The Drug Policy Alliance is working to end civil punishment and surveillance of people who use drugs. The drug war goes beyond drug arrests and imprisonment. It has spread into daily life, impacting education, employment, housing, and more. We’ve advanced vital reforms to ensure no more lives are torn apart.
Since 2016, our campaigns to legalize marijuana have included provisions that protect people from punishment within civil systems. In California, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York, our campaigns included expungement for past marijuana convictions, saving people from being denied access to things like jobs or housing based on a prior record. And within our legalization law in New York, we secured landmark protections across housing, employment, and family regulation, and removed marijuana as a violation of parole/probation.
For decades, federal student financial aid was banned for people behind bars or with drug convictions. This was lifted in the 2020 year-end spending bill. Pell Grants were reinstated for incarcerated students. And the “drug question” that made students with drug convictions ineligible for aid was repealed. Along with allies, DPA helped roll back these harmful bans that denied people access to crucial supports for far too long.
We launched Uprooting the Drug War in 2021. This major series of reports, resources, and personal stories exposed how the drug war has seeped into civil systems. It built understanding of how our civil systems punish people for drugs instead of offering support. This project was years in the making and redefined the reach of the drug war and how to repair its harms.
Drugs are often used as a basis to criminalize pregnant people. Yet, there is a lack of evidence establishing that prenatal exposure to drugs is a clear cause of any severe or certain harms to pregnancies. Two landmark California cases changed the landscape for pregnant people who use drugs. These cases involved mothers Chelsea Becker and Adora Perez. They were charged with murder after they experienced stillbirths. Prosecutors claimed, without scientific basis, that drug use during pregnancy caused the stillbirths. Adora served four years of an 11-year prison sentence. Chelsea spent 16 months in pretrial detention. After extended legal advocacy, both women were released, and all charges dropped. Drug Policy Alliance provided legal support and advice. We filed amicus briefs in both Chelsea’s and Adora’s cases. The high-profile cases prompted California lawmakers to pass a law clarifying that people cannot be criminally charged based on pregnancy outcomes.
California enacted the Alternative Plea Act in 2022. It protects people facing drug charges from a range of punishments, including deportation. For citizens, it also prevents losing access to many public benefits such as public housing. DPA advocated for this bill, the first-of-its-kind in the U.S. It builds on the previous California laws we passed that prevented deportation and loss of public benefits for minor drug law violations.
Governor Newsom signed a bill removing workplace marijuana drug testing for most employees in California in 2022. It also protects employees from punishment for off-the-clock use. When it takes effect in 2024, California workers will no longer face unfair barriers in employment for legal marijuana use in their personal time. DPA worked with allies to get this bill across the finish line.