Drug Policy Alliance

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Drug Policy Alliance is the nation's leading organization "promoting 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 use 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 – particularly young people and people of color who are disproportionately affected by the drug war.
DPA is actively involved in the legislative process and seeks to roll back the excesses of the drug war, block new, harmful initiatives, and promote sensible drug policy reforms. As a result of our work, hundreds of thousands of people have been diverted from incarceration to drug treatment programs, hundreds of thousands of sick and dying patients can safely access their medicine without being considered criminals under the law, and states like California have saved more than $2.5 billion by eliminating wasteful and ineffective law enforcement, prosecution and prison expenditures.

Mission and Vision

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 use and drug prohibition, and to promote the sovereignty of individuals over their minds and bodies.[1]

Most Recent Victories

  • Medical Marijuana in New Mexico. During the 2011 legislative session, a freshman legislator introduced a bill to repeal New Mexico's medical marijuana program -- a move that would have deprived thousands of seriously ill patients of their medicine. DPA's New Mexico office mobilized to block this heartless legislation, alerting medical marijuana supporters to the threat and urging them to contact the legislature. After a huge response from New Mexico residents, the legislator withdrew the repeal bill.

Other Major Victories

  • Beginning in 1996 with California’s landmark medical marijuana law, Proposition 215, DPA affiliates were primarily responsible in California (1996), Alaska (1998), Oregon (1998), Washington (1998), Maine (1999), Colorado (2000), Nevada (1998 and 2000), New Mexico (2007) and New Jersey (2010) for passing laws that make cannabis legally available to seriously ill patients and reduce criminal penalties for possession, objectives supported by roughly three out of four Americans. As a result, millions of people who suffer from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other serious illnesses are no longer criminals under state law for using marijuana as medicine.
  • DPA’s outstanding victory was California’s landmark treatment-not-incarceration law Proposition 36, approved via ballot initiatives by 61 percent of California voters in November 2000. Prop. 36 allows first- and second-time nonviolent drug offenders the opportunity to receive substance abuse treatment instead of jail time. Since the law’s passage, more than 300,000 people have been diverted from conventional sentencing to drug treatment, saving taxpayers more than $2.5 billion.
  • DPA spearheaded the successful campaign to enact major reforms of New York’s notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws. The reforms, signed into law by Gov. David Paterson in 2010, include eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and returning judicial discretion in many drug cases; reforming the state’s sentencing structure; expanding drug treatment and alternatives to incarceration; and allowing resentencing of people serving sentences under the old laws.
  • DPA has built broad coalitions to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing (in Alabama, New York, Maryland and Wisconsin) and racially biased crack/cocaine sentencing schemes at the state (in Connecticut and California) and federal levels. DPA played a crucial role in the 2010 passage of the federal Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the crack/powder sentencing disparity and repealed a mandatory minimum sentence for the first time since 1970.
  • The DPA office in New Jersey was responsible for the “Blood-borne Pathogen Harm Reduction Act,” which was signed into law in 2006. The law allows up to six cities to establish syringe access programs to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases. Previously, DPA played a pivotal role in successful efforts to make syringes legally available in New York (2000) and California (2004), and supported successful efforts in Connecticut, Illinois and other states.
  • DPA has worked across the country to pass 911 Good Samaritan immunity laws. The first of these was enacted in New Mexico, where DPA wrote and led the successful campaign in 2007 to pass a lifesaving law that encourages people who witness an overdose to call 911. The law provides limited immunity from drug possession charges when a drug-related overdose victim or a witness to an overdose seeks medical assistance.[2]

Departments and State Offices

DPA has offices in five states, along with an office of national affairs in Washington, DC, which works for federal reform, and an office of legal affairs in California.

DPA's state offices are in California, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York.

In the states, DPA has played a pivotal role in more than twenty successful ballot initiatives concerning medical marijuana, asset forfeiture reform and treatment instead of incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders.[3]


Ethan Nadelmann

Ethan Nadelmann is the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the leading organization in the United States promoting alternatives to the war on drugs.

Nadelmann was born in New York City and received his BA, JD, and PhD from Harvard, and a master’s degree in international relations from the London School of Economics. He then taught politics and public affairs at Princeton University from 1987 to 1994, where his speaking and writings on drug policy—in publications ranging from Science and Foreign Affairs to American Heritage and National Review—attracted international attention. He authored Cops Across Borders, the first scholarly study of the internationalization of U.S. criminal law enforcement, and co-authored another book entitled Policing the Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations, published by Oxford University Press in 2006.

In 1994, Nadelmann founded the Lindesmith Center, a drug policy institute created with the philanthropic support of George Soros. In 2000, the growing Center merged with another organization to form the Drug Policy Alliance and Drug Policy Alliance Network, which advocate for drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. Described by Rolling Stone as “the point man” for drug policy reform efforts, Ethan Nadelmann is widely regarded as the most prominent proponent of drug policy reform.[4]


As of 2011;[5]

  • Carl Hart, PhD New York State Psychiatric Institute
  • Kenneth Hertz, Senior Partner, Goldring Hertz and Lichtenstein LLP
  • David C. Lewis, MD Founding Director, Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Brown University
  • Executive Committee member Robert Newman, MD Director, Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center
  • Executive Committee member Richard B. Wolf, Treasurer Former CEO, Richland Mills

U. S. Honorary Board

International Honorary Board (In Formation)

Partner of the March for Science

Drug Policy Alliance is listed on the March for Science website as a "partner."[6]