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Drug Policy Alliance closing New Jersey office

Group still intends to push marijuana legalization

By Nikita Biryukov, May 20 2019 5:04 pm

The Drug Policy Alliance is shuttering the doors of its New Jersey branch

“I do want to stress that our New Jersey office has done amazing work, and we’ve been so proud of everything that they’ve done and the closing down of the office has nothing to do with performance,” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, the national DPA’s executive director said. “It’s just about organizational need and structure and resources right now.”

The DPA intends to remain active in the state, though its employees were informed early this morning that they were being laid off.

“Rosseane [Scotti], Meagan [Glaser] and Ami [Kachalia] have been extraordinary professionals and have made a big difference for drug policy reform in New Jersey,” she said, referring to the group’s New Jersey director, deputy director and policy coordinator, respectively. “They should be proud of that legacy — we are — and we plan to continue to build on it.”

Sánchez-Moreno said the organization was shuttering its offices in New Jersey and Colorado. The organization’s offices in California, New York and New Mexico remain open, though staffing levels at the latter are being cut.

The organization’s New Jersey branch advocated for reduced criminalization of drug offenses as well as programs, like needle exchanges and supervised consumption services, to reduce the number of deaths caused by opioids and other drugs.

At least 3,163 people died of drug overdoses in New Jersey last year, fourth record-breaking year in a row.

The group also advocates for marijuana legalization.

Though the state’s legalization efforts have stalled, with legislative leaders aiming to put the issue on the ballot in 2020, decriminalization bills, as well as ones dealing with expungement and medical marijuana expansion, cleared Assembly and Senate committees on Monday.

Sánchez-Moreno said the DPA intends to continue aiding those legalization efforts, though it’s not yet clear to anyone which other issues the group will continue to be involved in.

The degree of any possible involvement is also unclear.

“We certainly expect to be engaged on it and continue to campaign for marijuana legalization in New Jersey. We built up this campaign through the legislative strategy. Our New Jersey office did amazing work around that, and we expect to see it through,” she said. “We’re still figuring out which parts of the work we’re able to carry on and are able to prioritize on a national scale and which ones we’ll have to drop … We’re in internal conversations on that.”

The DPA cuts can be traced back to an ebb in funding.

The group saw a surge in funding when Colorado lawmakers announced they would put legalization on the ballot in 2012.

Sánchez-Moreno said that surge continued as other states pushed legalization efforts via referendum, but as more states legalized and more of them began attempting to legalize legislatively, as New Jersey unsuccessfully attempted, funds began to dry up.

She said the organization hopes to become more flexible by reducing its number of state offices. If the organization does not have to rent office space in New Jersey and Colorado, it could use the money saved to mount campaigns in other states.

“Before, it was harder for us to do work in states where we didn’t have a presence because all our resources were tied up in state offices, in New Jersey, Colorado. This makes us more flexible, and at the same time we have some resource constraints now,” Sánchez-Moreno said. “We had to decide, even though the work is valuable and even though the performance is amazing, which parts were essential to DPA as a national organization and which ones were less essential and made cuts based on that.”

Offices in New York and California are being kept on because the organization’s leadership believes that changes to drug policy there could have ripple effects on other states in the nation.

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