04/24/19 Ethan Nadelmann

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Ethan Nadelmann
Drug Policy Alliance

Ethan Nadelmann the founder and former Exec Dir of Drug Policy Alliance + Chris Whitener supporter of Patients out of Time & Exec Dir of Magical Butter.

Audio file


APRIL 24, 2019


DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hi, folks, I am the Reverend Dean Becker, this is Cultural Baggage. Some program notes before we get started. Still have some leftover segments from my visit to St. Louis with the Drug Policy Alliance folks, got another show to build from that, and we have one or two more that we can do from our visit to Florida, the Patients Out of Time conference, but we've got a special guest today.

Well folks, today I have the privilege of talking to one of the few people I feel have a knowledge base about this drug war that are better than mine. He was the founder of the Drug Policy Alliance, the executive director for, I'm thinking 15 or 20 years, he's now retired, but he's never really going to retire from drug reform.

I want to welcome my friend, my ally, Mister Ethan Nadelmann. Hey, Ethan.

ETHAN NADELMANN, PHD: Hey, Dean, it's great to be back on your show, and I really so much appreciate the work that you've been doing in just really providing both the radio voice and in some respects this can ultimately be the archives of the drug policy reform movement. So thank you for doing this.

DEAN BECKER: Well, thank you for that. Yeah, you know, Ethan, I think about it, the work you have done over the decades now, the little bit I've helped along the way, and many of your allies within Drug Policy Alliance and elsewhere have opened this situation, have exposed the fraud, the misdirection, of this drug war.

More and more people, more and more publications, politicians, scientists, are agreeing with what you put forward those years ago, and they're speaking more boldly of the need for change. Am I right, sir?

ETHAN NADELMANN, PHD: Well, I think that's right, Dean, I mean, look, on the one hand, I'll tell you that when I first got going on this mission, you know, decades ago, I remember, you know, going to visit a very wise man named Ram Dass, a sort of spiritual thinker and leader, and one piece of advice he gave me was, look, in the end, you have to let go of your attachment to the things that you're fighting for.

In other words, that, whether we win or lose, that the struggle we're engaged in to end the war on drugs and to promote a drug policy grounded in positive values, science, compassion, health, and human rights, that ultimately that's what matters in life. Right? For each one of us who are engaged.

You know, at the same time, there is no denying, it's good to win. Right? Most of us are competitive souls who want to win, we want to lock up the victories, we want to change things in the real world, just -- not just fight the good cause.

And in that sense, I feel very lucky and proud, because I think if you look back over what's happened, especially and most dramatically on the marijuana issue, I mean, moving the country, moving from 25 percent support for legalization back in the '80s to sixty percent now, and from zero states legal to thirty-plus legal for medical and ten on broader recreational adult use, and more going forward.

I mean, I just take enormous pride and pleasure in having played, you know, a role in making that happen.

When you look at the broader efforts to end mass incarceration, and especially our particularly piece of it, which is ending the contribution of the drug war to mass incarceration, clearly we have begun to turn things around.

But in many respects, it's like turning around an ocean liner, right, you can point it in the right direction but it takes a long time until you finally see this new direction emerging.

But we are, and we have been making progress, and I think that's going to accelerate, and we've got to smart and savvy and strategic about the next steps to make sure the counterattacks don't trip us up.

And then on the third area of our work, about making commitments to treating drug use and addiction as a health issue, not a criminal issue, I think there, too, we're making a lot of progress, sometimes driven by tragedy. First it was the spread of HIV AIDS, and now it's been the overdose crisis, but we're clearly making progress there as well.

But, this is, as we all acknowledge, a multigenerational struggle, and we are now into the second generation of this struggle, and it's going to have to continue for a ways to come.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, I agree with you. You know, I've come to the conclusion that at 70 years of age, I may not live to see pot legal in the state of Texas because of who we have firmly entrenched here.

But the fact is we are making progress, slow, incremental stuff here, and larger progress being made around the country.

I want to bring forward an idea that I shared with Doctor João Goulão when I was in Portugal last year, along with many of the folks from the Drug Policy Alliance, and he was talking about how we don't have a moral attitude towards drug users. He's talking about how they're less than, they're not quite human. Well, that's not the words he used, but, we demonize folks, kind of cast them aside as being unworthy. Your response to that, Ethan.

ETHAN NADELMANN, PHD: Well, you know, oftentimes you hear people involved in drug policy reform saying we've got to keep the morality out of drug policy, right, because we tend to say that morality is about the pseudo-moralism of the drug war folks, of the anti-drug folks, the assumption that using drugs is immoral per se and that the people who use, make, produce, sell, whatever, consume, are somehow fundamentally immoral.

And so many drug policy reformers will say -- will say that we should take the morality out. But I think the point is very well taken, what João Goulão said, is we really need to put the morality back into drug policy. This is about recognizing the fundamental humanity of everybody, and not making exceptions in our principles about the worth of every individual based upon the fact that they consume one drug or another.

It's interesting that people who struggle with addiction, and sometimes wreak havoc in the lives of people around them, where we rightfully, understandably get furious and angry at them, yet at the same time understanding that we need to dig deep to deal with this in as moral a way as possible, even when that's tough on -- even when it's tough and difficult for us to do.

So I think that's right, that the stigma against people based upon the drug they put in their body, even people who do no harm to others, remains very powerful all around the world. I mean, I'll tell you, Dean, I was at a gathering last week on the cannabis issue, and, you know, there's a lot of focus, correctly so, and including in my own comments, about the racism that permeates every piece of the drug war, from its origins to the way it's implemented to, well, you know, the public's view of it.

I mean, all of it, I mean, racism just permeates the drug war, especially in the US, but many other countries as well.

But the point I made was that even as we need to understand as deeply as possible the role of racism, there's another ism there, and it doesn't sound right, it's not a great word, I won't want to run with it, but let's call it drugism. In other words, the irrational prejudice, and stigma, and fear, and hatred of people based upon the substance they put in their body.

The assumption that anybody, because you put in drug X or Y as opposed to drug A or B, that you are therefore less than, that you are therefore worthy of being punished or discriminated against.

I mean, that thing just persists in our society in a very powerful way. We can talk about, you know, junkies or druggies or pushers, in a way we don't allow that kind of prejudicial talk about other people based upon race or gender or things like that anymore, at least in mainstream or conventional society.

And so I think identifying and uprooting that element of, for lack of a better word, drugism, is fundamentally important to putting the morality back into drug policy.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Ethan, I run into that ism quite frequently, you know, online in particular, you know, people talk about, well, if they hadn't had the meth with them then it would be fine, let's lock them up forever because they were using these harder drugs. But let's bless our sacred weed, and, you know, go after those people who take the pills and the powders.

Little realizing, I think, that by endorsing prohibition, they're delaying progress overall for marijuana as well, by giving it validity. Your response there, Ethan.

ETHAN NADELMANN, PHD: Well, I mean -- well, I think with marijuana, we're really getting there, and I realize it's slow going in Texas and other parts of the country on this, but ultimately I think the end of marijuana prohibition in the United States and many other countries is -- we can't drop the ball now, and we're unfortunately becoming over reliant now on industry and for-profit forces to make this happen.

But it is going to ultimately end prohibition, and those who are hanging onto prohibition, they're touting its supposed benefits in terms of reducing drug use or problems like that, I think they're fundamentally missing the immorality of the prohibitionist policy.

Now, when you start talking about the prohibition of cocaine, and heroin and methamphetamine, drugs where there's remarkably little progress in terms of the broader population endorsing some form of legal control or regulation, there it's a much tougher challenge.

And I think, you know, on some level it's acknowledging that the sort of, whether it's a libertarian model or a tougher regulatory approach that would allow the over the counter sale of drugs like heroin and cocaine and methamphetamine, is in a very distant future if at all.

And therefore the way we need to think about this is, A, we have to focus on ending the criminalization of drug use and possession. Right? Just being very clear about that. It's the Portugal model, the way the Portuguese made a commitment to saying we're not going to put anybody in jail for simple possession of any drug.

If they're really a bad guy, they say, we'll catch them with something else, but we're not going to use the taxpayers' resources, we're not going to punish people simply based upon the fact that they're taking a substance. We're going to do our best to help them, but if they reject our help, we're not going to lock them up.

Moving forward in the US, towards reducing the criminalization and ultimately ending the criminalization of drug possession for one's own use is pivotally important from a moral level and a policy level.

And the further we advance in that regard, we then come to the next level challenge, which is how do we come up with ways that allow people who are addicted to drugs, or even many of those who just want them and are not addicted, how do we come up with ways that allow them to obtain legal access to the drugs they want in a way that does not undermine broader public health. Right?


ETHAN NADELMANN, PHD: What are the things in between criminalization and over the counter model that could actually work? It's the heroin maintenance programs one sees in Europe and Canada, it's finding the ways to knock out the criminalization.

And so I'm very attracted to what the folks in British Columbia are talking about right now, they're talking about safe supply. Right? They're trying to go beyond the heroin maintenance model, the limited clinic model, to something that talks about how do you allow people who want to get drugs to get them in a safe form, and do it in ways that do not endanger the broader public health.

That's the next two level challenges in the US and many other parts of the world.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Ethan, and by the way, folks, we are speaking with Mister Ethan Nadelmann, he's the founder of the Drug Policy Alliance, the former executive director, now still working in drug reform.

Ethan, each week, I go to the courthouses here in Houston. I wear a different shirt each week, I hand out these cards that, you know, encourage people to get involved, et cetera.

Last week I wore the one that said "Cops Say Legalize Heroin. Ask Me Why." And a few folks came up and asked me why, but some folks when I started to tell them about what I learned in Switzerland last year, from Doctor Christoph Buerki, he designed a program where they have, it's not that many, I think it's in the few thousands of Swiss citizens, who get pure heroin every morning and every evening from the government.

Twenty-five years they've been doing it, twenty-seven million times, and they've had zero overdose deaths. And I think it is the fear of these drugs that helps to exacerbate the problem, that creates the harms. Your thought there, please.

ETHAN NADELMANN, PHD: I think, I mean, Dean, I'll tell you, by chance I happened to be in Switzerland back in 1992 on the day that their federal government gave the approval for Zurich and a few other cities to go forward with the heroin trials, so I've followed it very closely throughout these years.

It's not just eliminating overdose fatalities, it's also reducing the likelihood of the transmission of HIV AIDS and other infectious diseases, it's reducing criminality associated with drugs, helping people get their lives together even when they're continuing to use pharmaceutical heroin.

It's actually a net benefit economically to the taxpayer because the cost of these programs is less than the amount of money saved on the public health and public safety side. So it's very clearly the right way to go.

I remember back in the late Nineties, I think, cover story of Der Spiegel magazine, you know, the German version of -- the best selling news magazine in Germany, Der Spiegel, and the cover story was, majority of big city German police chiefs support legalizing heroin, or heroin maintenance.

And the reason was, was that once the cops were able to get past their initial response, which was, how can you be giving junk to the junkies, how can you just do that?

Once they began to realize that providing pharmaceutical heroin in clinics to people who are addicted to street heroin, where they cannot take it home but had to use it there, that it was good for them, the users in terms of helping stabilize their lives and being safer, it was good in terms of crime reduction, and it was also good in terms of certain, you know, diminishing the overall illicit drug market, that it was a win-win-win for them.

So, I think there's a lot of police chiefs in the US who would get this after a thirty-minute or sixty-minute conversation. A lot of DAs, a lot of politicians, you know, there are ways to do this, the organization that I ran for many years, Drug Policy Alliance, has been making a major effort to engage researchers, in getting research trials going in universities, to get this going in the US.

So we will see it happening in the US in coming years. And it's all the more important now because of the incredible jump in overdose fatalities as a result of adulterated heroin, you know, stuff cut with fentanyl.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. Now, all those benefits you listed that the cops could recognize, there's one that I've been trying to bring forward, and it's seldom addressed, and that is, were these drugs to all be legalized, we would suddenly have tens of millions of American citizens who could then align themselves with the cops, who could, in effect, report serious and violent crimes without the worry of, you know, being hassled by the man, so to speak, for having broached the subject to them. Your thought.

ETHAN NADELMANN, PHD: Well, I mean, I think it's important, you know, that ending the drug war and some form of legalization is not going to be any panacea in terms of addressing the underlying issues of racism and other things that drive over-policing in communities. Right?

It's not going to be a panacea, but it is true, you know, so long as, you know, young people, and young people of color, know that they're especially vulnerable to being stopped by the cops and arrested solely because of the substance they may have in their pocket?

I mean, that's what drove the marijuana arrests, these record levels in recent years, it creates a feeling of suspiciousness, you know, it generates crime in ways that certainly cause people to be wary of calling the police. Right?

It's the whole issue you have right now where you have marijuana quasi-legalized in many places, but not fully legalized, and so when a marijuana seller is victimized by a real criminal, they can't call the police and complain. Right? So, clearly, ending the criminalization of drugs in this way and putting people in a safer position, where they feel calling the cops will not basically make themselves suspect or possibly arrested, will definitely be a key step forward.

DEAN BECKER: I think you're right. Now, Ethan, I know we're running out of time here, I want to bring up something.


DEAN BECKER: The -- I'm going to mention Law Enforcement Action Partnership, formerly Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Americans for Safe Access, the list goes on, these are not all exactly founded by the DPA [sic: SSDP and ASA were founded before DPA was incorporated], but they have been supported and embraced, and encouraged to grow over the years.

It feels good to have those stepchildren, does it not?

ETHAN NADELMANN, PHD: Well, I'll tell you something, I mean, the way I thought about there's, like, four major types of organizations working out there.

One are basically issue specific organizations, like ASA working on medical marijuana, like Harm Reduction Coalition working on harm reduction. The old North American Syringe Exchange Network, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Rick Doblin's MAPS, working on the psychedelics issue.

You have all these issue specific organizations that are doing spectacular work, some quite successfully, some growing quite successfully. So that's one group.

The second type are the geographically specific ones. You have state drug policy reform organizations in different states or communities around the county, right? There's a New York group, there's a Connecticut, there's a group in this state and that state, some are working on just some issues, some working across the board, but you know the old saying, you know, that, you know, all politics is local, and think global, act local?

Well, that's really true. When people ask me how to get involved in drug policy reform, I say, educate yourself as much as possible, but then get engaged locally.

The third type of group are different constituencies. Students for drug policy reform, SSDP. Law enforcement, that's LEAP, that you just mentioned. Clergy against the drug war, doctors against the drug war, each of these constituency based groups also playing a role in terms of educating their own: cops, students, what have you.

And then lastly, you have the Drug Policy Alliance and some much smaller organizations that are taking the whole thing, looking for the opportunities to end the drug war more broadly, still trying to build something resembling an allied and conscious drug policy reform movement, because ultimately that's the way change is going to happen.

And I think, Dean, with that, I need to sign off. But, it's been wonderful talking with you, and I look forward to doing it again, and to seeing you at the Drug Policy Alliance biennial in St. Louis this fall.

DEAN BECKER: Well, real good, Ethan. Please, one last question, sir.


DEAN BECKER: I think the majority of people -- cops, citizens, everybody, knows the truth, enough of the truth of this matter, the drug war is failing, but they're afraid to talk. Give them a little impetus to stand up and do their part, please.

ETHAN NADELMANN, PHD: Well, look, I mean, ultimately, people have legitimate fears about speaking out when they may be at risk of being fired for it, at risk of being ostracized, you know, by neighbors and people who belong to associations to which they belong, but ultimately, you know, we all have an obligation not just to learn and understand the truth, but to speak truth, and ultimately to speak truth to power.

And so, you know, one has to find a way to do that. I've seen people who kept their views secret for many, many years, and then finally found the moment or opportunity where they felt compelled, or they felt safe, to speak out.

Sometimes it's just on one piece of the drug war. But I think, you know, more and more people are finding that courage.

It's a lot like the way people were hidden about their homosexuality, either their own or family members', and as more and more people found the courage to speak out, and, you know, as images change, as the media played a new role, the entertainment media, what have you, you know, basically, more and more people became comfortable to the point where this has become less and less an issue.

We're seeing that increasingly now around the use of marijuana, and even around the use of psychedelics. So I think it's about coming out about one's own personal life if one can, one's own views. Things have changed a lot, I mean, it's very different now than it was in the late '80s, early '90s, when I was getting started and when there was a culture of fear, and a sort of, you know, a drug war that I've described as McCarthyism on steroids.

We really have come a long way. We have to make sure we keep going and things don't roll backwards, as they did back in the '80s.

DEAN BECKER: If you'd like to learn more about the Drug Policy Alliance, just go to DrugPolicy.org. I understand Ethan's headed to Portugal to attend the International Harm Reduction Conference. Hope to hear some good things from that event.

I guess, to be fair, after that interview I should play something in support of eternal wars.

He’s the Drug Czar,
Wages an eternal war
On free will.

He knows all,
The Drug Czar knows all.
He’s in charge of the truth
So he tells nothing but lies.

He professes such great sorrow
For the thousands of his minions who died.

He’s the Drug Czar
Waging his eternal war
On our free will.

All right, as I indicated at the start of the show, we'll have more from the Florida gathering of the Patients Out of Time, but I want to say this, there's a group that funded many of the events, many of the locales where they were able to hold this conference, and they were the high bidders on all the paintings and the marijuana tin canisters from the federal patients, et cetera. I want to share an interview I did with their spokesman,

CHRISTOPHER WHITENER: Christopher Whitener, executive director of MagicalButter.com.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Christopher, we're here at the thirteenth Patients Out of Time conference, it's a gathering of knowledgeable folks, folks who have been at this for a long time, and have delved deep into the cannabis product and its potentials. Tell us about Magical Butter. What's it about?

CHRISTOPHER WHITENER: Well, thank you for your time. Really honored to be here at the Patients Out of Time conference, and Magical Butter's been a longtime supporter of Patients Out of Time, and patients in general.

We provide people with the essential tools they need to be successful in the kitchen. In 2012, Garyn Angel invented the Magical Butter machine. It's a countertop appliance similar to an immersion blender combined with a slow cooker.

It's microprocess controlled, it's simple, you just put your herbs in there, you need to decarboxylate your botanicals and combine them with either butter, cooking oils, or you can make tinctures and lotions.

Once you have your measured ingredients, you select the temperature, and the time, and the machine is going to heat up, mix, stir, grind, and extract, and leave you with an infused butter or oil.

We have a full line of accessories that help make that process easy, from extraction to infusion to baking. And you can make fully extracted cannabis oils, coconut oils, butters, and topical skin lotions easily at home.

DEAN BECKER: Sounds amazing, truthfully. Now, I went by your table and there were several accessories, I guess, if you will, that look like maybe they work in the freezer or in the fridge or something. Tell us about some of those accessories, please.

CHRISTOPHER WHITENER: Yes, so, you may have noticed we have several different molds and trays. A butter tray that gives you perfectly measured ingredients. When you pour your infused butter in there, you're going to have tablespoon amounts, and when it comes time to use that in your daily diet or recipes, it makes it real easy to measure.

We also have a full line of candy trays. They're simple silicone molds that enable people to make candies and treats very easily. They're marked with a 21 and up emblem, and that's to protect people who are not adults and also so people will understand that it is a medicated treat, and not just a standard candy.

We also have a set of silicone spatulas, and a silicone box that is made to go inside your oven, comes complete with a thermometer, and this is going to help in the decarboxylation process to make sure you're not overheating your herbs. Overheating it can degrade the potency in the activated compounds.

DEAN BECKER: Now, this has been on the market for quite some time. You guys seem to be doing quite well. I saw your Magical Butter mobile last night, out in the front of the hotel. Tell us about that vehicle, what's its purpose, how is it serving your company?

CHRISTOPHER WHITENER: Well, that's the Magical Butter limousine, and it's been there since the beginning. Not only does it serve as transportation that looks cool, but it's a moving billboard, and we've driven the limousine across the country three different times.

We've taken part in, you know, patient activism, traveling from Washington state to Washington, DC, and now the limousine is used for private use, but it also makes for a great area for business meetings.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I'm sure it does at that. Chris, I appreciate your time, I appreciate the work you guys are carving out there at Magical Butter. And, you know, across the country, there are folks, old folks like me who smoked Marlboros for way too long, can hardly choke down anything, let alone some cannabis.

But, edibles are the way to go for us old folks. Wouldn't you think?

CHRISTOPHER WHITENER: You know, yes, I would say so. It's a way that's healthy and it's not going to have any harsh side effects that smoking or vaporizing could cause.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well, Chris, thank you for your time. Share your website one more time, for the listeners.

CHRISTOPHER WHITENER: Yeah, for all the listeners out there looking to check us out, go to www.MagicalButter.com. Thank you so much to Pacifica Radio, and thank you Dean for your time.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Responsible for countless overdose deaths, uncounted diseases, international graft, greed, and corruption, stilted science, and immense un-Christian moral postulations of fiction as fact. Time's up! And this drug is the United States' immoral, improper, bigoted, unscientific, and plain f'ing evil addiction to drug war.

All approved by the FDA, absolved by the American Medical Association, and persecuted by Congress, the cops, and in obeyance to the needs of the bankers, the pharmaceutical houses, and the international drug cartels. Five hundred fifty billion dollars a year can be very addicting.

I guess we've got to wrap it up, but as you heard with my discussion with Ethan, I was talking about probably never see legal weed in the state of Texas, but there's a chance, a strong chance we'll see legal hemp being grown in the great fields around Hempstead, Texas, and maybe even in my back yard. Heck of it is, hemp is good stuff, hell it will help you quit tobacco cigarettes, calm you down, is the way I understand it, and it shouldn't cost very dang much.

Again I've got to remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag, I urge you to please, my friends, be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network. Archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. And we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.