Drug Policy Alliance

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The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is a New York City-based non-profit organization, led by executive director Ethan Nadelmann, with the principal goal of ending the American "War on Drugs". The stated priorities of the organization are the decriminalization of responsible drug use, the promotion of harm reduction and treatment in response to drug misuse, and the facilitation of open dialog about drugs between youth, parents, and educators.


The Drug Policy Alliance was formed when the Drug Policy Foundation and the Lindesmith Center merged in July 2000.

The organization has offices in five states as well as a national affairs office in Washington, D.C., which lobbies for federal reform. Administrative and media headquarters are located in New York City, NY. The office for legal affairs is located in Berkeley, CA, with two additional state offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The remaining three state offices are located in Trenton, NJ, Santa Fe, NM, and Denver, CO.

Veteran journalist Walter Cronkite spoke out against the War on Drugs in support of the Drug Police Alliance. He appeared in advertisements on behalf of the organization and wrote a fundraising letter, which was also published in the Huffington Post. In the letter, Cronkite wrote: "Today, our nation is fighting two wars: one abroad and one at home. While the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought on our own streets. Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own citizens. I am speaking of the war on drugs. And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure."


"The Drug Policy Alliance envisions a just society in which the use and regulation of drugs are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights, in which people are no longer punished for what they put into their own bodies but only for crimes committed against others, and in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more.

Our mission is to advance those policies and attitudes that best reduce the harms of both drug misuse and drug prohibition, and to promote the sovereignty of individuals over their minds and bodies."

Main issues


DPA believes that cannabis should be legal for medicinal purposes of severely ill individuals. They are working state-by-state to educate and inform governors and the people about their beliefs on medicinal marijuana. They present their success with the compassionate use bill which brought medical marijuana access to New Mexico in 2007.

The failed drug war

DPA believes that the War on Drugs in America has failed. They present the argument that the United States has spent billions of dollars on making the country drug-free, but many illicit drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and many others, are purer and more prevalent than ever before.


DPA presents the fact that 26,000 lives were lost in the U.S to the accidental overdose of drugs, the highest its ever been. They present the Drug Overdose Reduction Act as their solution.

Parents, teens, and drugs

DPA believes that we need to give young people access to credible information regarding decisions and information on drugs. They believe that open and honest dialogue is the key, and with this idea started the Safety First Project.

State by state

DPA presents the argument that all drugs are different and pose different risks. So, their response is to create policies for individual specific drugs rather than bundling them. They believe that successful harm reduction plays a pivotal role in this topic.

Health approacher

DPA believes that harm reduction is the best solution to drug abuse and argues that it is not a source for the promotion of drug legalization, rather a movement to reduce the harm of drug abuse in our society.


DPA believes that many of the arrests for drug possession have been conflicting with many areas of our constitutional rights as Americans. They have been fighting for these rights through their Office of Legal Affairs. DPA has also provided funding for Flex Your Rights, a nonprofit organization that educates the public about their constitutional rights during police encounters.

Communities affected

DPA believes that the war on drugs does not affect all of our population the same way. They believe that the following four groups suffer the most: Women, Minorities, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender, and Dance, Music and Entertainment.

Drug policy around the world

DPA states that many countries around the world are approaching their own war on drugs in a different way than the United States does and that many of the countries can lead as examples for many new approaches in the U.S.


The U.S. billionaire George Soros (born in Budapest 1930) has been a major financier of the organization with annual contributions of $4 million per year.


DPA was a source of support for California's Proposition 36. "Prop 36" and the formation of the Drug Courts gave non-violent drug offenders the opportunity to seek treatment in drug rehabilitation programs rather than serve jail sentences. The Drug Courts also removed unlicensed drug rehabs as options for fulfilling probation requirements.

DPA was primarily responsible for California’s 1996 landmark medical marijuana law, Proposition 215, which made cannabis available to seriously ill patients as well as reduced criminal penalties for possession. DPA continued to weigh in on drug policy legislation with Proposition 215 in Alaska in 1998, Oregon in 1998, Washington in 1998, Maine in 1999, Colorado in 2000, Nevada in 1998 and 2000 and New Mexico in 2007.

In 2000, DPA helped push California’s landmark treatment-not-incarceration law called Proposition 36. It replaces jail time with substance abuse treatment for first and second time nonviolent drug offenders. More than 84,000 people were removed from jail and graduated from treatment.

In 2006, DPA got the “Blood-borne Pathogen Harm Reduction Act,” signed into law. It allows up to six cities to establish syringe access programs. This helps prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

DPA has worked across the country to pass the “911 Good Samaritan Immunity Laws”. These laws are to help encourage overdose witnesses to call 911. They reduce drug possession charges for those who seek medical help. DPA led a campaign in New Mexico to pass the law and were successful in 2007.

DPA is also working to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing and racially biased crack/cocaine sentencing schemes at the state and federal levels.

DPA supported the bill that legalized cannabis in Uruguay in 2013.

DPA awards

DPA gives annual awards to "honor advocates, elected officials and organizations for their courageous work in reforming drug laws.". These include

Edward M. Brecher Award for Achievement in the Field of Journalism Richard J. Dennis Drugpeace Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Drug Policy Reform Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship Robert C. Randall Award for Achievement in the Field of Citizen Action Norman E. Zinberg Award for Achievement in the Field of Medicine H.B. Spear Award for Achievement in the Field of Control and Enforcement Justice Gerald Le Dain Award for Achievement in the Field of Law Dr. Andrew Weil Award for Achievement in the Field of Drug Education

See also

Arguments for and against drug prohibition Decriminalization of marijuana in the United States Freedom of thought Harm reduction Prison reform War on Drugs