Shawn “Jay Z” Carter and Artist Molly Crabapple Team Up for Provocative Video About Racism and the Drug War

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Shawn “Jay Z” Carter has teamed up with acclaimed artist Molly Crabapple on a striking animated video, launched today in the New York Times, that slams the war on drugs. The video traces the drug war and its impact on the Black community from President Nixon to the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws to the emerging aboveground marijuana market that is poised to make legal millions for wealthy investors doing the same thing that generations of people of color have been arrested and locked up for.

The four-minute work, narrated by Jay Z, is part history lesson and part vision statement.  He maps the devastation caused by the war on drugs and raises important questions about economic equity in the emerging aboveground marijuana industry.

Molly Crabapple, celebrated artist, activist and author, hand painted and animated the video with her distinctive style. The video, “From Prohibition to Gold Rush,” was produced in collaboration between Revolve Impact and the Drug Policy Alliance.

The video addresses mass incarceration, racial discrimination in drug arrests, the emerging legal marijuana market, and the need to repair the drug war’s harms to the African American community. Black people comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, and use and sell drugs at similar rates to people of other races – yet comprise 31 percent of those arrested for drug law violations, and nearly 40 percent of those incarcerated in state or federal prison for drug law violations.

“Jay Z and Molly Crabapple’s groundbreaking video will educate millions of people about the devastation wrought on the African American community because of the drug war,” said asha bandele, Senior Director for Grants, Partnerships and Special Projects at the Drug Policy Alliance. “That it is offered at a moment when policymakers are finally joining advocates in demanding an end to the architecture that actually incentivizes biased policing and police violence makes it especially timely,” said bandele.

“As a resident of California, I am especially pleased that this video speaks directly to the heart of economic equity,” said dream hampton of Revolve Impact.  She continued, “In November, Californians will have the opportunity to vote Yes on Prop 64, which is the most racial-justice-oriented marijuana legalization measure ever. It not only reduces and in many cases eliminates criminal penalties for marijuana offenses, but it’s retroactive, meaning people needlessly sitting in jail for small amounts of marijuana, can get out and have their records expunged. Plus, it drives hundreds of millions of dollars in direct funding and investments to communities most harmed by police and the criminal justice system,” hampton concluded.

The video and critique of the drug war comes a few months after an unprecedented group of voices called for an end to the war on drugs. In April, on the eve of the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem, world leaders and activists signed a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging him to set the stage “for real reform of global drug control policy.” The more than 1,000 people who signed the letter included: Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, businessmen Warren Buffett, George Soros, Richard Branson and Barry Diller, actors Michael Douglas and Woody Harrelson, Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, singers John Legend and Mary J. Blige, activists Reverend Jesse Jackson, Gloria Steinem and Michelle Alexander, as well as distinguished legislators, cabinet ministers, and former UN officials.

Revolve Impact is a global social impact firm that combines organizing and the creative arts to drive communities to action..

The Drug Policy Alliance is the nation’s leading organization promoting drug policies grounded in human rights, health, compassion and science.

*For a transcript of the video, please contact Tony Newman at tnewman [at] drugpolicy [dot] org*

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Date Published: September 15, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance | Revolve Impact

Drug Policy Alliance

New Mexico State Supreme Court Poised to Hear Case Affecting the Many Thousands of New Mexicans Who Are at Risk of Being Denied the Right to Vote

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SANTA FE –  On Wednesday, September 14, 2016, at 9 am, the New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that will determine whether many thousands of New Mexicans will be at risk of being denied the right to vote:  one of the most fundamental and meaningful rights that Americans possess. 

The case, League of Women Voters of New Mexico v. Advisory Committee to the New Mexico Compilation Commission, presents the Court with the issue that the “Advisory Committee to the New Mexico Compilation Commission should not be placed in the position of deciding for itself how to reconcile sections of the New Mexico Constitution, nor determining what rights are being expanded or restricted, though it has unwittingly been placed in that position.”

The Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico office, which filed a friend of the court brief in support of the League of Women Voters, favors eliminating improper and unnecessary hurdles to the recognition of voting rights and considers the case an important benchmark in the struggle to restore the voting rights of persons who have been convicted of felonies after those persons have served their sentences. The Supreme Court has given the Drug Policy Alliance’s counsel, Kate Ferlic, time on Wednesday to argue our position.

The New Mexico State Constitution is notable for its long history of protecting the rights of voters generally and minority voters, in particular.  The League of Women Voters case asks the Court to honor both the Constitution and the intent of the state’s citizens who have amended the Constitution over the years, to allow the electorate, by simple majority vote, to expand the voting rights of New Mexicans previously denied the vote for reasons that have been long discredited.

Emily Kaltenbach, Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico Director states that “not only is depriving a person who has served their sentence of the right to vote un-American, it is counterproductive. There is clear evidence that exercising the right to vote is an important part of rehabilitation:  voting reduces criminal recidivism, enhances responsible citizenship, and builds a sense of belonging in the community.”   By contrast, being denied the vote, notes Kaltenbach, “is a form of civil death that has widespread and devastating consequences that hurts individuals, families and entire communities.”

As the Drug Policy Alliance’s brief to the Court explains, nationwide, nearly 6 million Americans, or 2.5% of the U.S. voting age population, are denied the right to vote under state felony disenfranchisement laws.  Across the country such laws disproportionately affect minorities, meaning that persons of color are more likely to be silenced at the ballot box than their white counterparts.  The failed War on Drugs, which historically has targeted communities of color and poor people in the enforcement of drug laws, is a primary cause for the huge numbers of adult Americans who cannot vote, including many thousands of New Mexicans.

The Drug Policy Alliance is urging the Court to read the state constitution in a manner that honors the importance of the right to vote, recognizes the substantial harms caused when this right is withheld from citizens, and gives the electorate an ability to expand voting rights, through a simple majority vote, to New Mexicans who are wrongfully deprived of this fundamental right.  

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation’s leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

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Date Published: September 12, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Drug Policy Alliance

New Jersey Bail Reform Advocates Applaud DOJ for Taking Strong Position on the Unconstitutional Use of Monetary Bail

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Trenton — The Department of Justice has filed an Amicus Brief in an 11th Circuit case challenging the constitutionality of the use of monetary bail for indigent defendants being detained pretrial. This is the third time the Department of Justice has taken a strong stand on bail reform, having filed a statement of interest in an Alabama case in February 2015 and having circulated a Dear Colleague Letter on Unlawful Jailing in March 2016.

The issue of bail reform has gained increased national attention and put New Jersey in the national spotlight because of the comprehensive bail reform legislation that New Jersey enacted in 2015.

In the March 2016 Dear Colleague Letter, the Department of Justice writes, “Bail that is set without regard to defendants’ financial capacity can result in the incarceration of individuals not because they pose a threat to public safety or a flight risk, but rather because they cannot afford the assigned bail amount.”

This very notion is what pushed New Jersey stakeholders to support comprehensive bail reform.   A 2013 report released by the Drug Policy Alliance highlighted cases similar to those that the Department of Justice has weighed in on. The analysis found that almost 40 percent of those held in New Jersey’s jails are there solely because of their inability to pay bail and more than 10 percent cannot pay bail amounting to $ 2,500 or less (more than 800 inmates are held for the inability to pay $ 500 or less).

“Seeing the federal government step up in such a powerful way on bail reform is further validation of the historic legislation,” says Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “A monetary bail system punishes individuals and families with few resources and wastes taxpayer money. It can cost New Jersey upwards of $ 30,000 to warehouse a nonviolent individual pending trial—simply because that individual doesn’t have the resources to pay bail amounts as low as a few hundred dollars.”

New Jersey’s bail reform will be fully implemented in 2017. “We’re looking forward to the new system,” said Richard Smith, President of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP. “Bail reform is a true racial justice victory for New Jersey. At every point in the criminal justice system, people of color fare worse than their white counterparts and the pretrial stage is no exception. Bail reform will help address these disparities.”

Carlos Hendricks of the Latino Action Network agrees, “We know that the use of monetary bail has a disproportionate impact on low income communities, which are most often communities of color. Reforming the bail system in New Jersey will have a direct impact on those communities most harmed by New Jersey’s historical use of unconstitutional bail practices.”

The Drug Policy Alliance, the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP, the Latino Action Network, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice are all members of the Pretrial Services Program Review Commission established by the bail reform law. Although the Commission has yet to meet, the members are confident that, like the Department of Justice, the New Jersey stakeholders are committed to protecting the constitutional rights of New Jersey citizens.

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Date Published: September 8, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Drug Policy Alliance

This Overdose Awareness Day, Let’s Commit to Making Fatal Drug Overdoses a Thing of the Past

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Today is International Overdose Awareness Day. Numerous families and friends will come together today to remember loved ones lost due to the failed war on drugs.

Forty-plus years of ineffective policies have left millions without treatment and proven life-saving measures. The results are staggering: according to the CDC, in the U.S. alone, nearly half a million people have died of drug overdoses since 2000. That’s nearly half a million sons, daughters and friends gone too soon. While numerous advocacy groups schedule events to raise awareness of the preventable tragedy that is a fatal overdose, others will come together to discuss proven solutions.

In California, San Francisco and Oakland are spearheading this conversation by hosting events such as screening the documentary, Everywhere But Safe, and modeling what safe injection facilities (SIFs) would look like through the exhibit Safe Shape. While the Bay Area looks towards the future of drug policy, Orange County (and many other regions in the U.S.) is barely keeping up with current, widely-accepted overdose prevention measures.

This year, Orange County opened its first syringe exchange in Santa Ana, California. The Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP), like many syringe exchange programs throughout the country and world, offers on-site HIV and hepatitis-C testing, referrals to substance abuse treatment and housing services, and naloxone distribution and trainings. 

Despite the many benefits of the program, OCNEP took 17 months to implement the program due to bureaucratic hurdles. Even after overcoming all of these barriers, OCNEP faces a new challenge: Just five months after its opening, the Solace Foundation, which provides OCNEP’s naloxone distribution and training, has run out of its supply of naloxone. 

Naloxone has been used for more than 40 years to reverse opioid overdoses. Currently, 42 states and Washington, DC have passed laws for naloxone access for first responders and/or laypeople. In July, Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) which supports expanded use of naloxone by first responders and community members.

Despite the support for naloxone, there is still a need for funding, especially as the price of naloxone has increased significantly and pharmaceutical companies that produce naloxone have stalled donations to community-based programs. The result is thousands left without the drug that saves lives. According to Aimee Dunkle of the Solace Foundation, regular participants at OCNEP have been very vocal about their need for naloxone.  In fact, one of their clients was turned away when he wanted to get another naloxone kit, because The Solace Foundation ran out of its supply. The next week, his best friend overdosed. 

Since its opening in February, OCNEP has distributed 920 naloxone kits and there have been 186 opioid overdose reversals. Naloxone works best when used as soon as possible, so it’s important to get it into the hands of people who are most likely to be at the scene of an overdose – drug users themselves.

That’s why it is such big news that the California budget includes $ 3 million for naloxone distribution through the state Department of Public Health to community-based organizations serving drug users.  However, this budget allocation is just the first step. We need to ensure that the funding gets to the communities and services that need it most.

Overdose is now the number one cause of accidental deaths in the U.S. On International Overdose Awareness Day, as we remember those we’ve lost to overdose, we must take the steps to make fatal drug overdoses a thing of the past. We can do this by ensuring that overdose prevention is available to those who need it most.

If not, we will continue to lose countless lives to preventable circumstances.

Morgan Humphrey is a policy associate with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Morgan Humphrey
Date Published: August 31, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Drug Policy Alliance

Preparing California for What is to Come: The Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo

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California has become the epicenter of cannabis reform as the state moves to legalize marijuana for adults via Prop. 64 on the November 8 ballot. Legalization in California would mean that an additional 39 million people in the US would be living under legalization, more than the number of those in the current four legal states and DC combined. With this new policy will come a tidal wave of industry with tax revenues estimated at $ 1 billion dollars per year.

With this boom on the horizon, what better time and place for the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo (CWCBE), held at the Los Angeles Convention Center September 8-9 with a day of cannabis business workshops on Sept. 7.  Although California is sure to be a hot topic of conversation, the CWCBE is for everyone, whether from a state with a robust adult use and medical program like Colorado, to newer medical marijuana states like Pennsylvania. The conference has five tracks covering the topics of: starting and running a canna-business; banking and finance; science and information; legislation and advocacy, and industry trends and innovations.

The agenda is reflective of the many stages states and businesses are in with their cannabis programs. Those from more evolved markets will benefit from discussion such as e-commerce, while those still trying to establish policies in their states can learn about reducing the stigma around cannabis use. Of course, policy and the impending initiatives will be given plenty of stage time, with panel titles such as, “Failure is not an option” featuring DPA’s Lynne Lyman.

An exciting new trend in cannabis conferences, the CWCBE has several presentations and panels addressing the issue of diversity and equity in the industry. Previously, one was hard pressed to find even one panel focusing on how to ensure that those more impacted by marijuana prohibition are not frozen out of the new industry. CWCBE has five presentations on the topic, covering community engagement, women of color in the industry, Native Americans and cannabis and the need to address the lack of diversity in the burgeoning industry.

In California, the cannabis industry isn’t new. It is two decades old, led by many courageous people. While some who paved the way are still at the top of the cannabis game, many more are behind bars, or in some cases dead, at the hands of marijuana prohibition. Today’s cannabis leadership has an obligation to work with communities and recognize the legacy of racial oppression tied to the war on drugs.

Another area of cannabis policy garnering attention is the use of cannabis as a substitute for opiates. This issue will be addressed by a panel including former NFL star Marvin Washington, who has become an avid advocate for use of cannabis in lieu of opiates. Washington is also an outspoken advocate for using cannabis as a treatment for concussion-related brain injuries. He will not be the only NFL player to speak at the CWCBE. The use of cannabis as a treatment for concussion-related brain injuries will be discussed on a panel entitled: CTE, Concussion and CBD, featuring Jake Plummer, Lorenzo Neal, Nate Jackson, and Riley Cote.

Of course, what cannabis conference would be complete without a stellar line up of key note speakers? The CWCBE offers up Montel Williams discussing medical cannabis, and Ted Chung, entrepreneur, manager of Snoop Dogg and founder and CEO of MERRY JANE, a cannabis media platform.

There will be a lot packed into the two days at the LA Convention Center, but with legalization on the horizon in 5 states and counting, there is no time like the present to dip your toe in the cannabis industry pool. You can register here.

Amanda Reiman is the manager of marijuana law and policy for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Amanda Reiman
Date Published: September 1, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Drug Policy Alliance

Governor Christie Directs Commissioner of Health to Invest $200,000 in New Jersey Syringe Access Programs

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Trenton — Today, Governor Christie signed legislation that will make permanent the sterile syringe access programs in New Jersey that were originally created as demonstration programs in 2006 under the Blood-Borne Disease Harm Reduction Act. Governor Christie also directed the Commissioner of Health to invest $ 200,000 in the existing syringe access programs.

“We are overjoyed by Governor Christie’s commitment to the syringe access programs in New Jersey,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “For so long these programs have operated with minimal support from the state, and the $ 200,000 will go a long way to providing life-changing and life-saving services for New Jersey citizens. We are deeply grateful.”

In signing the legislation, Governor Christie also explained his reasoning for line-item vetoing the $ 95,000 that was appropriated for the programs in the proposed FY 2017 budget earlier this summer,

“I commend the bill’s sponsors for seeking to expand these worthwhile syringe-exchange programs throughout the State. However, this bill could be a hollow victory if the five existing syringe exchange programs cannot keep their doors open. Currently, the existing programs are in need of sterile syringes and related supplies to continue their mission. The Legislature’s proposed FY 2017 budget appropriated only $ 95,000 for these programs, which would not have provided sufficient resources for the year. It is for this reason that I line-item vetoed the appropriation and instead, I am directing the Commissioner of Health to invest $ 200,000 in the existing syringe exchange programs for necessary syringes and related supplies.”

Georgett Watson, Chief Operations Officer for the South Jersey AIDS Alliance said, “The $ 200,000 is a life saver. Programs are struggling to keep their doors open, and while lifetime HIV care for one person costs more than $ 618,000, a clean syringe costs about 10¢. There isn’t a better investment New Jersey could make.”

Syringe access programs in New Jersey have been a resounding and unqualified success.  A 2010 report by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services stated, “The program is off to an excellent start and serves a hard-to-reach population with tremendous promise in preventing the transmission of blood-borne pathogens.”  At that time almost 5,000 individuals had accessed the programs and the services they offer.  The news since then has only gotten better.  To date:

  • More than 10,000 participants have enrolled in the programs
  • About 25% of participants were successfully enrolled in drug treatment programs
  • Thousands have been referred to other medical and social services
  • More than a dozen pregnant women were referred to drug treatment and three women had given birth to healthy babies by the time the report was released
  • There was no increase in crime or improperly discarded syringes associated with the programs

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Date Published: August 31, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Drug Policy Alliance