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Drug Policy Alliance

Grantee: Drug Policy Alliance
Ranking: 2nd highest grantee, 2005 — 2009
Received: $12,500,000
Type: Issue Advocacy Organization
Issue: Drug Legalization, Health Policy, Criminal Justice Policy

About: The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) says it is the nation’s leading organization “promoting alternatives to the drug war that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.” According to the organization’s website:

DPA is actively involved in the legislative process and seeks to roll back the excesses of the drug war, block new, harmful initiatives, and promote sensible drug policy reforms. As a result of our work, hundreds of thousands of people have been diverted from incarceration to drug treatment programs, hundreds of thousands of sick and dying patients can safely access their medicine without being considered criminals under the law, and states like California have saved more than $2.5 billion by eliminating wasteful and ineffective law enforcement, prosecution and prison expenditures.1

The current Alliance is the product of a 2000 merger between two organizations:

  • The Drug Policy Foundation, a national membership and grant-making organization founded by American University professor Arnold S. Trebach, JD, and Kevin B. Zeese, JD, a Green Party Activist and former Chief Counsel for NORML, the National Organization for ther Reform of Marijuana Laws
  • The Lindesmith Center, a drug policy institute created with the financial support of George Soros in 1994, founded by Princeton professor of politics Ethan Nadelmann, JD, PhD. Described by Rolling Stone as “the point man” for drug policy reform efforts, Nadelmann is widely regarded as the most prominent US proponent of drug policy reform.

The Drug Policy Alliance divides their efforts in six campaigns:

  • Reforming Marijuana Laws” Passage of state laws incrementally legalizing marijuana, first for “medical purposes,” then for general use. The DPA claims to have played a pivotal role in more than twenty successful ballot initiatives concerning medical marijuana, asset forfeiture reform and treatment instead of incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders. They cite several successful DPA-affiliate run drug de-criminalization initiatives in California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Colorado, New Mexico and New Jersey. They support “a well-regulated legal-market for marijuana production and distribution.” The Alliance strategically avoids direct acknowledgment of its goal of decriminalizing hard drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines, prescription drugs, and crack.
  • Fighting Injustice” The Alliance seeks public support for its causes by arguing that the U.S. legal system is racist, draconian, and that is discriminates against female drug users. These messages are tailored to mobilize specific activist communities: complaints about “discrimination” against pregnant drug abusers brings in the feminist activists, and so on. A current initiative receiving substantial support from Eric Holder is opposing “exclusion discrimination.” “Re-entry” experts, often funded by the Department of Justice, are agitating in several states to “ban the box”; in other words, give job applicants and renters the right to sue potential employers and landlords who take their prior criminal records into account when making decisions about accepting them. “Ban the Box” activism, which would further disrupt beleaguered employment and rental markets, is being heavily subsidized by George Soros through several activist and think-tank organizations. It is one of many coordinated efforts to produce the impression that the American justice system is prejudicial, illegitimate, and cruel.
  • Reducing Drug Harm” Demands that the government subsidize “harm reduction” for active drug users through a wide variety of costly programs ranging from the reasonable to the surreal: drug treatment; needle exchange; “replacement therapy” (taxpayer subsidized methadone and buprenorphine), and even “supervised injection rooms” staffed with medial personnel who advise drug users on methods for avoiding overdose and vein damage.
  • Protecting Youth” Demands that the government “protect youth” by providing “reality based drug education” in the schools while voiding consequences for youthful drug users by eliminating drug testing and restrictions on federal financial aid for students convicted of drug charges. Disturbingly, the Drug Policy Alliance uses issues like these to draw youth into their cause. They recruit students to lobby for funding for “drug education resources” and directly subsidize such activism via the group Students for Sensible Drug Policy.2
  • Defending Personal Liberty” Asserting defense of “personal liberty” by opposing drug testing, not only in workplaces and schools, but also for all probationers and parolees. “We believe that no one should be punished for what they put in their bodies, absent harm to others,” the DPA states, while refusing to admit that this statement confirms their stance on legalizing all drug use, including the use of methamphetamine and crack cocaine. DPA activists are well schooled in refusing to engage in discussions about the “slippery slope” of legalization, and they also avoid discussing the logical consequences of eliminating drug testing for people with transportation, school, healthcare, and public safety jobs. By limiting activism to poll-tested messaging, they manage to suppress debate about the real consequences of the policies they’re pushing.
  • Making Economic Sense” Economic arguments endorsing the alleged cost-savings of reducing incarcerations for drug offenses, incarceration and border defense, while highlighting promises of tax revenue from the sale of legal marijuana. The DPA appeals to libertarians and fiscal conservatives through arguments about the “bloated costs” of the drug war, and some prominent right-of-center political figures have joined them in making such arguments. What they do not discuss is the financial implications of the policies they endorse, from enhanced government services for growing numbers of people “disabled” by drug addiction, to discrimination lawsuits filed by drug addicts, to pricey “drug education,” to subsidies for medical marijuana and “replacement therapy” programs. The cost — in social disorder, insurance and liability claims, medical services, and human lives is never factored in.

Mission Statement: The Drug Policy Alliance envisions a just society in which the use and regulation of drugs are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights, in which people are no longer punished for what they put into their own bodies but only for crimes committed against others, and in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more.

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.

Soros Funding: Supporting drug legalization through the Lindesmith Center and later DPA was the first cause George Soros adopted in the United States.3 In some years, he provides at least 25% of their budget.


  • Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director — authored Cops Across Borders, the first scholarly study of the internationalization of U.S. criminal law enforcement, and Policing the Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations. Founded the Lindesmith Center, a drug policy institute created with George Soros.
  • Jill Harris, Acting Deputy Director — early vote director for Barack Obama’s campaign.
  • Asha Bandele, Director, Advocacy Grants Program — funds local drug law reform activism.
  • Yolande Cadore, Director, Strategic Partnerships — Working Families/ACORN organizer; lead organizer New York State Tenants and Neighbors; national field director for The Praxis Project
  • Bill Piper, Director, National Affairs
  • Grant Smith, Federal Policy Coordinator
  • Jasmine Tyler, Deputy Director, National Affairs — former research director, Justice Policy Institute
  • Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, Deputy State Director, Southern California

Board of Directors (Executive Committee in Bold):

  • Christine Downton– Former Vice Chairman and Founding Partner of Pareto Partners
  • Jodie Evans –Co-founder, CODEPINK; Board of Trustees, Institute for Policy Studies
  • James E. Ferguson, II— Senior Partner, Ferguson, Stein, Chambers Law Offices
  • Jason Flom — President, Lava Records
  • Ira Glasser (President) — Former Executive Director, A.C.L.U.
  • Carl Hart, PhD– New York State Psychiatric Institute
  • Kenneth Hertz– Senior Partner, Goldring Hertz and Lichtenstein LLP
  • Mathilde Krim, PhD — Founding Chair, American Foundation for AIDS Research
  • David C. Lewis, MD — Founding Director, Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Brown University
  • Pamela Lichty — President, Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i
  • Ethan Nadelmann, JD, PhD (Executive Director)
  • Robert Newman, MD— Director Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center
  • Rev. Edwin Sanders (Secretary)— Religious Leaders for a More Just and Compassionate Drug Policy
  • George Soros
  • John Vasconcellos — Former California State Senator,Co-Founder, The Politics of Trust
  • Richard B. Wolf (Treasurer)Former CEO, Richland Mills

U. S. Honorary Board

  • Former Mayor Rocky Anderson
  • Harry Belafonte — singer/activist, Institute for Policy Studies affiliate
  • Former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci
  • Congressman John Conyers, Jr. — Michigan Congressman, House Judiciary Committee member and Institute for Policy Studies affiliate
  • Walter Cronkite [1916-2009]
  • Ram Dass
  • Dr. Vincent Dole [1913-2006]
  • Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders
  • Judge Nancy Gertner
  • Former Police Chief Penny Harrington
  • Calvin Hill
  • Arianna Huffington — Huffington Post founder
  • Former Governor Gary Johnson
  • Judge John Kane
  • Former Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach
  • Former Police Chief Joseph McNamara
  • Former Police Commissioner Patrick V. Murphy
  • Dr. Beny J. Primm
  • Dennis Rivera — leftist New York labor leader and Campaign for America’s Future co-founder
  • Former Mayor Kurt Schmoke
  • Dr. Charles Schuster [1930-2011]
  • Alexander Shulgin
  • Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz
  • Russell Simmons
  • Judge Robert Sweet
  • Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker

International Honorary Board (In Formation)

  • Ruth Dreifuss
  • Václav Havel
  • Sting




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