New York City Bar Association Urges Trump Administration to Adopt a Comprehensive, Evidence-Based Federal Drug Policy

In contrast to the ‘war on drugs’ approach the Trump Administration appears to be revisiting, the New York City Bar Association has submitted a set of recommendations to the Administration for implementing a comprehensive, evidence-based federal drug policy.

With the United States Sentencing Commission reporting that criminal cases are down 21.4% since 2011, and in light of the problems attendant to mass incarceration policies, including disproportionate impact on minority communities, the City Bar believes that a return to charging and pursuing the most “serious, readily provable” offense even if it carries a mandatory minimum sentence, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently directed prosecutors to do, is the wrong approach to drug policy.

The so-called ‘war on drugs’ “encouraged the creation of criminal markets, earned the United States the unwelcome distinction of being the global leader in the number of incarcerated citizens per capita, and led to the deaths of countless individuals, all while failing to achieve the goals of deterring drug production, trade, and consumption,” the City Bar states in its recommendations.

Signed by John S. Kiernan, the City Bar’s President, and Zarah Levin-Fragasso, Chair of the City Bar’s Drugs and the Law Committee, the ten recommendations to the Trump Administration to address the United States’ outdated and harmful drug laws are:

  1. Explicitly endorse and expand harm reduction-oriented approaches to drugs, including statutory reform to expressly permit and fund syringe exchange programs (SEPs), safe consumption rooms, and safe injection facilities, all of which increase access to drug treatment and social services and reduce health care costs and the spread of infectious diseases among intravenous drug users without increasing intravenous drug use. These policies are critical to reducing the harms associated with the current opioid crisis.
  2. Work to make quality, evidence-based and medication-assisted drug treatment available on demand. Such treatment should embrace multiple pathways to healing by allowing people with substance use disorders to choose harm reduction and moderation in addition to abstinence goals.
  3. Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. In the alternative, (a) continue to reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibits the Department of Justice from prosecuting individuals and entities that are following their state medical marijuana laws, and expand its scope to include all state marijuana laws; (b) for marijuana businesses that are following state law, carve out an exception from § 280E of the Internal Revenue Code, which forbids businesses from recording tax deductions or credits for income associated with certain controlled substances; (c) provide a safe harbor for banks and other depository institutions providing services to marijuana businesses that are following state law; and (d) direct the Drug Enforcement Administration to hold evidentiary hearings on the question of the proper classification of marijuana under federal law.
  4. Respect state sovereignty by allowing continued state taxation and regulation of marijuana within the guidelines set out in the memo from former Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole to United States Attorneys dated Aug. 29, 2013. This can be accomplished by elevating the memo to an executive order. To date, state reforms of marijuana law have not harmed public health and safety, and have generated substantial revenues (i.e., over $1 billion for Colorado in 2016 and $7 billion nationally).
  5. Remove federal criminal sanctions for drug use and possession of drugs for personal consumption, a position which is also endorsed by the Global Commission on Drugs, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Human Rights Watch.
  6. Increase funding for substance use disorders research and treatment; specifically, support the development of medications (including medical marijuana) and alternative treatment programs.
  7. Focus United States drug policy on promoting global public health and healing for people with substance use disorders, instead of criminalization and incarceration.
  8. Support international efforts to ensure that all countries have access to controlled substances for medical use and scientific research.
  9. Condemn Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s mass extrajudicial killings, especially the killings of drug users and sellers, as a violation of human rights under international law. As a global leader on human rights, the United States has a moral obligation to condemn these horrific actions.
  10. Conduct a thorough review of the International Drug Control Treaties, and consider whether the United States should continue as a signatory to the outdated and ineffective system of international drug control or withdraw from the treaties and re-accede with reservations.

The proposal states, “The health of the American people is a primary concern for any presidential administration and is a bipartisan issue. In light of the decades-long failures of our federal drug policies, we urge the Trump Administration to discontinue the punitive criminal justice approach to drug control and people with substance use disorders. As we face the devastation associated with our ongoing opioid crisis and mass incarceration, it is imperative that our drug policies and laws move us forward as a society and as a nation.”

The letter concludes, “As the Administration pursues its agenda to ‘Make America Great Again,’ we urge you to recognize that greatness encompasses drug policies that are grounded in science, public health, human rights, racial justice, and compassion.”

The letter can be read here:

About the Association

The New York City Bar Association (, since its founding in 1870, has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the legal profession, promoting reform of the law and access to justice, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association, through its 24,000 members, continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.