The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has been replacing punishment for drugs with support for over two decades. As a result of our work, people are increasingly spared from, or spent less time in jail or prison. Additionally, they have more access to addiction services and social supports. This includes voluntary treatment, housing, employment, harm reduction, recovery services, and peer support.
Enacted by voters in 2000, Proposition 36 was the first significant sentencing reform since the start of the drug war. The law allows people with first or second-time convictions for drug possession to receive treatment services instead of jail or prison time. It has prevented the incarceration of tens of thousands of people, invested hundreds of millions of dollars into treatment, and saved the state billions in prison costs. Drug Policy Action drafted the ballot initiative and ran the campaign to pass it.
New York’s notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws were among the harshest in the country, handing out life sentences in many cases. In 2009, the state finally reduced penalties, ended mandatory minimums, and expanded access to treatment. It was a landmark victory for social justice and human rights. DPA played a leadership role in the multi-year advocacy campaign.
The profound sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine was about racism, not science. In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law. Although politicians blocked the complete removal of the disparity, the new law reduced it from 100 times harsher for crack to 18 times. DPA helped lead the coalition in this crucial step toward racial justice. And we remain engaged in the fight to end the disparity entirely.
People with low-income can spend years in jail waiting for their trials simply because they don’t have money for bail. In 2014, New Jersey became one of the first states to overhaul its pretrial detention system, moving from cash bail to risk assessment. As a result, thousands of people have not been locked up before their day in court. DPA and Drug Policy Action drafted the bill and ran the campaigns to pass both legislation and the necessary constitutional amendment.
Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs help reduce arrests for minor drug law violations and get people into services. Many cities across the country have adopted this strategy to improve health and public safety. DPA helped establish the country’s second LEAD program in Santa Fe in 2014 and then another in Albany in 2016. We also co-hosted a national LEAD convening at the White House in 2015.
Civil asset forfeiture laws are rife with abuse. They allow law enforcement to seize people’s property whether or not they have been convicted of a crime. New Mexico put an end to this corrupt practice in 2015. DPA spearheaded the campaign and won similar reforms in California and Florida in 2016.
In 2016, Ithaca became the first city to create a comprehensive municipal drug strategy. Working with Mayor Svante Myrick, DPA convened a committee of local stakeholders to develop “The Ithaca Plan: A Public Health and Safety Approach to Drugs and Drug Policy.” As a result, the city has improved its health and harm reduction services. And many other cities have since adopted similar local approaches.
Oregon became the first state in the nation to decriminalize drug possession and expand health services when voters passed Measure 110 in 2020. It is arguably the biggest blow to the drug war to date. It shows it’s possible to offer people support instead of punishment. Our analysis shows that drug possession arrests have dropped by the thousands. Hundreds of millions in funds have expanded addiction services and other social supports that have been accessed by tens of thousands of people. Drug Policy Action spearheaded this historic campaign from start to finish.