05/20/09 - Ethan Nadelmann

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance + Afghan Army use of hashish estimated at 75% per Guardian report

Audio file

Cultural Baggage, May 20, 2009

Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

It’s not only inhumane it is really fundamentally un-American….. ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’ ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’ ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’ ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’

My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

Hello my friends, welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I am happy to have with us once again the Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Mr. Ethan Nadelmann. Hello, sir.

Ethan Nadelmann: Hi Dean, how are you?

Dean Becker: Good to have you with us today Ethan. I know you understand the need to share information, the need for us to educate ourselves and to move forward in regard to this drug war, right?

Ethan Nadelmann: Oh, of course. Public education in the end is, you know we're working to try do is change the public consciousness around this and a lot of people have a lot of fears about what it means to relax the government's prohibitions on these drugs. I think people need reassurance, they need to understand that what we're talking about, ending drug prohibition in America. What we're talking about is a more responsible policy that will not just reduce the corruption, crime and violence, but also help make people safer.

Dean Becker: You know, Ethan, this past weekend I was at a little seminar here in Houston for a bunch of defense attorneys learning about drug detection dogs. When it was over, I was talking to several of them, and they understand every aspect of this, you know.

You tell them, "I want to destroy the cartels, I want to eliminate the reason for these gangs, et cetera..." And they say, "I can agree with you..." But what it really boiled down to for some of them, I feel, was their thought that they had a proclivity to use, that they somehow would themselves be trapped. I think that's kinda the...

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, it's funny. When you see the surveys and polls, when people are asked, would you use cocaine if it were legal? And something like 98 or 96 percent of people say no. And of the 2 to 4 percent who say yes, many of them already are anyway, right?

Dean Becker: Yeah...

Ethan Nadelmann: So I think that there is this sense, it's not so much that people are worried that they themselves will go out and become addicts if somehow there is no longer a criminal prohibition on this stuff. It's more that they worry about other people that they know, or they worry about their children, or grandchildren, or what have you.

And so I think that's a bit of the disconnect. And I think also when you are talking to the people, whether it's in law enforcement or the people with the drug sniffing dogs in the schools, or the people pushing random suspicion-less drug testing of all kids or all this.

I think also that there's this conviction that somehow if you only squeeze people hard enough, if you only, you know, expose them, chase after them, if you deter them, if you only just get tough enough on people, that they will stop using those damn drugs and maybe just stop being a drug user and just use the legal ones.

And I think that other mindset is the one that's really beginning to fade now, but it's not going to disappear, it's never going to disappear. And I think it's that tug-of-war with that mindset that we're really in right now.

Dean Becker: You know, you're getting all kinds of exposure these days. People from all kinds of media are calling upon you for your knowledge, your expertise. One of the more recent ones, at least in a major publication, the New York Times just a couple of days ago, Legalization, Now for the Hard Question. I asked Michael Winerip to be our guest with us today but I never did hear anything back. I felt like he looked at, he took a pretty good snapshot, but then he didn't allow it to be exposed properly, he didn't quite understand.

Ethan Nadelmann: You know, I think, remember the column that Michael Winerip writes in the New York Times is a Baby Boomer column and I think that given his readership, I have to say, I would have been surprised if Michael had come out fully, you know, on my side of this thing. I think he, it was a fair-minded interview. I think he put my arguments in a positive light.

He actually had his son, teenage or twenty-something son, you know, verifying what I had said, that young people find it easier today to buy marijuana than to buy alcohol. I think the fellow he had on the other side, the who wrote the best selling book about his son's methamphetamine addiction. Even that fellow who obviously has a trauma around marijuana because that's where his kid started — even that fellow said that he's ambivalent about legalization and he's convinced it should be treated as a health issue.

So, I would have liked to have seen Michael Winerip hit some of the key points. I would have to seen him put the point that, you know, when he was smoking pot back in the sixties and seventies, marijuana arrest levels were half what they are now and that his kids would be at much greater risk of getting arrested. I would have liked to have see him make the point that his kids have relatively less risk of arrest compared to a lot of young black and brown teenagers, you know, African-American, Hispanic, who are much more at risk.

You know, I would have liked to have seen him make the point that, as he said, he struggled with alcohol problems with his teenagers but that marijuana is relatively less damaging and less risky for young people. So there's a bunch of things I think he could have said, but when all is said and done, when you consider this was a popular column, written in the New York Times Style section for Baby-Boomer parents, I think he did a pretty good job.

Dean Becker: Again, he had a little bit of that disconnect we were talking about earlier.

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah

Dean Becker: Just a tad. Okay. Now, Ethan, I don't know how often you get a chance to see the Houston Chronicle, but I would like to go over some stories that have appeared in just the last week: Inspections of Mexico-bound traffic rise but not many guns or much money found. A second one: Former Mexican Drug Czar found to be in bed with the cartels. Fifty cartel members escape from a Mexican prison. And the Zedas now have a secluded ranch in Texas with which to train kidnapping and other such.

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah. Obviously it's a whole series of articles just pointing up to this futility of drug prohibition in Mexico and in the United States generally. I mean, it's like the reporting on Al Capone and pro-alcohol prohibition back during the twenties and early thirties. I mean, it points to the futility of this stuff.

And here we have a black market that in a criminalization approach that was intended to protect people, that has now taken on this voracious life of its own that is now empowering a prison industrial complex that has become a powerful political force in American politics. And I think that the thing that's most unfortunate about the media coverage in the Houston Chronicle and elsewhere is that they still haven't hit the point where they use the word or phraseology of prohibition to refer to the current policies.

These are not drug control policies. They are not controlling anything. These are drug prohibition policies. The violence in Mexico and coming over the border is not drug-related violence. These are not people getting high and killing people. This is prohibition related violence. It is systemic violence, right?

And what's corrupting, the reason the opportunity for corruption is there are not because people want to buy and sell drugs, but because our governments have chosen to treat this as an illegal industry. And so, what I would say, Dean, I believe there was one other story in your local paper recently and that was about the Vice-President of Columbia, Vice-President Santos from Columbia, the current Vice-President who came out last week and said legalization is the only answer. Now that's what I found compelling.

Dean Becker: Well, Ethan you didn't get a chance to hear the first half-hour, I was doing segments from Francisco Santos Calderon making his presentation to the 39th Conference of the Americas.

Ethan Nadelmann: It really is amazing, Dean, I mean, it really is. You have Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, he actually said a little something around legalization when he was in office but quickly shut up but then last week he's right out there saying it. And then last month on one of those Sunday morning talk shows, you know in the US

You have the Mexican ambassador saying we gotta be talking about this. And now, you get the current VP of Columbia. So I am glad that you were covering that in the last half hour, because that really is quite significant. And not least because the president of Columbia, Arrive', has been such a kind of drug warrior, at least on the rhetorical level.

Dean Becker: And I kind of brings to mind, even Schwarzenegger and other politicians around the country are saying, "I'm not for legalization, but it's time to talk about it." I guess it's like those five points you were making in... That Weintrip made in the New York Times. Step one: Bill Clinton, "I smoked but didn't inhale." Al Gore, "I smoked. It was wrong. I regret." Michael Bloomberg, "You bet I did, I enjoyed it." Barack Obama inhaled frequently, that was the point and your thought of public figure to come, yes I smoke the occasional joint.

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah, well, I tell you this. There is something else going on. It's not just that more people are saying let's have a debate,it's also that the media is reporting on it differently and hearing it differently.

So if you go back twenty years ago to when I, or more importantly Kurt Schmoke, the new mayor of Baltimore at the time, started calling for debate on drug legalization. It was instantly characterized in the media as being pro-legalization. They jumped to the conclusion that if you are calling for debate that you must be for it and they weren't making any distinctions.

And what's happening now is that when you see the attorney general of Arizona saying we need a debate, when you see the governor of California saying we need a debate, when you see senator Webb from Virginia saying we need a debate. When you see the former presidents of Latin American and the Drugs and Democracy Commission saying it...

What happens is the media is covering it the way its intended, which is let's open this up, let's have a real debate. And when somebody like the vice president of Columbia says, no let's actually do it, you know, that gets coverage currently too. So there's a greater level of sophistication and nuance in the media coverage right now and I think that's really helping things.

Dean Becker: Once again, we are speaking with Mr. Ethan Nadelmann, Director, Drug Policy Alliance, their website is http://www.drugpolicy.org. Ethan, we're in pledge drive here at KPFT, the mother-ship, and i've got to take just a minute out to berate the listeners.

I know they are enjoying the conversation but we do need to hear from you. We need to have you show your support for the Unvarnished Truth, Cultural Baggage, Century of Lies and all the Drug Truth Network programming. Oh good! They are showing me... we've got some pledges. Oh, I'm not going to have to sing again, Ethan. That's how I punish the non-callers.

Ethan Nadelmann: Oh, my...


Dean Becker: You've not heard that, you haven't been subjected...

Ethan Nadelmann: I think I have been spared that, Dean, but I look forward, I look forward... Maybe when you come to the next International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Albuquerque in November you can perform somewhere.


Dean Becker: Let's talk. That's the first I've heard about it, Ethan. Let's tell the folks about that conference.

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, you know, every two years — this used to be annual event in the late eighties and nineties and it became a biannual starting in 2001. This is the leading gathering in the world of people committed to ending the war on drugs.

You know, it's organized by my organization, the Drug Policy Alliance, but it's co-hosted by a range of others — the ACLU and by SSDP, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and by LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Marijuana Policy Project, and Harm Reduction Coalition, and I think we may be adding Rick Doblin's organization, the [multi psychedelic studies] this year.

So, it's a conference that is pulled together and hosted by some of the leading organizations in the country working on drug law reform. It's co-sponsored with dozens and dozens of other organizations as well. We usually get about a thousand people at these events.

It was in New Mexico in 2001, in Jersey in '03 and Long Beach, California in '05 and New Orleans in '07, and we're going to have leading politicians, leading intellectuals, we're going to have activists, we're going to have researchers, we're going to have — you name it. it's going to be — this is the single best three day crash course in drug policy reform anywhere in the world.

There are going to be trainings for activists on everything from fund-raising to media to internet. There's going to be, you know, high-level intellectual presentations. I think we're going to get, you know, some major, high-level New Mexico politicians there. I just got an email yesterday from Ben Jealous, the new head of the NAACP, he wants to come and speak.

I think it's going to be just an amazing event. People can go to our website, which is http://www.drugpolicy.org and they'll see the big link there right at the top and they should click on that and they'll be able to start registering, I think beginning in June and sending in their ideas for proposals for panels and what have you.

Dean Becker: Ethan, I am looking at another piece that came out May 12th, CBS News, Make Marijuana Legal.

Ethan Nadelmann: Mmhmm.

Dean Becker: Why? Why would we do that?

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, I'll tell you, I felt good about that piece. I feel like sometimes you want to get your argument as tight and honed as you possibly can and I have been making these arguments for over a couple of decades and I felt really good about that piece. They put one of the Baldwin brother actors on the other side and his piece, it was actually great.

It was such a sort of spoof of the alternative argument - I don't think it was intended that way — that I think it just reinforced the way in which the argument for ending marijuana prohibition is so profoundly evidence based: based upon cost-benefit analysis, based upon public health evidence, based upon efficient utilization of criminal justice resources, and ultimately based upon some very core principles about leaving people alone and getting the government out of our property and out of pockets and out of body when it comes to something like using marijuana.

All in all, I find that the arguments in favor of ending marijuana prohibition are just overwhelming. I think that the arguments that fall on the other side, I mean the one you hear most often is, "What about the kids?" That seems to me ridiculous because under the current system — the system we have had for the last few decades — nobody has better access to marijuana than young people.

Routinely, surveys show that 80% plus of young people say they can get marijuana easily and a number of surveys have found that young people say it's easier to buy marijuana than it is to buy alcohol. Nevermind. Then you throw in the whole forbidden fruit factor and the way that can be tempting to kids.

I would say that if we actually moved in the direction of making marijuana legal for adults, my guess is that it would have little to no impact on adolescent use, and that in fact is confirmed by experience in the Netherlands.

I think if anybody was going to use more marijuana because it was legal, it would probably be people, Dean, who are our age group. It's going to be people in their forties, fifties and sixties, some of whom used to smoke, some who didn't, and who actually don't have good access to marijuana anymore, you know, because they are not in those world or those networks. Quite frankly, a lot people at our age group, if they started using marijuana, they would probably be using less booze or less pharmaceutical drugs and would probably in many cases be better off.

Dean Becker: Well, you know, they do find that those people with severe conditions, maladies, diseases, that are often prescribed opioids and pain killers and muscle relaxers and all of these more dangerous drugs that effect your kidneys and your liver and so forth, are able to less of those more dangerous drugs if they just use a little bit of marijuana. It has a symbiotic effect.

Ethan Nadelmann: Mhmm, mhmm, exactly. You [] you can find some counter studies, but by and large, that does seem to be the effect, that does seem to be the effect. I mean, look we all know — there are people who say that marihuana is not addictive, and I just say, I don't buy that, you know, I mean addiction to me is best defined as addiction equals dependence plus problems.

There are people who get dependent upon marijuana, who feel a need to consume it, not just every day, but many times every day and for whom that ends up becoming something of a problem in their life, and that's the definition of addiction. But, that said, the percentage of people who do become addicted is relatively small and the withdrawal symptoms are relatively modest.

There's essentially no association between marijuana use and violent behavior. There is little association with reckless sexual behavior. You should not drive under the influence of marijuana, but it is far less problematic than driving under the influence of alcohol. There has never been an overdose fatality.

Even the heavy marijuana user consumes a lot less burnt particle matter than the average cigarette addict and to our knowledge, there appears to have been virtually no cases of lung cancer ever reported involving people who only smoke marijuana and never touched a cigarette.

So, all of that doesn't mean that marijuana is the best thing in the world for you, it doesn't mean that everybody should go out and do it, it doesn't mean it can't be problematic, but it does mean that we are talking about what may well be the least dangerous psychoactive drug known in human history, and that's not an Ethan Nadelmann quote, that's a quote from the former administrative law judge of the DEA.

Dean Becker: We have just about eight minutes left. We have with us on line now Mr. Ethan Nadelmann, Director, Drug Policy Alliance. Ethan, I am proud of the fact that over the years, the caliber, the quality of the guests who are willing to come on this show has improved - I mean, I've got you on here...

This coming Century of Lies we're going to have Jeffrey Myron, the Harvard professor, to talk about his book, Drug War Crimes. Here in about a week from today, we're bringing on - I don't have my notes, is it David Rosenbloom, the new director of CASA.

Ethan Nadelmann: Yes, he's been the head of Join Together, which is really the outstanding online newsletter in the drug and alcohol field. I and many of my colleagues at the Drug Policy Alliance subscribe to it. I have to say that for something that has been funded by often times fairly strongly anti-drug groups, that Join Together has done a really excellent job in giving fair and ample coverage to what's going on in the drug policy reform world.

I mean, they have covered a lot of the stuff the DPA has been involved in, they cover everything from what Schwarzenegger said to the stuff going on internationally. I strongly recommend that your listeners go and sign up to that Join Together newsletter.

Recently, I am not exactly sure why, Join Together and CASA, the organization founded by Joe Caliphano, merged. So David is now the new head of that, they are having a conference in New York today on the issue of drug addiction and trauma and veterans.

You know, my hope is that organization which has been becoming more research oriented and less political in recent years and it's going to get even better. Joe Caliphano is stepping down, I believe as the executive director, he's still going to be the chair. So I think we are going to see some growing engagement between the work that CASA is doing and the work that DPA and others in drug policy reform are doing.

Dean Becker: I kinda can picture how my interview will go with Jeffrey Myron so perhaps I can take the gloves off a bit for my discussion with Mr. Rosenbloom as well, huh?

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, I think what you are going to find with David is that he is a powerful advocate of prevention and treatment. He is a supporter of evidence-based stuff. I think it will be good for you to sort of push him on some of the issues, because I think what CASA has always been reluctant to do is to really deal with the negative consequences of prohibition. That's been a real failing.

They used to, in the nineties had a major problem because they were affiliated with Columbia and they were publishing stuff that was not being refereed by outside academics, things profoundly political and very [] flawed. They had an affiliation with Columbia University that they were using to promote themselves. So I think that they had to pull back, get some researchers in play.

But I would really push David around these issues, of the consequences of incarceration and of criminalization. I would push him on the bigger marijuana debate. I would push him on how they see themselves contributing in something other the stated mission of awakening Americans to the horrors of drugs.

Dean Becker: OK, good advice. My friends, we are speaking with Ethan Nadelmann, Director of Drug Policy Alliance. Ethan, I have over the years, not as long as you, but I have been able to observe this change. There is much light on the horizon now, am I right?

Ethan Nadelmann: I have to tell you , Dean, I have never seen the momentum like we have right now. There were some moments in the late nineties when it felt promising, but this is really the first time where I feel that the wind's at my back as opposed to being in my face.

I would never have predicted that with all of the major issues on the public agenda right now with the economy, the economic disaster and the markets and the auto industry going under and the environmental stuff and everything Obama's in, and New Mexico, Iran and the whole thing... I would never have predicted that our issue would be getting so much play. And in getting so much play, we've been having all these voices popping up.

You know, the fact of the matter is, I and DPA and others in drug policy reform are playing some roles sometimes behind the scenes in helping make these things pop up. You know, we are working behind the scenes with various commissions and with members of congress and state legislatures. We are pitching the media and framing the stories, so it's not all happening by chance, but it's that combination of increasingly effective advocacy with something happening in the political zeitgeist that is causing people to think anew.

I think it's about the massive state budget deficits in California and many other states. I think it's about the prohibition related violence in Mexico. I think it's about the commitments that Obama made during the campaign and a new democratic leadership that is much more sympathetic to our agenda.

I think it's this pent-up desire to talk about new alternatives after the way in which the Bush administration sort of suppressed any kind of open dialogue. I think it's also being helped by the way in which all sorts of things that have not been talked about for the last eight years, and in some respects, the last twenty or thirty years, are suddenly on the table, not just in the drug policy area but in a host of others.

People want to get real about how we deal with problems we're facing as a society. We want to get real about the environment, we want to get real about the economy, we want to get real about health care, whatever that means to you. We want to get real, we want to have frank discussions.

I think in the drug policy thing, if people feel the same way, then let's get real already. Let's stop throwing tens of billions of dollars down the drain. Let's stop locking up almost two million or arresting almost two million americans a year.

Let's stop chasing a global drug war around the planet while we commit one offense against the environment and human rights after another. That's what people want now and I think that's why we're, we've got this amazing wave we are riding right now.

Dean Becker: You know, Ethan, we're about out of time. I want to bring up something here, you know for the past I think three or four years Terry Nelson with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition has been a regular reporter for us and Terry has once again shown his support for our country and he's back in Iraq again. He's been kinda giving you a close second on that exposure. He's been all over the news and I just wondered about your thoughts about him and LEAP.

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, I tell you, I had gotten a call from John Burnett, National Public Radio a fellow who has covered the drug issue periodically, who wrote... who did some good stuff on Governor John Smith a few years ago.

He was asking me for somebody in Texas and I just gave him Terry's name and I heard he did a great job. I'm hearing only good things about him. He is out there on the front line, both on fighting against the drug war and on defending the nation, trying to do what is best for America. I think he is doing great stuff.

Dean Becker: Me too. Well, I'm going to have to let you go, Ethan. We'll be in touch before this year is over. We've been speaking with Mr. Ethan Nadelmann, the Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Their website http://www.drugpolicy.org. Ten or twenty seconds, Ethan, what have you got to say?

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, Dean, all I have to say is, please, whatever you do, pitch that conference in New Mexico mid-November every opportunity you've got because there is no better place to help build and consolidate a drug policy reform movement than inn the three magical days when everybody comes together there. We gotta get as many people there and especially you being in the Southwest, all the more important to get people into Albuquerque in mid-November.

Dean Becker: Alright, thank you, Ethan.

Ethan Nadelmann: Thanks a lot, Dean.

Come on, I know you can get this one: The use of this drug has gone down considerably over the last two decades. It's time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects! Cancers of the lung, trachea, bronchus, larynx, esophagus, pancreas, kidney, bladder, and cervix. Impotency. 25% of deaths from residential fires. Time's up. The answer: tobacco. Taxed, regulated and in cahoots with the US government.

Well, because we no longer have any reports from Terry Nelson of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, LEAP.cc. We are going to provide you this report from The Guardian newspaper about all the hashish smoking going on in the Afghan army.

US soldier: You're not ready. You don't have a helmet on. He doesn't have a rifle on right now, how is he ready?

This is like having 26 kids that I have to watch after. It really is.

[someone speaking Arabic in the background]

US Soldier: Ready would be on the road, staged, ready to move at 8:30.

I think if they introduced drug testing to the Afghan army, we would lose probably three quarters to maybe eighty or eighty-five percent of the army.

It requires telling them almost thirty times: don't do this, don't do this, don't do this, don't do this, don't do this...

Come on, let's go!

Reporter: Building up Afghanistan's army is one of the mainstays of the US exit strategy from this war. It now stands at around 80,000 soldiers. President Obama recently announced he wants to triple that number. These US Marines are embedded tactical trainers, also known as ETT's and their job is to mentor the fledgling Afghan army.

US Soldier: Check your soldiers, make sure they are all good...

[someone speaking Arabic in the background]

US Soldier: Someone has got a helmet on backwards.

[someone speaking Arabic in the background]

US Soldier: They've got their weapons slung on their shoulders like it's not a [expletive] combat patrol. I know that we are supposed to advise them, but they are supposed to be able to conduct tactical operations without us. So, if I wasn't standing here right now, it makes me wonder if a dude in a bright blue shirt would be going into the mountains and he probably would be.

You get over here and you walk into a whole squad of A and A smoking hashish.

[someone speaking Arabic in the background]

US Soldier: They don't understand that these drugs, it effects the way they accomplish their mission. Ultimately it effects their ability to protect their nation and get Afghanistan on its feet.

[someone speaking Arabic in the background]

US Soldier: Who is smoking hashish around here?

[someone speaking Arabic in the background]

US Soldier: Who is smoking hash? We are going to find them...

Soldiers come out without helmets, soldiers come out missing a lot of gear. There's inspections that need to be done before we step off on patrol.

Right now, we are not going to go on the patrol.

Tell him to come over here. Come here...

[someone speaking Arabic in the background]

US Soldier: What kind of cigarette is that?

[someone speaking Arabic in the background]

US Soldier: Why are you throwing away your cigarette?

Aren't cigarettes worth a lot of money here?


Afghan Soldier: No hashish.

US Soldier: Yes, hashish. You smell this and you tell me that is not hashish...

PSA: What will it take to motivate?

And, as always that because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.