The Drug Policy Alliance spearheaded the successful movement to legalize marijuana. As of March 2023, almost half of Americans live in states where marijuana prohibition is no more. As marijuana legalization grows, we will ensure it’s done with equity as a core principle.
California passed Proposition 215 in 1996, becoming the first state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. DPA’s predecessor organization played a pivotal role in that win. DPA and Drug Policy Action also had a key role in roughly half of the campaigns that have legalized medical marijuana in the country. This includes the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act in New Mexico, the first state-run medical marijuana program.
Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize marijuana in 2012. The Drug Policy Action worked closely with allies to draft these initiatives, build coalitions, and raise funds. And with our help, Uruguay followed, becoming the first country in the world to legalize marijuana in 2013. We are the only organization that was instrumental in all the first 15 victorious campaigns to legalize marijuana for adult use.
Since creating a successful marijuana legalization movement, DPA has shifted the focus to equity and justice. We ran the first campaigns that center equity, social justice, and community reinvestment. Our efforts have laid the blueprint for what the future of marijuana legalization – and justice – must look like.
The federal war on marijuana ramped up after the first medical marijuana law in 1996. In 2013, that changed when the Obama administration issued the Cole Memorandum directing the DOJ to stop interfering in states that had legalized. It was a major shift in federal enforcement. People were protected from arrest, raids, and other assaults that were all too common before. Congress took a similar step the next year, passing the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment within a spending bill. It banned federal interference in medical marijuana states which has been renewed every year. DPA led federal advocacy that made all this possible.
Initiative 71 legalized possession and home cultivation of marijuana in D.C. This campaign was driven by public demands to end racially biased marijuana arrests and restore communities who were targeted by enforcement. It set the stage to create a new model for legalizing marijuana. One that places racial justice front and center. Drug Policy Action helped lead, fund, and win this ballot measure.
Proposition 64 legalized marijuana in the nation’s largest state. It was the first model to promote social equity and undo harms. This included retroactive sentencing reform and expungements for marijuana offenses and favoring small-scale producers to prevent monopolies. Tax revenue funded substance use treatment for youth, environmental restoration, research, and more. It funded the California Community Reinvestment Program benefiting those most harmed by the drug war. It also created strict packaging, testing, and advertising standards to protect consumers and youth. Drug Policy Action played a leading role from funding to co-drafting the initiative to coordinating political mobilization.
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act legalized marijuana in New York. It created a groundbreaking model for an equitable and diverse industry, including a licensing program for directly impacted people, family farmers, and small businesses. It significantly reinvested marijuana tax revenue into communities most impacted by criminalization. And it had robust provisions undoing harms. This includes automatic expungements for prior marijuana offenses and addressing other consequences within immigration, housing, employment, and child welfare. It set a new gold standard for how to legalize the right way. For years, DPA led advocacy making this win possible in New York.
President Biden issued an executive order pardoning people with simple federal marijuana charges in 2022. He urged governors to do the same in the states. And he began an official review of marijuana scheduling. It’s the first time a U.S. president has ever acted on marijuana reform. This step forward was due to decades of federal advocacy efforts led by DPA and our allies.