Municipal Drug Strategy: Lessons in Taking Drug Policy Reform Local

Report January 22, 2019

Municipal Drug Strategy: Lessons in Taking Drug Policy Reform Local lays out a roadmap for how U.S. cities of all sizes can address the harms of both drug use and the failed war on drugs, such as mass incarceration and the overdose crisis.

First pioneered as a public health measure in Europe in the 1980s and 90s, Municipal Drug Strategies challenge local communities to work from a public health, racial justice and human rights framework instead of defining people who use drugs as criminals in need of coercion and punishment. The results in the numerous European cities that have adopted Municipal Drug Strategies have been nothing short of spectacular, revealing significantly lower rates of crime and problematic drug use – along with a parallel improvement in public health outcomes, including major reductions in rates of overdose, HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis C.

In 2016, Ithaca, NY, made history and national news when it launched the first formal Municipal Drug Strategy in the U.S.  Santa Fe recently became the second city to do so, and numerous other cities are poised to follow in their footsteps.

The report offers a framework for local jurisdictions interested in undertaking a Municipal Drug Strategy, while providing an overview of the principles and elements of this approach as well as a comprehensive array of model Municipal Drug Strategy policies. The report also includes case studies from San Francisco, CA, Ithaca, NY, Santa Fe, NM and Vancouver, Canada.

A Municipal Drug Strategy is based on two key premises. First, that a punitive, criminal justice-driven response to people who are involved with drugs fails to meet the needs and respect the rights of these individuals, their families, and their communities. Second, that those who are closest to the harm and suffering arising from a flawed drug policies and problematic drug use are best placed to identify and implement solutions.

The approach is generally organized around four core domains: prevention, treatment, emergency response/public safety, and harm reduction. Critical to the development of a Municipal Drug Strategy is meaningful engagement of diverse local stakeholders, including government, first responders, health care providers, and directly impacted communities.

Read the report
A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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