Our mission is to advance those policies and attitudes that best reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition, and to promote the sovereignty of individuals over their minds and bodies.
Our supporters are individuals who believe the war on drugs must end. Together we work to ensure that our nation’s drug policies no longer arrest, incarcerate, disenfranchise and otherwise harm millions – particularly young people and people of color who are disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is a New York City–based non-profit organization, founded by Ethan Nadelmann, with the principal goal of legalizing all illicit drug use. Its formation dates back to 1992, when George Soros met with Nadelmann, a Princeton professor who had long advocated to legalize heroin and cocaine, among other drugs. Soros demanded Nadelmann avoid discussing legalization directly, and instead, according to Rolling Stone, "…'come up with an approach that emphasizes ‘treatment and humanitarian endeavors’…hire someone with the political savvy to sit down and negotiate with government officials, and target a few winnable issues, like medical marijuana and the repeal of mandatory minimums."
Researcher Jonathan Caulkins said "The simplest explanation of why marijuana reform happened is that three billionaires decided it should happen and they bankrolled the process for many, many years."
The organization began in earnest in 1994 as the Lindesmith Center. Nadelmann left in 2017, handing over the reigns to academic (who soon left the organization after it was deemed a bad fit). It is now led by former DPA intern .
The organization has offices in five states as well as a national affairs office in Washington, D.C., which lobbies for federal reform. Administrative and media headquarters are located in New York City. The office for legal affairs is located in Oakland, California, with two additional state offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The remaining three state offices are located in Trenton, New Jersey; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Denver, Colorado.
Broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite spoke out against the War on Drugs in support of the Drug Policy Alliance. He appeared in advertisements on behalf of the organization and wrote a fundraising letter, which was also published in The Huffington Post.
In the letter, Cronkite wrote: "Today, our nation is fighting two wars: one abroad and one at home. While the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought on our own streets. Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own citizens. I am speaking of the war on drugs. And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure."
DPA believes that cannabis should be legal for medicinal purposes of severely ill individuals. They are working state-by-state to educate and inform governors and the people about their beliefs on medicinal marijuana. They present their success with the compassionate use bill which brought medical marijuana access to New Mexico in 2007.
The failed drug war
DPA believes that the War on Drugs in America has failed. They present the argument that the United States has spent billions of dollars on making the country drug-free, but many illicit drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and many others, are purer and more prevalent than ever before.
DPA believes the growing numbers of deaths due to drug overdose should be dealt with as a medical rather than a criminal issue. They present the Drug Overdose Reduction Act as their solution.
Parents, teens, and drugs
DPA believes that young people need access to credible information regarding decisions and information on drugs. They believe that open and honest dialogue is the key, and with this idea started the Safety First Project.
State by state
DPA presents the argument that all drugs are different and pose different risks. So, their response is to create policies for individual specific drugs rather than bundling them. They believe that successful harm reduction plays a pivotal role in this topic.
DPA believes that harm reduction is the best solution to drug abuse and argues that it is not a source for the promotion of drug legalization, rather a movement to reduce the harm of drug abuse in the American society.
DPA believes that many of the arrests for drug possession have been conflicting with many areas of the constitutional rights of Americans. They have been fighting for these rights through their Office of Legal Affairs. DPA has also provided funding for Flex Your Rights, a nonprofit organization that educates the public about their constitutional rights during police encounters.
DPA believes that the war on drugs does not affect all of the American population the same way. They believe that the following four groups suffer the most: Women, Minorities, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender, and Dance, Music and Entertainment.
Drug policy around the world
DPA states that many countries around the world are approaching their own war on drugs in a different way than the United States does and that many of the countries can lead as examples for many new approaches in the U.S.
DPA started its work in the mid-1990s, but it took more than 10 years to see any legislative victories. It was a source of support for California's Proposition 36, a controversial measure which gave non-violent drug offenders the opportunity to seek treatment in drug rehabilitation programs rather than serve jail sentences.
DPA was a sponsor of California’s 1996 landmark medical marijuana law, Proposition 215, which made cannabis available to patients as well as reduced criminal penalties for possession. DPA continued to weigh in on drug policy legislation with Proposition 215 in Alaska in 1998, Oregon in 1998, Washington in 1998, Maine in 1999, Colorado in 2000, Nevada in 1998 and 2000 and New Mexico in 2007. None of these states soon after legalized marijuana, until the formation of the Marijuana Policy Project, with funding from another billionaire, Progressive Insurance founder and libertarian Peter Lewis.
In 2000, DPA helped push California’s landmark treatment-not-incarceration law called Proposition 36. It replaces jail time with substance abuse treatment for first and second time nonviolent drug offenders. More than 84,000 people were removed from jail and graduated from treatment.
In 2006, DPA got the “Blood-Borne Disease Harm Reduction Act” signed into law in New Jersey. It allows up to six cities to establish syringe access programs. This helps prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
DPA has worked across the country to pass the “911 Good Samaritan Immunity Laws”. These laws are to help encourage overdose witnesses to call 911. They reduce drug possession charges for those who seek medical help. DPA led a campaign in New Mexico to pass the law and were successful in 2007.
NEW YORK, NY 10001-2938 | Tax-exempt since May 1988
Classification (NTEE) Alcohol, Drug and Substance Abuse, Dependency Prevention and Treatment (Mental Health, Crisis Intervention)
Nonprofit Tax Code Designation: 501(c)(3) Defined as: Organizations for any of the following purposes: religious, educational, charitable, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition (as long as it doesn’t provide athletic facilities or equipment), or the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.
Donations to this organization are tax deductible.