Director, Civil Systems Reform
In her current role as Director, Civil Systems Reform, Melissa works to expose the insidious ways the drug war has contaminated spaces far beyond the criminal legal system – like how draconian drug war policies destabilize people’s lives, separate families, and deny people resources in everyday systems like employment, housing, family regulation system, immigration, education, and public benefits – and to create momentum for concrete policy proposals that begin to dismantle the drug war in all its forms and extract its culture of criminalization from our lives.
Her prior work at DPA centered on shifting New York's approach to drug policy and repairing the harms that the War on Drugs has caused to individuals and communities, particularly through her work leading the Start SMART campaign to legalize marijuana through the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), campaign for overdose prevention centers (OPCs, also called safer consumption spaces), and contributions to the EndOverdoseNY campaign. Melissa has also been deeply involved in police accountability work through the Communities United for Police Reform coalition and criminal legal system issues through multiple policy tables. She has been invited to give keynotes and has delivered testimony at municipal and state government hearings.
Melissa’s fifteen-plus years of experience managing media and campaign strategy for progressive nonprofits focused on criminal justice reform, immigrant rights, poverty, community-led international development, and resource rights shape her role at Drug Policy Alliance. Throughout her career, Melissa has worked toward social change by bridging policy analysis and targeted campaigns with direct engagement. She has trained advocates across the country and internationally on effective communications, helping activists leverage their voices to target key audiences to move campaigns and policy forward and make a lasting impact. Melissa's experiences growing up in Los Angeles and seeing firsthand the devastation wrought by the War on Drugs motivated her to join the Drug Policy Alliance.
Melissa's expertise and views on drug policy issues have been featured by CNN, AP, the New York Times, The Hill, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, POLITICO, CBS News, NBC News, Newsweek, Times-Union, and more. In 2021 she was named one of Crain's NY Business 50 Most Powerful Women in New York.