10/17/23 Ethan Nadelmann

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Ethan Nadelmann
Drug Policy Alliance

Ethan Nadelmann, founder of Drug Policy Alliance premiers new podcast: PSYCHOACTIVE on I Heart and other outlets. Ethan and DTN host Becker discuss the podcast, overdose deaths, new US Drug Czar and much more

Audio file

DEAN BECKER: (00:01)
I am the Reverend Dean Becker keeper of the moral high ground in the drug war for the world. And this is cultural baggage.

DEAN BECKER: (00:15)
This October is going to make 20 years that I've been on the airwaves of America on my drug truth network and Pacific radio, but I'm proud to have competition just a couple of weeks ago. I was on Michael Krawitz', show a podcast, if you will. And, uh, there's some new competition that's airing today. The day we're recording this show, there's a new show that's being put out thru I heart radio. It's called Psychoactive. It features my good friend, a man, a mentor, an associate, an ally of drug reform. Mr. Ethan Nadelmann.

Hi Dean, its good to back on, back on your show.

DEAN BECKER: (00:59)
Thank you Ethan. Let's tell the folks a little bit, uh, you were one of the founders of the drug policy Alliance. You served them for, well, I think 20 years or more to tell us a little bit about that past..

And Dean, let me say, I don't really regard this as competition. I see this as complimentary because I think what you've been doing for the last 20 years in terms of, uh, just interviewing really everybody involved in drug policy reform, you know, building out well, I mean, it's not just what you're doing in, in the current day and being available today, but it will, as I've said before, really stand as the leading oral archives of this movement. I mean, so you are making a significant contribution to the, to the future history of drug policy reform as well. And for that, for that, um, I'm very grateful. Um, so for, for me, basically men, as you know, Dean, I first got involved in this issue almost 40 years ago. You know, it began as a graduate student at Harvard writing a dissertation on the internationalization of policing and drug enforcement.

You know, back in the mid eighties, I got a security clearance to the state department. I interviewed DEA agents all around Latin American Europe. I wrote a book cops across borders and other book, um, uh, police in the globe with Peter Andreas. Um, but in 87, you know, 87, 88, I started speaking out at the height of the drug war. I was then a professor at Princeton and you know, was involved, uh, with Arnold Trebeck and Kevin's EES when they were founding the drug policy foundation in 87, 88, joined their board, helped organize their conferences. Um, and then, you know, 92 had the good fortune to get that phone call from George Soros, inviting me to lunch. We hit it off. I left Princeton. I started what was first known as the Lindesmith center, which was the drug policy project to the open society foundation. And then in 96, got deeply involved in, um, the, basically the ballot initiative work, you know, at first we could prop two 15, the California medical marijuana initiative, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

You know, where there had been an initiative drafted by local activists in San Francisco. And I was able to come in and raise the money and turn into professional campaign and win that. Um, and then, you know, in 2000, uh, drug policy foundation had fallen on hard times. I was spinning my Lindesmith center out of open society foundation, Soros and foundation, and merged it 21 years ago into the drug policy Alliance, which then emerged over the following years as you know, far and away, the leading drug policy form organization, not just in the U S but around the world, but anyway, that's what I've been doing. And then as you know, cause you interviewed me four years ago, uh, actually six years ago, back in 2015, I I, 2016, I decided to step aside. I announced that in 2017 and in may of 2017, I did step down as head of DPA and proceeded to take life very easy for the last four years.

You know, you know, playing a little advisory role mentoring role here and there with some of the younger activists, including my successors at DPA, getting a fairly engaged in one semi new issue for me, the fight over e-cigarettes and tobacco harm reduction. Uh, but then an opportunity emerged, uh, last year, uh, you know what I left EPA four years ago, I actually thought the first thing I thought I wanted to do was to do a podcast. Does it seem to me no, you know, no responsibilities, which was nice after being responsible for an organization that had grown to be 75 people, uh, you know, no scheduled time things like not like teaching a course or doing a radio show, I could do it, you know, whenever I wanted to do it, but none of the right opportunities kind of emerged. And then last year, the right opportunity did a Merage, which is why I'm happy to be launching psychoactive today.

DEAN BECKER: (04:57)
Well, thank you for that. history as I asked for and thank you for that. Again, folks, we're speaking with Mr. Ethan Nadelmann, uh, uh, some folks will call this man the godfather of drug policy reform. And I won't refute that. I think there is a lot of truth in that, uh, thought. Um, the, I, I, I was thinking of the Beatles song. It was 20 years ago today. Sergeant pepper taught the band to play and it was Ethan Nadelmann that taught all us activists how to play, how to get involved, how to be part of making this change happen. And I, on behalf of all of those folks, and I don't think I'm stepping too far out of bounds in thanking you for having made that happen, uh, that education, that, uh, funding that support that, uh, just the idea that there's somebody else that thinks this way. And it's okay to say these words out loud because back when we, when I was beginning and, and certainly when you were starting out, the L word was, uh, a particular concern, uh, then many people did not want to use legalization in their speeches. Your thought, dear

Sir. Oh yeah. I mean, I mean, you know, I mean, Dean, I think part of my journey on this thing, you know, was how to deal with that word as we proceeded because in the early years that word was used by our opponents to basically disparage all of the incremental reforms we were trying to do, you know, we would try to do medical marijuana and they go, you want to legalize all drugs. We would tie it needle exchange. We would try to roll back hard sentencing. And they would instantly, you know, um, you know, attack us on that. And so I always had a, uh, you know, I was always, and because I've always been focused, you know, it's not just about putting out the right arguments, it's about being sophisticated about our communication strategies and our languaging. And so I would generally try to oftentimes avoid the word legalization in the late eighties and into the nineties, you know, but I remember when the first big pieces I wrote was in a conservative journal called the public interest.

It's no longer around, but it was one of the leading third policy journals. And I remember they wanted to call my piece, the case for legalization. And I said, don't do that because I'm not a libertarian legal ISER and it's gonna, it's going to make it seem like an extreme ideological, uh, you know, sentiment. And they said, well, he said, if you're not willing to give it that title, we're not gonna publish it. So it came out in as the case for legalization. When I published a piece in science, the following year in 89, you know, I focused on drug prohibition. I prefer to put drug prohibition in the title because I wanted that phrase of drug prohibition, which almost nobody used back. Then people use legalization, they didn't use the phrase prohibition. It was like we were getting ahead of ourselves, you know, and I wanted to, I wanted to really get that phrase of drug prohibition much more out in popular discourse.

And so I feel very good about the way they drug prohibition has become a much bigger part of, of the language of the recognition. And I thought it was important to use that phrase prohibition both because what really, for two reasons, I mean, what does it made the analogy to alcohol prohibition? And it got people to appreciate all the consequences, all the ways in which, what was wrong with the drug war was mostly a result of the failures of drug prohibition. Not of not a drugs per se. Right. Um, so I think there was that element. And then obviously, I mean, I'll tell you the, I remember there was a point must have been early two thousands maybe. And we were doing some, I was looking at all the different polls around marijuana legalization, and I saw that it must've been 20 years ago. So, and I thought that if you ask people, do you want to legalize marijuana, you got 30% support.

Then if you ask, do you support making marijuana legal, right. Dropping that hard XE and legalize, it went up to 35%. And then if you said, how about treating marijuana like alcohol will tax and regulate and control it and try to keep kids away. It went to 40%, right? So the same basic idea, but the language we used, um, really, you know, shifted public opinion. Now, ultimately the media was going to do what it was going to do, you know, but even I, in fact, one of the things I would oftentimes do on the languaging in the earlier years, I would use the word legalize in talking about medical marijuana, because to support for medical marijuana was already so strong that it could carry the negatives of the word legalized, like, oh, okay. But I would avoid using the word legalized, although you couldn't totally avoid it in talking about broader adult use legalization. Right. I would try to use, make it legal and prohibition tax and regulate or whatever. Now, fortunately we are in a day and age when two thirds of Americans say, yeah, let's legalize weed. And so I see that as a mark of our success, a real mark of our success,

DEAN BECKER: (09:57)
Chuck Schumer is going to put forward a bill in the Senate to decriminalize marijuana. Now, I, you mentioned legalized versus incremental, and I am an extreme legalizer. I hate incrementalism. I think, you know that, um, we own the moral high ground. I did a whole campaign on that, that we, we have nothing to be ashamed of and we should have just claim it and demand they defend their policy. But that's a whole other story, but I guess the point is Schumer is now wanting to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. Let's talk about that.

Yeah. I mean, listen, I mean, to me, there's no alternative incrementalism. I mean, I know, but I hate it. I hear you, but you know, you've heard me say the line, you know, there is no Berlin wall of drug prohibition to be torn down. There is no 18th amendment of drug prohibition to be repealed by the 21st amendment. Right. It's basically we have that, that proceeding and making sure, you know, one of the key things about having a kind of a long-term strategy is making sure that as we support and move forward, invest resources, the incremental steps that we're always taking a next step forward because there's some risks. I mean, we had some allies in the criminal justice world, you know, who saw the early versions of drug courts as good things, but those were oftentimes two steps forward and three or four steps backward.

So I think there were people in the early years, I remember it back in 25 years ago, there were people who, um, who supported marijuana legalization and oppose medical marijuana because they thought it would undermine support for legalization by, by skimming off the most sympathetic victims of marijuana prohibition. And conversely, there were people who were wanting to legalize medical marijuana among the activists who are hostile, their broader marijuana legalization. So, you know, for me, it was always about pursuing both incremental Strat and also keeping the longtime strategy in mind now with respect to Schumer's bill. I mean, first of all, he's, co-sponsored it Cory Booker, who's been a long champion and Ron wa Cory Booker from New Jersey, Ron Wyden from, um, from Oregon, uh, you know, Schumer's my Senator in New York. I know him slightly for many years. Um, you know, he was always quite a drug warrior, you know, kind of like the Diane Feinstein, uh, Joe Biden ill.

Right. But he also, unlike them was always softer on marijuana. I remember. So my conversations with him, you know, he never, I don't know whether it was cause he smoked when he was younger or he just got it. Was it here? You got a guy who is the Senate majority leader. I mean, it's hard to imagine having a busier job in Chuck Schumer these days, you know, they're trying to get the major economic reinvestment packages in. He's trying to figure out the voting rights bill. I mean, they're dealing with all this stuff and yet it feels like he told one of his aids, make sure you get a half an hour on my calendar every week to talk about the marijuana legalization bill. And I think he realized it is a win, win, win, win, win for him first because it's very popular in New York, we just legalized and he's got to watch out for a challenge from the left, you know, AOC and others are very popular.

So for him, it, it takes that piece. It does have a racial justice part. It's got overwhelming support from Democrats nationally and in the house of representatives, right? It even now has majority support among Republicans coming from a, either a small business perspective, a libertarian perspective. You saw the states that legalized in the last election included red states, you know, like South Dakota and Montana. And I am purple state like Arizona. And then of course, Mississippi, you know, very red legalizing medical marijuana who understands it, puts the Republicans a bit on the defensive. Some of the Republicans who come from states that have legalized marijuana are ambivalent about the whole thing, right? So I think, and by and large it's good public policy. It's good smart public policy. So I think he's very right to be out front on this issue.

DEAN BECKER: (13:49)
Thank you for that. Ethan. Now, another new, um, an adjacent story. Um, we're going to have a new drugs are, uh, here in a few days, a new head of the ONDCP, Correct?

We are, we are, we are going to have one on, you know, I'll tell you there was a very thoughtful piece of validate you only online journal filter. I really think it's probably the best online publication out there right now covering, you know, the drug war and harm reduction it's called filter founded by will Godfrey. Um, and there's a piece in it, um, by Zach seagull interviewing people in our world about what they think of Guppta. And they're basically focusing on the potential upsides here. I mean, people are concerned, you know, he was the West Virginia Senator Joe, mansion's a nominee because Guppta had been the, uh, the, uh, the head of the public health program in West Virginia. You know, he did do some good things on the overdose stuff and harm reduction and he did some bad stuff. He's he seems to be pretty and aware. Um, I think he said the right things on marijuana, but I'm not positive on. So, you know, at this point I'm kind of whole holding judgment on

DEAN BECKER: (15:02)
It. Thank you for that. And yeah, it is a bit early to assess much on the new guy at Ghouta. I want to remind folks we're, uh, speaking with Mr. Ethan Nadelmann he's, uh, the founder former head of the drug policy Alliance. He's going well today. He's starting a brand new, a podcast psychoactive and among the many guests he's going to have, um, you're, you're going to have president Obama. I, it looks like

No not Obama yet. That's one of my dreams I'd love to get Obama on. I'd love to get bill Clinton. I know I have the one former, I have former president of Columbia, one Daniel Santos right there for eight years and just stepped down a couple of years ago and won the Nobel peace prize for his efforts to resolve the civil war in Columbia with the farm. And I had a great contract. I mean, I've already prerecorded about over a dozen of the episodes. So this morning, the first two went up. Well, I did an opening monologue about 10 minutes, and then the first two episodes over the Dr. Andy Wile, you know, who's really the guru of integrative medicine. Um, but really is known to all of us for his wonderful writing. You know, his early books back in the seventies and eighties and natural mind from chocolate to morphine, the marriage of the sending the moon, his articles on all aerospace of drugs is pioneering research on marijuana use back 50 years ago.

So Andy and Andy, somebody who I've known since 1987, he wasn't just an intellectual influence to me. He was also played a major role in my personal life. I mean, as a kind of defacto doctor to me when I went through a very difficult time in the early nineties. Um, so that one's the first episode up and also up today. Um, you know, it was July 15th, uh, James Foreman, who is the Yale law professor, um, who wrote a book called locking up our own, uh, that won the Pulitzer prize for nonfiction three years ago. And it's about the, really the debate within the black community in this case, Washington DC, over the drug war. I mean, he was a guy who clerked for the Supreme court Sandra Day O'Connor and a little like Obama, you know, instead of going straight to some big shot, other job, he decided to become a public defender in DC the same way Obama had become a community organizer and, you know, not on the other way. And he's there saying that, you know, his work as a public defender is like, you know, the next step of the civil rights movement, but meanwhile, confronting all of this black community support and black leadership support for the drug war. And he wrote this very, really insightful and courageous book about what was going on there. So we had a great conversation. So those two are up today. Um,

DEAN BECKER: (17:41)
Another, uh, Pulitzer, winner James Foreman, Jr. Uh, oh, that's what you're just talking about. Uh, Dr. Nora Volkow, that's what I was wanting to say, director of the national Institute on drug abuse. Now she was an enemy or it felt like she was an enemy for a long time, but she's moving.

I got to tell you, man, I was very surprised at Nora Volkow said, yes. I mean, of all the people as they guest to me, I was really surprised because I've been highly critical of her at [inaudible], you know? Um, and she said just, I mean, look, I think, why did she say us? I don't know. It may just be because the times are changing because the Biden administration is finally using the language of harm reduction because marijuana is now basically legal, um, because the racial justice issue is, um, front and center. At this time, she just came out with a, uh, a port piece supporting decriminalization of drug possession, although with a fairly conservative definition of decriminalization, but she came on, I did grill her pretty hard. You know, I also you'd get a kick out of this one B I started off by pointing out that she is now, she's been head of night and national center for drug abuse for 18 years.

So the only federal, the only body who ever served longer and a federal senior federal drug control position, I believe was Harry Anslinger, you know, for 32 years, federal bureau narcotics from the founding in 1930 till he stepped down and 62, but I grilled her on a lot of things like why is she spending a fortune on all this brain disease stuff, which, you know, isn't, hasn't really produced very much as yet, and just seems a huge waste right now when we're dealing with an overdose epidemic. You know, I asked her whether or not supporting the really deep seated ethnic graphic work on that would really help us deal with the overdose phenomenon. I asked why you should not some really supporting research on psychedelics and the treatment of, of drug addiction, except for a couple of studies involving ketamine. I asked why she's not looking, why don't they do more work looking at how the majority of people who use drugs responsibly and don't have a problem with them?

Why is it all about abuse, abuse, abuse? So I gave her a pretty tough time, but she was very gracious. Um, and I did find places to compliment her on things where I think she has done well and played an important role. I think she's been good on, on the issues around, uh, drug treatment, methadone buprenorphine, trying to make that more available behind bars. I think I, you know, I saw even in the early years for testifying before Congress and standing up very strongly for the evidence on needle exchange to reduce HIV aids. So, you know, she she's, she's had her moments and I want her to be sure to praise her on for some of those things.

DEAN BECKER: (20:20)
Well, and that's kind of my objective when I interview the other side is to find ways to compliment them, to find means of connection to, hopefully to where they'll come back

To practice for the, to get a sense of how to do the bulk cat one. Cause she's the only person I really interviewed yet, um, who is really more on the other side. And what I do is I listened to David Axelrod's PAG podcast episode with the Congresswoman Liz Cheney, uh, just to see, you know, how he interviewed, I mean, you know, she obviously show quite a lot of courage and stepping up, you know, and the whole Trump thing and January 6th, but I mean, I wanted to get a sense of how he did it, you know, with somebody on this side. So, so that, that, that was a good one. I'll tell you what some of the people, the guests, you know, um, you know, some of these guests, I overwhelmingly agree. And so there I feel with my, my, my job is, is to really challenge them, um, on stuff, you know, uh, uh, I'll give you one example.

I had probably the, one of the most brilliant people, if not the most on the issue of e-cigarettes and tobacco harm reduction is this British expert, Clyde bakes, who headed a leading anti-smoking organization his day, but who's just brilliant and provocative. But what I did is I pulled up the entire list of what would be the most critical or hostile questions he would be asked by the folks who oppose harm-reduction the people being paid by Bloomberg and all these others. And so, you know, I mean, I think that's part of my job as a, you know, as a, you know, as an interviewer, you know, you know, unfortunately I have very much of a kind of devil's advocate kind of personality by nature. So I think, I think it's well, in that regard,

DEAN BECKER: (22:04)
One of the other breaking news stories, the highest number of overdoses ever in these United States, 93,331 up 30% from last year, 69,710 from opioids alone. And I think it was Nora Volkow had mentioned something to the effect that, uh, they're finding larger numbers of those dying from fentanyl mixed into the cocaine. You're responding. There is no logic to this drug war. That's where I come from. We own that god damned moral high ground, and we got to stop pussyfooting foot. And your response,

I agree a hundred percent, you know, I mean, hopefully these numbers will drop a lot now that you know, the cause the pandemic obviously had a big impact. You know, I mean, often the people were, were more likely to use a loan, which means there was no way for somebody to help him out, give him the watch or whatever. Um, part of it was people were losing their jobs. There was a lot of despair, you know, programs that could help people were shutting down because of the pandemic. So hopefully we'll see that number drops substantially this year, but then you see stuff like, you know, why is, um, you know, why is fentanyl, you know, an opioid very powerful opioid showing up in cocaine and methamphetamine. And you know, what argument will be like if the modern day speedball, you know, like old cocaine and heroin was, but there also appears to be a lot of like, uh, it appears a lot of dealers don't even know what they're cutting their drugs with.

And a lot of consumers don't know, and there's not all that much opportunity for checking your drugs the way they had in some European countries and such. And so, you know, one reason I'm very critical of Niagara is I think, and I said this actually in, in, uh, I testified before the Senate a few ago before the Homeland security committee, it was actually Ron Johnson, Wisconsin, Senator, who is ooze chairing it. And I said, you know, what, what we really need is an army here, but we need an army of ethnography, like hitting the field and doing what's called snowball, interviewing, interviewing drug users, people injecting drugs and drug dealers and trying to figure out what's going on. We need to know, you know, when people hear there's Federalist supply, are they going, looking for it? Are they running away from it? What, what precautions are they taking?

We need to know from the, the retail dealers, like, are they cutting it or is it getting cut at higher levels? And if so, do they know what they're doing? And cetera, and what kind of, you know, machine and machinery do they have for dealing with this substance, which is potent, it's such infant testimo amounts. You know, I mean, so, so I, I just think, uh, you know, I mean, you're right, like you look at the closest thing we have to legalization now is probably what, you know, British Columbia is doing unsafe supply. Basically try to put this idea here that if you use these drugs, don't take them from the black market, get them from a safe source. And I think that's where we need to be headed as well and all this sort of stuff. So I think, you know, it's not just America's particular socioeconomic crises with both kind of, you know, both poor people, both of color and white, where you see this really it's really a class issue here. Um, and that actually, it's not just class. You got a lot of, I know a lot of wealthy people whose kids have died from an overdose, quite frankly. Um, but I mean, it, you know, there's something wrong in America. That's creating this problem. Some of that's a broader problem. Some of that is just about ideology and stupidity on the policy level.

DEAN BECKER: (25:23)
Well, there it is. And that's what I'm saying. You mentioned there's no Berlin wall. There is the morals of this drug war. They can be exposed, they can be knocked down and that's where I am these days. But anyway, we got to wrap it up. Friends. We're speaking with Mr. Ethan Nadelmann, he's got a brand new, uh, uh, podcast called, uh, psychoactive it's, uh, it's, uh, premiering today. This is a Thursday when we're recording this, you can catch it out there on iHeart radio. Um, it may be Eastern will give us some more details on how to get involved, but I want to close this out with one more question for you, sir, you were talking about, you had interviewed the former president of Columbia, Juan Manuel Santos. He got that Nobel prize for helping to solve that situation in Colombia, but as with everything drug war related, it goes in cycles. And Columbia is now once again, and with the United States, quote, help is thinking about spraying that, that Monsanto product on the crops down there. And anyway, just repeating the whole thing

Again. Yeah, Dean, I mean, I would say, well, first of all, listen to my podcast, psychoactive, you can listen to it almost on all the major channels. It'll be on Spotify. It's on apple, it's iHeart radio. I mean, almost any places. People listen to podcasts, they can find, they can find it there and they can as an 800 number or 8, 8, 8 number, whatever, and an email address to send comments and such, you know, with respect to Columbia, you know, Santos was really brave and strategic and pushing that through, you know, his successor has not been as committed to the peace agreement. He's a little more on the drug war. Ilk Santos got elected as a bit of a drug warrior, but really turned, did a 180 and became very much, you know, a promoter, uh, you know, of drug policy reform. He's now serving on the global commission on drug policy. Hopefully they will. I mean, Columbia is dealing with massive problems now, huge protests, you know, growing poverty, a bad his time with COVID. And meanwhile, they got, you know, the peace agreement at some risk of breaking down and the government talking about wanting to be spraying crops, which is not gonna help anything. It's why Santos decided to stop doing it years ago. So hopefully, uh, we'll have to see what happens next there. But I think people in Columbia are really feeling it a semi desperate situation,

DEAN BECKER: (27:40)
Thank you for your time, Ethan, I wish you great success with your new podcast Psychoactive.

Dean part of Psychoactive is I have the folks I'm working with are helping to get some of these big, you know, like people like Tim Ferris, the podcast host, who's going to millions, Dan Savage, the columnists, you know, and these are people not normally on drug policy, uh, you know, high cast and stuff like that. So, so I'm getting some of those and I'm going to try to be mixing in more. So a few of the people that you would also be kind of interviewing, you know, like I did interview the head of DPA's New York office who led the New York mayor marijuana legalization effort, listen more, you know, I did interview Elia step or the Columbia professor. Who's doing research on ketamine and psychedelics. So it's going to be a mix of the famous, the political, the celebrity, the activist, the efforts, the researchers, you know, it's really going to be mixing the whole thing and just trying to have as much fun with it as I can. Thank

DEAN BECKER: (28:33)
You for listening to this edition of cultural baggage out. And again, want to thank Ethan Nadelmann. He's always a very kind to share his time. It's up to you though. You have to help in this drug war, you have to speak up, educate yourself. There's more than 8,000 radio shows available@drugtruth.net Hannigan. I remind you because of prohibition. You don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.