Today, the Drug Policy Alliance is releasing a new report, Municipal Drug Strategy: Lessons in Taking Drug Policy Reform Local. The report lays out a roadmap for how U.S. cities of all sizes can address the harms of both drug use and the failed war on drugs, such as mass incarceration and the overdose crisis.
First pioneered as a public health measure in Europe in the 1980s and 90s, Municipal Drug Strategies challenge local communities to work from a public health, racial justice and human rights framework instead of defining people who use drugs as criminals in need of coercion and punishment. The results in the numerous European cities that have adopted Municipal Drug Strategies have been nothing short of spectacular, revealing significantly lower rates of crime and problematic drug use – along with a parallel improvement in public health outcomes, including major reductions in rates of overdose, HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis C.
Ithaca, NY, and Santa Fe, NM, recently became the first two cities in the U.S. to implement a Municipal Drug Strategy, and numerous other cities are poised to follow in their footsteps.
“Despite the federal government’s failures, most drug policies are carried out at the local and state levels — which has spurred many municipalities to fight back by moving drug policy reforms forward with urgency,” said Emily Kaltenbach, Senior Director of National Criminal Justice Reform Strategy. “City governments are increasingly positioned at the center of innovation in solving complex large-scale public problems like drug overdose and mass criminalization.”
The report offers a framework for local jurisdictions interested in undertaking a Municipal Drug Strategy, while providing an overview of the principles and elements of this approach as well as a comprehensive array of model Municipal Drug Strategy policies. The report also includes case studies of San Francisco, CA, Ithaca, NY, Santa Fe, NM and Vancouver, Canada.
A Municipal Drug Strategy is based on two key premises. First, that a punitive, criminal justice-driven response to people who are involved with drugs fails to meet the needs and respect the rights of these individuals, their families and their communities. Second, that those who are closest to the harm and suffering arising from a flawed drug policies and problematic drug use are best placed to identify and implement solutions.
The approach is generally organized around four core domains: prevention, treatment, emergency response/public safety, and harm reduction. Critical to the development of a Municipal Drug Strategy is meaningful engagement of diverse local stakeholders, including government, first responders, health care providers, and directly impacted communities.
In 2016, Ithaca, NY, made history and national news when it launched the first formal Municipal Drug Strategy in the U.S. The plan was the product of Ithaca’s Municipal Drug Policy Committee, consisting of leaders from local government, harm reduction and treatment organizations, law enforcement, and the community.
Only two years later, Ithaca is already seeing results, including a dramatic expansion of medication-assisted treatment, drug checking services to test for fentanyl adulteration, and naloxone distribution. The groundwork has been laid for a harm reduction-based, pre-arrest diversion program called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) and Ithaca stands poised to be one of the first cities in the U.S. to launch a life-saving supervised consumption space.
In 2018, Santa Fe followed Ithaca’s lead and formed its own Municipal Drug Strategy committee.
In an op-ed published in The Hill today by Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber and Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, they describe what led them to adopt Municipal Drug Strategies in their cities:
“As mayors, we know that a shift away from punitive responses to drugs is possible,” they write. “Our two cities, like communities large and small across the country, bear the burden of a half-century of disastrous drug policies that have wrought two epidemics: Mass incarceration and skyrocketing overdose deaths. Far from stemming the tide of death, the war on drugs continues to exacerbate an overdose crisis of historic proportions.”
“If the United States continues to pursue a decades-long drug war, people in our communities will continue to die and suffer. As people elected to serve, we have a moral obligation to do something different, something better,” write the two mayors.