conference promises to generate important solutions to problematic stimulant use.”

The conference will generate a series of recommendations for service providers and policymakers on how to better address the needs of people who use cocaine and methamphetamine, an otherwise underserved population.

“It is critically important to sort out myth from fact when it comes to people who use stimulants because they are such a highly stigmatized population,” said Lindsay LaSalle, Senior Staff Attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Myths play out in many negative ways that end up hurting people who use drugs – they perpetuate shame and blame, restrict access to services, and keep people in the shadows rather than encouraging them to seek help. This conference is an opportunity to look beyond the stereotypes so we can better understand who uses stimulants, their motivations for use, related risks, and strategies for mitigating these risks.”

The potential harms from stimulant use can be different from those of other drugs, and so this conversation promises to expand understandings of harm reduction, which is often focused on providing clean syringes to opioid users. Panelists will discuss a wide range of harm reduction strategies, such as the need to create safer consumption spaces for people who smoke crack cocaine, transitioning injection stimulant users to smoking as a lower-risk route of administration, and the need for low-threshold housing and supports.

Treatment for stimulants has also been poorly understood. The conference will feature a panel to discuss evidence-based strategies like contingency management and innovative approaches such as medication assisted treatments and substitution treatments for stimulant use.

The event is free, but participants must pre-register here.

Stimulant Use: Harm Reduction, Treatment, and Future Directions

Monday, September 25, 2017
8:30 AM – 5:00 PM PDT

Japanese American National Museum
100 North Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012

8:00-9:00am Registration & Sign In


Welcome/Opening Remarks –

  • Lindsay LaSalle, Senior Staff Attorney, Drug Policy Alliance
  • Jules Netherland PhD, Director of Office of Academic Engagement, Drug Policy Alliance
  • Ricky Bluthenthal PhD, Professor, Kent School of Medicine, University of Southern California

9:10-9:25am: Overview of Epidemiology/Prevalence/Trends in US and abroad -

  • Thomas Freese PhD, Co-Director, UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs

9:25-9:40am: Stimulant use and its public health impact in California -

  • Gary Tsai MD, Medical Director and Science Officer, County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health

9:45-11:15am: PANEL – People who use Stimulants: A Diverse Population

  • Kaston Anderson-Carpenter PhD, Michigan State University
  • Jennifer Lorvick PhD, RTI International
  • Elise Szabo, Students for Sensible Drug Policy
  • Alice Cepada PhD, University of Southern California
  • Melynda Mindy Vincent, Utah Harm Reduction Coalition

11:15-11:30am: Break – coffee/tea/snacks

11:30-11:45am: Overview of harm reduction strategies in US and abroad-

  • Katie Stone, Research Analyst, Harm Reduction International

11:45-1:15pm: PANEL – Harm reduction interventions with people who use stimulants

  • Brandie Wilson, Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction
  • Kat Humphries, Harm Reduction Action Center
  • Ryan McNeil PhD, University of British Columbia
  • Anna Palmer and Peter Higgs, Burnett Institute
  • Shilo Murphy, People's Harm Reduction Alliance
  • Liz Evans, Washington Heights Corner Project & New York Harm Reduction Educators
  • Cristina Temenos, University of Burmingham


2:00-3:30pm: PANEL- Treatment Options for People who Use Stimulants

  • Diana Valentine, Center for Harm Reduction Therapy
  • Joe Schrank, High Sobriety
  • Glenn-Milo Santos PhD, University of California San Francisco
  • Rick Andrews, The Stonewall Project
  • Kanna Hayashi PhD, Simon Fraser University

3:30-5:00pm: PANEL- Lessons on the ground and future directions

  • Isaac Jackson, Urban Survivors Union
  • Michael Siever, Founder, The Stonewall Project
  • Terrell Jones, New York Harm Reduction Educators
  • Charles McWells
  • Magalie Lerman, Reframe Health and Justice Consulting

5:00-5:15pm: Closing Remarks -

Steven Shoptaw PhD, Executive Director, Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine (CBAM) UCLA

The conference is being hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance, along with local partnering organizations, including academic research centers, advocacy and service organizations, and public health agencies. Panels will be comprised of researchers, direct service providers, and people with a history of stimulant use in order to draw upon the various forms of expertise in this area, provide attendees with a more holistic view of the issue, and create richer dialogue about possible solutions. International experts will be featured via video.

Date Published: September 19, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

More than 1,500 people will gather in Atlanta, Georgia, on October 11 – 14 for DPA’s biennial International Drug Policy Reform Conference (#Reform17) at the Omni Atlanta Hotel @ CNN Center. It’s the largest gathering of policy makers, activists, health advocates and reformers in the world. Check out the website for a full listing of the program and special events.

It’s not just a conference – it’s the convening of our movement, and here are just a few of the many reasons you should join us.

5. Michelle Alexander is delivering a keynote.

In case you haven’t heard, Michelle Alexander, visionary, scholar, activist, and author of the bestseller The New Jim Crow (basically, the call to action to end the war on drugs) will speak on a plenary about the drug war, mass incarceration and the unjust criminal justice system. Most recently featured in Ava DuVernay’s epic documentary, 13th, Michelle Alexander will speak at the Reform Conference for the first time.

So even if you have been to Reform before, this is something you do not want to miss!

4. Drug Policy Alliance has joined forces with AFROPUNK.

DPA will be continuing its exciting new partnership at AFROPUNK Atlanta, which is being held October 14 - 15 – the same weekend as the Reform Conference! We will be programming social salons at their Carnival of Consciousness and engaging attendees at the DPA tent, providing information and materials.

Come to Reform 2017 and AFROPUNK Atlanta to feel the music, free your mind, and see an incredible lineup of groundbreaking music and activist icons.

3. While Trump is in office, no one is safe.

The upcoming conference is taking place at a paradoxical moment in the fight against the war on drugs. On one hand, marijuana legalization is moving forward rapidly, and there is bipartisan support for reducing the numbers of people behind bars and expanding health-based approaches to reducing the harms of drugs. At the federal level, however, the new administration is escalating the drug war by undermining civil rights, bolstering white supremacists, and rolling back much of the progress made under the Obama administration. Now, more than ever, reformers need to organize and take action.

The president believes that building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border would alleviate the recent surge in overdose deaths. We know how to prevent overdose deaths, and that’s not a solution. From immigration reform activists and racial justice organizers, to law enforcement, libertarians, faith leaders, academics, and marijuana entrepreneurs, this conference is a gathering for everyone who is working to uproot the drug war.

2. Over 55,000 people died of a drug overdose last year.

More than in car accidents. More than from gun violence. Drug overdose is the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. This sobering tragedy is marked by the heartbreaking truth that most of these fatal overdoses are preventable.

In addition to a plethora of sessions dedicated to policy solutions that will work to end the overdose crisis, there will also be a candlelight vigil on Thursday night at the Museum of Civil and Human Rights to honor those who have perished as a result of the drug war.

1. You should CARE ABOUT THIS because the drug war harms us all...even if we don't use drugs.

The drug war diverts resources from real and needed social supports that ensure healthy people, families and communities. It shames and stigmatizes when people who are struggling deserve compassion and care. The drug war is a failure making our children and all of us less safe.  Help us end it.

Watch the video and register to attend at

Melissa Franqui is the manager of communications and marketing for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Melissa Franqui
Date Published: September 18, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Every day there is a new headline highlighting the devastating effects of the current opioid crisis on individuals and their communities – from record overdoses to widespread transmission of hepatitis C. This has started a dialogue, urging public officials to treat drug use as a medical issue rather than a criminal one. States across the U.S. are responding to this as a public health matter – passing 911 Good Samaritan and naloxone access laws, opening of syringe exchanges, and increasing access to Medication-Assisted Treatment. It seems that, now more than ever, we are amidst a shift in how society deals with problematic drug use.

So then why, in the midst of a public health crisis, are police around the United States confiscating clean syringes and naloxone from the most vulnerable drug users – the homeless? This may sound absurd, but across the United States there have been reports of law enforcement seizing clean syringes and naloxone from homeless drug users that were lawfully obtained at health service providers.

Imagine being a homeless intravenous drug user who’s trying their best to prevent the contraction of HIV or Hepatitis C. To get to the needle exchange, you first have to make arrangements so your possessions aren’t stolen, then you take public transit, make sure you get to the exchange on time, wait in line for services, and then trek back to your camp. You put in the effort to keep yourself healthy, only to have these same supplies confiscated by police a few hours later. Confiscation of your consumption equipment forces you to resort to sharing syringes and other hazardous consumption practices. The end result is increased risk of fatal overdose, HIV and hepatitis C transmission – all thanks to law enforcement improperly enforcing laws designed to protect drug users, not hurt them.  It’s easy for people to blame drug users for their health issues, but it’s becoming even clearer that, like most of the enforcement of the failed drug war, often it is the police fueling these adverse consequences of drug use.

The role of police in addressing the opioid epidemic and its effects has been highly contested. While some agencies are getting behind harm reduction, many continue to see users as criminals who must be shamed if they have any hope to recover. These issues are pushed into the spotlight when we talk about homeless opiate users. Similar to users who are not homeless, this group is susceptible to criminal and health problems as a result of their use – but these harms are magnified because of their living situation. They are subject to interactions with law enforcement more frequently – especially in big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco where homeless encampments are frequently being torn down to make way for new high rises. They are also at higher risk  for HIV, hepatitis C, and accidental overdose, while simultaneously having few financial resources to prevent these health issues on their own.

Consequently, research has shown that this group has benefitted greatly from reforms that have made syringes and naloxone more accessible and free of charge. But, when police confiscate these items in their routine interactions with the homeless, they actually discourage effective harm reduction practices and policies that  minimize the health risks of drug use, leading to adverse health outcomes.

Police confiscation of these supplies is not only morally abhorrent, but directly related to increased overdoses and transmissions of infectious disease. This lesson was already learned in Vancouver back in 2003, where mass crackdown on homeless users and confiscation of their property (including clean syringes and naloxone) led to a “new wave of transmission of HIV and other blood-borne and sexually transmitted diseases as well as to increase the risk of complications from overdose, including death.”

Do we really want to repeat these mistakes in the midst of the one of the most serious drug-related public health crises? If we are really going to address these public health issues, protect our communities and save lives, we need the police to focus on properly enforcing harm reduction policies, not interfering with them in the name of the failed drug war.

Alexandra Olsen is an intern with the Drug Policy Alliance.

Photo via Matthew Zalewski / Wikipedia.

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Author: Alexandra Olsen
Date Published: September 18, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Sacramento, CA— Today, the California State Assembly passed a bill to repeal sentence enhancements for prior drug convictions by 41 to 25 vote. Senate Bill 180, authored by Senator Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles and Ricardo Lara of Long Beach, repeals a three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions, including petty drug sales and possession of drugs for sales.

The bill passed the State Senate in June, and now goes to Governor Brown for his signature or veto.

“This was a huge effort, and great thanks to Senators Mitchell and Lara for leading on an issue that is incredibly important to low-income families most impacted by the war on drugs,” said Eunisses Hernandez with the Drug Policy Alliance. “This bill also frees up tax dollars that have long been wasted on lock-em-up policies that had no positive impacts in terms of public health or public safety.”

Current law provides for a penalty of up to five years in jail or prison for sales of even the smallest amount of cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine.  The enhancements add 3 years for each prior conviction, and according to data from the state sheriffs is a leading cause of sentences of over 10-years in county jail.

Public defenders, drug treatment providers, and racial justice advocates say that current law ensnares low-income and addicted people in overlong and unjust sentences. These penalties fall overwhelmingly on blacks and Latinos, although surveys show that whites use and sell drugs at rates equal to those groups.

The bill leaves base sentences intact, as well as other enhancements such as selling to a minor, or selling to an adult or minor within 1000 feet of a school.

“This sentencing enhancement has been on the books for 35 years and failed to reduce the availability or sales of drugs within our communities,” said Hernandez. “These extreme and punitive polices of the war on drugs break up families and don’t make our communities any safer.”

Sentencing enhancements were meant to reduce the availability of drugs and deter drug selling, however like many drug war policies, they are a proven and costly failure. In addition to depleting state and county funds that could be spent on schools, health, and social services, sentencing enhancements are a major contributor to jail overcrowding. As of 2014, there were more than 1,500 people in California jails sentenced to more than five years and the leading cause of these long sentences was non-violent drug sale offenses.

Although rates of drug use and sales are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites. The drug war has devastated families, low-income communities, and communities of color who are disproportionately incarcerated. If signed into law by Governor Brown, the RISE (Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements) Act would help restore balance in the judicial process, address extreme sentences, and reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

The RISE Act would free up taxpayer dollars for investment in community-based programs and services that improve public safety like mental health and substance use treatment. Advocates applaud the State Assembly’s passage of SB 180 and see the bill as an opportunity for California to demonstrate its commitment to criminal justice policies that prioritize safety instead of punishment.

This bill is co-sponsored by the ACLU of California, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Drug Policy Alliance, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, California Public Defenders Association, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Friends Committee on Legislation of California.

Date Published: September 12, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

When a sitting president likens himself to Hitler, it should get your attention. Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, has proudly said he’d “be happy” to exterminate 3 million people who use or sell drugs in his country. His horrific campaign to rid the Philippines of drugs has led to the extrajudicial murders of more than 12,000 people in the last year. Meanwhile, the Google Play store is hosting all these games (some rated “E” for “Everyone”) glorifying the president’s sickening, murderous drug war. It’s time for Google to take down these games.

Sign this petition: Tell Google Play to Remove Games That Glorify Duterte’s Horrific Drug War in the Philippines

We first noticed this after our friends at Release pointed it out on Twitter, and it was amplified by Transform’s Steve Rolles.


There are several games pitting Duterte against “zombies,” capitalizing on his stigmatizing and inhumane reference to people who are struggling with addiction – people he was saying he wanted to get rid of en masse should he become president. He actually said this last year: “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.” The top game (below) has over 1 million downloads and 33,000 reviews.

Photo via Google Play

Here’s another game where you “help Duterte eliminate people infected by drugs.”

Photo via Google Play

After you look at these photos captured by The New York Times (see one below) you can begin to feel the gravity of the situation in the Philippines. Parents are losing their children, children are losing their parents, and out of the 12,000 murdered, 3,800 were killed by police. Three teens have been killed in the last month, two at the hands of police. Duterte has vowed to pardon police who kill in the name of his drug war. More than a million people have turned themselves in out of fear they might be killed, and are being subjected to overcrowded, horrendous conditions. Duterte even had Senator Leila de Lima, the country’s most vocal political opponent to Duterte’s drug war, arrested –– a terrifying sign that he will do nearly anything to silence those voices speaking out in defense of human rights.

Photo via New York Times

Before he became President of the United States, Donald Trump praised Duterte for his war on drugs. Just last week, the U.S. pledged $2 million to the Philippines to help fights its drug war, ostensibly not just to fight limit the supply but also to help reduce the demand.

It seems pretty clear that these games violate Google Play’s policy, which says “We don’t allow apps that lack reasonable sensitivity towards or capitalize on a natural disaster, atrocity, conflict, death, or other tragic event.” In that vein, we are demanding that Google recognize the ongoing atrocity happening in the Philippines and that they remove these apps from their store immediately.

Join us and sign this petition telling Google Play to remove these despicably insensitive games.

Derek Rosenfeld is the manager of social media and media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Derek Rosenfeld
Date Published: September 12, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Since the election, time and time again, Trump and members of his administration have touted “law and order” rhetoric, to advance an agenda that aims to expand criminalization, deportations and promote white supremacy.

While many of the public was still reeling from the shocking news of the presidential pardon of America’s most notorious Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, infamous for his self-described “concentration camps” and illegal persecution of Latino residents, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this week that the Trump Administration will rescind DACA,  or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA is a program allowing young people without documentation who were brought to the United States as children to live, learn, work, and contribute to the communities they call home. A bi-partisan consensus agrees that DACA has strengthened our nation, enabling the full participation of nearly 800,000 talented young “Dreamers” around the country.

In a speech full of false, racist, and nativist claims about DACA recipients, the Attorney General made good on Trump’s campaign promise to enact mass deportations by pen and by force, including by repealing any amnesty programs for immigrants.

We’ve long seen officials use similar language to defend the abusive and inhumane tactics of the war on drugs. The Trump administration is now broadening its use to justify policies—like mandating that local law enforcement provide ICE with arrest records of non-citizens for minor offenses, like marijuana possession, and now repealing DACA—that will make it easier to persecute immigrants.

Although often portrayed in the media as an issue that affects only Latinos, our friends at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration remind us that DACA provided support to many communities, “BAJI stands with the millions of young undocumented immigrants whose lives are on the line, including those protected under DACA. Until dignity, justice, and human rights protections can be afforded all oppressed communities in the U.S., we remain undeterred and emboldened in in our fight against this administration’s racist and xenophobic policies.”

For decades, the war on drugs has served to systematically eliminate communities of color from political, social, and economic spaces in society. Today, we see a continuation of that political agenda directly though such actions such as calling on federal prosecutors to seek the maximum punishment for drug offenses and through new means such as the elimination of DACA. The war on drugs has long been used as a rationale to profile, arrest, incarcerate, prosecute and deport people of color.  Eliminating DACA in effect represents a war on drugs 2.0, one that is specifically directed at immigrants and closely tied to the mass criminalization of communities of color we see today across this country.

Because of these grave consequences, advocates for drug policy reform and defenders of immigrant rights have teamed 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.

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. To learn more on how to support the 800,000 Dreamers impacted by this cruel policy reversal, go to the United We Dream website and take action.

Melissa Franqui is the manager of communications and marketing for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Eunisses Hernandez is a policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Photo via Trevor Stone / Wikipedia.

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Author: Melissa Franqui and Eunisses Hernandez
Date Published: September 8, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

New York, New York — Today, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. announced a shift in his office’s policy for New Yorkers arrested for low level marijuana possession. This policy change was created in an effort to reduce the number of New Yorkers, mostly young people of color, who face lasting collateral consequences as the result of a marijuana possession arrest and conviction.

The new policy expands the use of a pre-existing judicial tool, the Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD). The ACD has previously been offered following a person’s first arrest for low-level marijuana possession. If granted an ACD, an individual would not have to plea to a criminal misdemeanor or violation charge. However, the ACD would appear as a pending case on a person’s criminal record for a year and would only be dismissed and sealed should that person not get re-arrested in that year.

"Until the legislature makes progress on marijuana, we are making these ACDs as short as practicable in order to reduce these harmful collateral consequences," Vance said. "No one should be denied a home or a college education for something as trivial as pot possession."

The new policy will reduce some of the impact that marijuana prohibition enforcement has on New Yorkers by reducing the amount of time that a person has to retain the ACD on their criminal record and by allowing people who have been arrested for a second time for marijuana possession to also be granted ACDs. Under the new policy, people arrested for marijuana possession can receive an ACD for three months for the first offense (instead of 12 months) and an ACD for six months for the second offense.

“We applaud the District Attorney’s recognition of problematic and harmful marijuana possession enforcement, and the collateral consequences that result, as a significant issue. Yet this policy shift is a band-aid solution to a bullet wound. The NYPD continues to use marijuana prohibition as a justification for massive violations of civil and human rights. As we work toward ending marijuana prohibition, it is imperative that other District Attorneys across the city and state recognize the human toll that marijuana law enforcement has collected and do more to stop the bleeding. If there are District Attorneys who agree with the majority of New Yorkers that marijuana should be made legal, they can and should also decline to prosecute all low-level marijuana possession arrests,” said Chris Alexander, Policy Coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Marijuana prohibition enforcement has been, and remains, a priority for the NYPD, who have arrested over 800,000 New Yorkers for low-level marijuana possession over the last 20 years and 17,000 New Yorkers in 2016 alone. Manhattan had more arrests than any other county in New York City in 2016.

“We commend the Manhattan District Attorney for this change. As this City’s primary public defender we see the obstacles that arrest and prosecution for marijuana cause our clients, who exclusively come from communities of color,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “But to fully address the problem, NYPD must end its overzealous and discriminatory enforcement of marijuana possession on communities of color and Albany must take legislative action. While we wait for that, the other three DAs should follow Manhattan and Brooklyn.”

Many of these arrests were the product of unconstitutional stops and searches of overwhelmingly young people of color. Some of these individuals were granted ACDs on their first arrest, but continued racially-biased policing practices, as evidenced by persistent racial disparities, will likely impact the overall success of this adjudicative policy shift. Previous policy changes by the NYPD and the current Mayoral Administration have resulted in a small reduction in arrests but did nothing to curb the racial disparities present in those arrested for marijuana possession.

The District Attorney also announced that his office would be launching a new diversion program in 2018 for individuals given Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs), in lieu of an arrest, when found to be in possession of illicit substances by law enforcement. A low-level drug possession arrest and conviction can result in the loss of access to housing, licensing, employment and educational opportunities, and a person’s status and ability to stay in the country should they not be a citizen. Entrance into the Manhattan Hope program for people given a DAT will result in the DA declining to prosecute the charges against them and will thus alleviate many of these potential collateral consequences.

“The District Attorney’s promise to decline to prosecute New Yorkers for low level drug possession is a very positive step. What is most important moving forward is ensuring that all New Yorkers who could benefit from diversion programs are given the opportunity to do so regardless of their arrest record. If the District Attorney is serious about helping to end these collateral consequences then he should consider expanding the eligibility for the diversion program from those receiving DATs to any New Yorker who is charged with possessing small amounts of drugs,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director at VOCAL-NY.

“Low-level drug possession remains the lion’s share of all drug related arrests in this country and state. These arrests are the product of legislators and decision makers failing to address head on what is, and has always been, a public health issue. The Manhattan Hope diversion program is a good start for the DA but it is also time for the New York State Legislature to take a new approach by putting science based research and compassion first and decriminalize drug use and possession.” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Date Published: September 6, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance | Legal Aid Society | VOCAL-NY

*Editor's note: In this monthly blog series, the Drug Policy Alliance will examine the nexus between the war on drugs and law enforcement practices that result in the mass criminalization, incarceration and dehumanization of communities of color. These pieces will reflect on the ways in which the institutions of policing and prosecution - both driven by calls for “law and order” in the wake of the war on drugs - continue to function as instruments of reinforcement for the overarching structural racism on which the drug war was founded.

Earlier this month, Trump declared his plans to ramp up law enforcement to combat fatal opioid overdoses.  Less than a week later, there were violent protests in Charlottesville, VA that left a woman dead and several people seriously injured. Today, one question lingers: where were the police? Instead of the tanks, rubber bullets, tear gas and other forms of “crowd control” deployed during the conspicuously nonviolent Ferguson protests, there were police standing by as white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched the streets chanting “blood and soil” and violently attacking counter protestors in their midst. 

Despite these tragic happenings, there were no calls for increased law enforcement at these protests, nor was there championing of police “roughing them up a little.”  Instead, Trump ultimately opted to place blame on the people who showed up to demonstrate their belief that America should not be the home to hateful, white supremacist ideology and its various manifestations. His decision made it very clear that his racist rhetoric is more than just talk—it reflects the principles that inform his agenda. Against the backdrop of violence in Charlottesville and his silence on the lack of an adequate response by law enforcement, the Trump administration’s calls for more policing in response to the opioid crisis is emblematic of the racist double standard underlying the strategies used to perpetuate the war on drugs.

Historically, the institution of policing in this country has continuously operated as a tool for the enforcement of racist policies. From the actions of plantation overseers and slave patrols during slavery to the enforcement of the “black codes” that played an integral role in the creation of the prison industrial complex that plagues our society to this day, law enforcement has consistently been synonymous with the control of black people. The use of law enforcement to ensure the efficacy of racist policies was a necessity during the Jim Crow era and segregation, and even more so after segregation was ruled unconstitutional. Many states and local governments refused to cooperate with the highest court in the land, and the police were present to make sure Jim Crow laws and traditions were followed, protecting racism and bigotry instead of the lives of black Americans. Now, in the wake of the “new Jim Crow” that is the drug war, law enforcement has functioned as an instrument of reinforcement for the overarching structural racism on which the drug war was founded. 

For those of us who have witnessed the devastation that enforcement of the drug war has inflicted on communities of color, the Trump administration’s call for greater “enforcement” is clearly a dog whistle for the arrest, incarceration, and criminalization of black and brown people. The Trump administration has used the opioid crisis to justify his racist attacks on Mexican immigrants and to roll back the criminal justice reforms of the Obama era. Trump has very explicitly placed the blame for the opioid crisis on the “thugs,” gangs and cartels rather than the conditions created by the failed war on drugs. For black and brown people, who have been criminalized and demonized by this type of “tough on crime” messaging for many decades, these words signal a future tainted with more state sanctioned violence at the hands of an increased police presence in the name of “law and order.”

While Trump’s rhetoric is deplorable and his policies are proven ineffective, costly and racist, none of this is new. Trump did not invent the racism that grounds the institution of policing just as he did not invent the racist war on drugs. Like the presidents before him, rather than investing desperately needed resources into increased access to naloxone and comprehensive drug treatment, Trump intends to invest $15.6 billion in law enforcement and interdiction.  Despite bi-partisan calls for criminal justice and police reform, and a “gentler” drug war, the Trump administration is clearly committed to maintaining the status quo: the surveillance, harassment, arrest, incarceration, and criminalization of communities of color by the police in the name of the drug war. Instead of saving lives, Trump is committed to destroying the lives of black and brown people, and increased law enforcement appears to be the next weapon in his arsenal.

Morgan Humphrey is a policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, based in California.

Photo via Gage Skidmore

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Author: Morgan Humphrey
Date Published: September 5, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance