Blog Post

Building Our New World: DPA’s Year in Review

Kassandra Frederique

It has been quite the year.

2020 was defined by its novel challenges and escalating uncertainty, but our movement stayed the course, exceeded our own expectations, and broke new ground. I cannot help but look back on DPA’s work this year with appreciation and affirmation that we were as ready as possible to meet this moment.

Here are a few of the monumental accomplishments we fought for, along with our members and allies:

JANUARY

We released a new report, Criminal Justice Reform in the Fentanyl Era: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, highlighting the dangers of policy-making based on renewed drug war hysteria in response to fentanyl. 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation mandating comprehensive disclosure and transparency requirements for the system of civil asset forfeiture. DPA has long-played a leading role in forfeiture reform – calling for abolishing civil forfeiture entirely and supporting efforts to reform the practice.

MARCH

The City of Santa Fe’s Municipal Drug Strategy Task Force, chaired by Emily Kaltenbach, Senior Director of Resident States and New Mexico at DPA, released its report – The Santa Fe Plan – recommending locally-based solutions and interventions for alcohol and other drug use that prioritize public health over costly criminal legal strategies.

APRIL

We advocated for COVID-19-specific drug policies to protect public health, individual rights, and the dignity and well-being of those in our communities who are most harmed by structural inequities. 

MAY

Our COVID-19 and Drug Policy Discussion Series explored the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic, the overdose epidemic, and the on-going crises of structural racism and police violence, as well as the harmful impact of state-imposed punishment of people involved with drugs. 

JUNE

“There is no Naloxone for racism.” In an interview with Filter magazine, DPA’s executive director, Kassandra Frederique, called out the way perceived drug use and drug possession routinely serve as a justification by law enforcement to dehumanize, strip dignity from, and ultimately kill people of color.

With the Communities United for Police Reform coalition, we worked to pass the Safer New York Act, a package of bills which included the repeal of Section 50-A, which had been used to hide police misconduct, and other measures to address biased policing that targets people who use drugs. 

To help meet the challenges of remote education, we launched a distance learning version of Safety First: Real Drug Education for Teens, the nation’s first harm reduction-based drug education curriculum for high school students, parents, and teachers.

JULY

We released a federal legislative drug decriminalization proposal, to provide a roadmap to effectively end the criminalization of people who use drugs and begin repairing the harm drug enforcement has caused, especially to communities of color.

SEPTEMBER

California passed the Pharmacy Access Bill, co-sponsored by DPA, to protect a pharmacist’s discretion to provide sterile syringes without a prescription, and allow adult possession of syringes for personal use – an important measure to stop the spread of HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. 

Working with Immigrant Defenders and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, we drafted non-citizen protections for states and jurisdictions as they consider marijuana legalization.  

NOVEMBER

In a groundbreaking, paradigm-shifting win, Oregon voters approved Measure 110 to become the first state in the nation to decriminalize the personal use and possession of all drugs while expanding access to addiction and other health services. 

Measure 110 Campaign volunteers deliver boxes containing signed petitions in favor of the measure to the Oregon Secretary of State's office in Salem on June 26, 2020.
Measure 110 Campaign volunteers deliver boxes containing signed petitions in favor of the measure to the Oregon Secretary of State's office in Salem on June 26, 2020.

Voters in New Jersey, Montana, Arizona, and South Dakota passed measures to legalize marijuana for adult use, creating a total 15 states plus Washington D.C. that have legalized marijuana.

Mississippi and South Dakota legalized medical marijuana, proving drug policy reform is possible and desired in conservative states, including in the Deep South and Midwest.

DECEMBER

In a historic vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement (MORE) Act, making it the first piece of comprehensive marijuana reform legislation that actually deschedules marijuana – and the only one centered in reparative justice – to pass either chamber of Congress. 

Despite these achievements, this is not a moment for complacency.

The drug war is an issue of life and death, as we witnessed this summer with the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others that sparked a long-overdue reckoning with police violence. COVID-19 has laid bare vast disparities in health and access to care. And even before this pandemic, there was the epidemic of overdose deaths, a crisis that policymakers have shown almost no urgency to address, even as the rates rise and we all navigate isolation and compounding traumas.

In the next year, we resolve to work together to create a new world where our loved ones have the resources they need, where we affirm and protect their rights, and where they no longer have to fight for the safety their communities deserve.

I hope you’ll join us.

Kassandra Frederique is Executive Director at Drug Policy Alliance.