11/21/10 - Ethan Nadelmann

Harm Reduction II: Dr. Ethan Nadelmann - Dir Drug Policy Alliance, Curt Harrel - San Antonio needle exchange, Laura McTieg, Peter Ziarze - Budapest Drug Policy, DTN Editorial

Century of Lies
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Ethan Nadelmann
Drug Policy Alliance
Download: Audio icon COL_112110.mp3



Century of Lies / November 21, 2010


(Sexy saxophone music)

Woman #1: Feeling lonely this holiday season?

Woman #2: Looking for a little human interaction?

Woman #3: Do you want to feel contact in certain special places?

TSA Agent #1: Then why not go through security at an airport?

(Crowd laughs)

Seductive voice: The TSA….

TSA Agent #2: TSA agents are ready and standing by to give you a little something extra to be thankful about this holiday season.

Seductive voice: The TSA….

TSA Agent #2: What are you waiting for? I want to check under your testicles!

(Crowd laughs)


The failure of Drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. We’re going to be reporting on the Harm Reduction Conference in Austin.

I want to thank Lorne Michaels and his fine crew for that fine anti-government hysteria introduction to Saturday Night Live. Now reports from the Harm Reduction Conference.


Ethan Nadelmann: I’m Ethan Nadelmann, the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. We’re the leading organization in the United States and probably the world of who believe that the war on drugs is doing a lot more harm than good.

The time has come to reduce role of criminalization, the criminal justice system and dealing with drugs as much as possible.

Dean Becker: Ethan, yesterday you gave a speech here in regards to Obama fulfilling some of his campaign promises in regards to drug policy. Could you give us a brief summary of that?

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah, you know my take on Obama; it’s not all good, not all bad. I think that we have to give him credit. I mean, he did make three specific commitments during when he was running for president back in ’08. He said that he would allow federal funding for needle exchange.

He said that he would support repealing the crack/power laws, these horrific racially unjust laws. He said he would get the federal government less involved in medical marijuana and the truth is made good on all three of those.

He didn’t provide the leadership for federal funding on needle exchange, but nonetheless the bill when through and he signed it.

In respect to the crack/powder bill, he and his Attorney General Holder, they made that a priority. They pushed to eliminate the disparity in the way crack and powder cocaine are treated, as much as possible and then they locked in a compromise that was actually bipartisan. So, we didn’t get every we wanted but it was a victory that will benifit thousands and thousands of people.

Lastly, medical marijuana, that memorandum that Attorney General Holder issued last year basically saying that the Feds are not going to go after medical marijuana operations if they are operating legally under state laws, that was huge.

That opened up the ability for states to effectively regulate this stuff. When you look at what’s going on in Colorado, the Holder Memorandum held that up. It sent a message to state legislators around the country that they can now start legalize med marijuana without fear of federal interference. So these are all very significant.

Now, on the other hand, I have been disappointed by his Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske; a good guy, a smart guy, a leader among police, Police Chief of Seattle. A Police Chief of Seattle that has Hempfest where 100,000 people gather each year around marijuana and nobody gets arrested.

So, he knows enough to know better but unfortunately, he has not played a central role in the good reforms that Obama has put forward, He has talked more on addiction and drug policy more – focusing drug policy more on issues of addiction and health but nonetheless, the basic drug war budget remains the same at about 2/3 for law enforcement interdiction and 1/3 for the other.

The weariness and the reluctance to examine things like heroin maintenance and safe injection sites, which has become standard operation procedure in other countries. That has no intellectual legitimacy, whatsoever and the refusal to engage in any serious debate about legalization, even marijuana legalization.

So, there’s this that the Drug Czar seems increasingly irrelevant to the major thrust of where drug policy needs to be headed and maybe is headed. I mean, if there’s anything good they’ve done, it’s understanding that the new healthcare bill is going to open up all sorts of new possibilities for dealing with addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. I think that is an important step in the right direction.

Dean Becker: We have in the last, especially in the six months to a year, seen journalists, not just in the US but around the world, begin to talk about the failures inherent in our Drug War policy. What’s your take? Is journalism finally returning to its true nature where it ought to be?

Ethan Nadelmann: I have to say the quality of media coverage of the Drug War and drug policy has improved absolutely dramatically. I remember when I first got involved in this, in the late eighties early nineties, a lot of the people covering the drug issue wanted nothing more than to ride around in cop cars and go for the drug busts and do that kind of dramatic coverage and there was no real honest looking at things. It seemed like most of the people working in the area either would lie about their own drug use or have their own issues around drug use.

Now you have people who are intrigued by the culture of illusion that’s going around marijuana. You have a serious, substantive articles about the economics of drug policy and drug policy reform.

You have more thought pieces reflecting on the failure of the war on drugs. You have USA Today with cover stories, the New York Times the Wall Street Journal with important stories about the emerging marijuana industry, medical marijuana industry.

Prop 19 was transformative in terms of elevating the quality of the coverage. Then you have these wonderful things that happen sometimes when an AP reporter, I think her name is Mendoza, writes a major piece about forty years of drug war failure and trillion dollars down the drain.

So, I really think, it’s when you think about the coverage of the Vietnam War and you think about the difference between the guys, the journalist who would show up each Monday morning or whatever for the briefings by the military brass, by William Westmoreland and in contrast to that were the David Halberstams and the other people, the much more critical journalist, the ones that wanted to get to the real story. The ones who wanted to ask the tough questions and the ones that saw themselves as having a professional and ethical obligation to really critically examine the government policies. I think you’re seeing more of that happening in the media these days.

There’s a few really important things happening in terms of public opinion. The most dramatic one is in respect to marijuana. When you look at the Gallop poll, the one that’s been asking the same question since the late 1960s, which is, “Do you favor legalizing – do you believe that marijuana use should be legalized?”

When you see the numbers jumping from 36%, just five years ago to 46% in favor today, when you see it’s 58% out west and a substantial majority of Democrats and liberals and men for that matter, when you see those shifts, something’s going on there that’s about a broader change in the culture and I think that to the extent – it actually feels that we could actually have a change now of taking marijuana out of the criminal justice system.

You know marijuana may not be what’s filling the state and federal prisons but marijuana possession does account for over 40% of the 1.6-1.7 million drug arrests each year. So that would be a major step forward.

I think the second thing is, there’s this dawning recognition that locking up huge numbers of people and more than quadrupling our incarceration population since 1980, that leading the world in incarceration rates and spending tens and tens of billions of dollars in locking people up and thereby diminishing life prospects and their family’s life prospects.

That is not a smart use of tax payer money that maybe there’s something a little morally wrong with it, that both Democrats and Republicans can agree we need to find ways to shrink the prison population, while continuing to protect public safety. I think that dawning realization penetrating the public and political consciousness around the country. So, I think that those are the two really important developments.

I think that the third one, where still have a long way to go, ultimately what we need to do is really to end the criminalization of drug use and drug possession entirely. I mean, still hold people responsible if they’re getting high and behind the wheel of the car or the workplace or what have you.

But when you look at what Portugal has done and you look at what other European countries are doing, which is essentially putting forth the notion that nobody should be able to jail you for simply using or possessing a drug, if they are not hurting anybody else. That’s an area where the public can embrace that notion as long as people are being force into drug treatment. What we need to do is to separate those things.

We need to get the public to embrace the notion that nobody goes to jail or prison simply for drug use or drug possession and separately that treatment and other services are best made available to the people how need them and in a way that’s respectful and effective.
I think that’s going to be the next front that I and the Drug Policy Alliance and the drug policy reform movement are going to be pushing on very strongly in the years to come.

Dean Becker: To close this up, I want to talk about the fact that through the Drug Policy Alliance they can hook up with the folks and the Harm Reduction Coalition and many other organizations, which are supported or embraces by the Drug Truth Network and they can be average citizen can go do their part, having done so, do you want to talk about that?

Ethan Nadelmann: That’s exactly right. One of the things that is happening – there was really no drug policy reform movement to speak of in the 1980s and what’s emerged since that time are organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance like the Harm Reduction Coalition like your organization like the Marijuana Policy Project, NORML, Americans for Safe Access working on marijuana issues, like Family Against Mandatory Minimums, like groups working in the psychedelics areas.

There’s a range of national organizations and state organizations and the way we’re ultimately going to transform national drug policy is by building up the power of the strength, the sophistication of these organizations.

I’ve committed my life, really, to trying to build both the powerful national advocacy organization in Drug Policy Alliance and also helping to build a powerful national and international drug policy reform movement.

We are hugely more than advanced then we were just five or ten years ago. The momentum is with us and I think that we can accomplish a hell of a lot more in just the next few years.

Dean Becker: Once again was Doctor Ethan Nadelmann, the Executive Director of Drug Policy Alliance. Their website: drugpolicy.org

That was recorded the Harm Reduction Coalition Conference in Austin, Texas.


Curt Harrell: Ok, I’m Curt Harrell. I am Chairman of the Bexar Area Harm Reduction Coalition in San Antonio.

Dean Becker: And what is the purpose of your organization?

Curt Harrell: We initially started out to create a needle exchange to block the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C in IV drug users.

Dean Becker: And the Texas legislature actually passed a bill in support of your effort?

Curt Harrell: In the last legislature passed an amendment – attached an amendment to the Medicaid bill that created a pilot program for harm reduction, needle exchange in Bexar County.

Dean Becker: What happened after that point in time?

Curt Harrell: We had created out own organization and when the pilot program passed and became law we went out on the street and actually started exchanging needles with IV drug users and a number of different locations around San Antonio.

Bexar County itself created a planning committee to create a needle exchange harm reduction group within the Metropolitan Health Department in San Antonio itself. We were part of that planning group.

After we had been on the street about three months, after the passage of the law become effective, the District Attorney took exception to the amendment that had been passed and shut down our operation out on the street.

Police busted people and confiscated a bunch of equipment, did not confiscate our van and we, on advice of our attorneys, did not persist in the needle exchange.

Since then, we have entered into an arrangement with the Planet K Stores there in San Antonio to redistribute approximately 100,000 condoms a year through the Planet K shops, free condoms and have started providing bleach kits for cleaning injection rigs.

Dean Becker: Right.

Curt Harrell: And also have gotten all of the bureaucratic materials set up to start HIV testing, street testing as part of our outreach work there in San Antonio.

Dean Becker: Now, as I understand it then, the DA shut down the operation. You guys are still trying in the various ways you just described to curtail the transmission there.

What gave the District Attorney the authority to overturn of the will of the legislature?

Curt Harrell: Her position was that the paraphernalia laws that were on the books about needles and IV drug use superseded the amendment that the legislature had passed.

Dean Becker: So your hope is that this forthcoming legislate will redefine this?

Curt Harrell: Reconsider and define more clearly what harm reduction and needle exchange can be in the state of Texas. It’s my understanding that the – our local representative there, Ruth Jones McClendon, has already introduced the appropriate bill for the new legislation.


Lauren McTighe: My name Lauren McTighe. I’m the co-founder the Institute of Community Justice, which is a grass roots based organization in Philadelphia that works to build the capacity for the communities hardest hit by the correctional system to shrink that system and support their loved ones.

Dean Becker: Now, I think the one aspect of harm really that ties all of these organizations together is the ramifications of the Drug War and how it compounds many of these problems people are dealing with, right?

Lauren McTighe: Absolutely. My work over these thirteen years have grown out of both working on incarceration and HIV issues and I think even just from a historical point that the war on drugs was gaining speed right as the AIDS epidemic broke.

Now, structural prevention efforts are starting to turn to in the United States is affirming the reality that people who are hit hardest by the war or drugs, knew from the start that HIV risk and HIV vulnerability is far better tracked by the things that make you have to choose between your long term health and your daily survival.

So, part of the work that we’ve been doing in Philadelphia is trying to understand the massive toll that mass incarceration that the war on drugs has taken on communities and what it’s going to take to really support communities, a lot of efforts to be rebuilding themselves and doing that as part of a holistic approach to public health

Dean Becker: This is and you know, pardon me for saying this, is altruistic and noble in concept but the implementation and the hmmm… putting this to work, so to speak, is compounded more by the stigma or the, if I dare say, hatred of drug users, which disallows those – that progress right?

Lauren McTighe: I mean, I guess there’s a couple of things that I think about it. So, I come with the stigma from a whole lot of levels both from people who are using drugs, people that are HIV positive, people who have family members who are positive, people passing through prisons and the kind of intense stigma around HIV prevention efforts that are behind walls that are all tied into the hyper down low phenomena. The stigma is quite thick and you are quite right about that. I think there are two responses that I give to that.

One, is – so, one of the most often quoted statistics in the criminal justice world is that 2/3 of people are going to get rearrested within three years or their release. That’s the – it is a statistic that has driven a national focus around re-entry programing and what it means to beef up systems to be able to be coming home.

What people don’t talk about are the third of people who aren’t getting rearrested. In my experience, those have been people who have set their hands to found once found inescapable. So, that the next generation can imagine a life beyond mass imprisonment.

So, for me, I think part of how I’ve wrestled with the questions around stigma and how to have communities get stuff and just not have it be altruistic is going to the experts and people who are already doing this work.

That goes to the second, of what we’re going to be talking about in this workshop today are scattered around the country, really intense work that people are doing, combating stigma as part of doing their organizing work, the sort of stigma stricken, for many people that this is their life and this is what they’re fight.

Dean Becker: Right, and again I didn’t mean to, you know, discount. I was playing a bit of devil’s advocate I suppose, I guess that from my perspective is that there is still at least in the South, from where I am more aware of what’s going on, a deep seated reluctance to change from the ways and means of times past. It’s a hard road to hoe, isn’t it?

Lauren McTighe: Oh, it’s absolutely a hard road to hoe. Then, I think the part that my work had reinforced time and time again is there is no amount of talk, there is no amount of saying it’s going to be ok that makes it feel real for people.

But that what happens and why I believe so much and in a community based activist work is that in the midst of community, things that people couldn’t imagine doing as individuals become possible collectively. So, that’s I guess again where my feet come, where my feet come down on the hope that – to the lengths that we have to go but also the promise of getting there.

Dean Becker: We’ve been speaking with Lauren McTighe out of Philadelphia. Is there a website you’d like to share with the listeners?

Lauren McTighe: Sure, the website for the Institute for Community Justice, www.community-justice.org. Another org that I just want to make a plug for that is doing incredible work is Women with a Vision, out of New Orleans.

You are listing to Century of Lies. This Dean Becker reporting from the Harm Reduction conference from Austin. I want to advise you that this week’s Cultural Baggage as well as all of the 420 Drug War News reports have other reports from this conference. Let’s continue.


Peter Sarosi: I’m Peter Sarosi. I’m From Budapest, Hungary and I work the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, which is a human rights NGO that is in Budapest. I am Head of the Drug policy program. What we are doing, we advocate for harm reduction and human rights of drug users and also drug policy reform in Hungary.

A few years ago we launched a video advocacy program we produce short videos on YouTube and video sharing sites. We distribute videos we would like to mobilize people against the war on drugs over the world.

Dean Becker: It should be noted that you produced the video for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, COPS say Legalize Drugs, right?

Peter Sarosi: Yeah, that’s a movie we produced like two or three years ago. I think it was quite popular, now I don’t remember exactly how many people but tens of thousands of people watched it on-line and it’s still available on our website.

We have a English website, drugreporter.net, so if anybody is interested in our videos, just go to drugreportes.net and you can watch all the videos.

Dean Becker: These seminars, these gathers of drug war reforms are making a difference. They’re educating people they are giving them courage to move forward with these necessary changes to drug policy. Is it moving forward in Hungary? How would you compare the Drug War there to the what’s going on in the US?

Peter Sarosi: Actually, I think that in Europe the situation is much better in most countries of Europe. Like, we don’t have a war of drugs there, like in the US it’s a – I wouldn’t call it a war on drugs.

There is prohibition in place and of course to use drugs and to purchase drugs for personal use is illegal and the police should be enforcing laws but people don’t go to prison just for small amount of drugs or small scale dealing.

Only large scale traffickers go to prison and there is a system in place, which we call alternative incarceration, where people are divested from the criminal justice system to the public health system. So, if you get caught by the police with a small amount of marijuana, now let’s say, then you can choose six months of prevention or a treatment program instead of the criminal prosecution and you will not get no criminal charges or criminal recourse at the end of the procedure.

So, the situation is better but we still have prohibition and actually the government spends much more money on law enforcement than on public health and harm reduction and prevention programs. So, I think we have to change that.

I also think we have to change how people think about drugs and drug policy and people who use drugs because there is still an artificial line between like legal drugs like alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

People just cannot imagine that current illegal drugs can be regulated and taxed in the same way as legal drugs. So, I think we have to convince people that, really, regulation works and it’s a feasible alternative to prohibition.

I think this is the greatest challenge we have and these conferences are really good in sharing experiences from all over the world about how to do it, like how to make effective advocacy.


Alright, once again we’ve been reporting from Austin, Texas attending the Harm Reduction conference. I want to thank them for their great cooperation. They couldn’t have done a better job. There was an amazing gathering of people from around the world and it is my hope that you’ll check out the website of Harm Reduction Collition at harmreduction.org.


The following Drug Truth Network editorial:

The United States demands that all citizens of planet Earth pay eternal tribute to terrorist organizations. To every barbarous drug cartel and must forever give reason for existence to thousands of violent gangs worldwide who threaten our neighborhoods, our way of life.

Rather than examine this policy, designed a century ago by Moralists, who without scientific or medical input, with only a desire to control of appetites of their fellow man, crafted laws never before seen in the history of mankind, laws which have incrementally morphed and escalated to become the Bain of our notion and the world.

The number of so called experts, those government officials willing to proclaim the need to dig a little deeper, to continue or to expand this Drug War are dwindling and the numbers of those willing to open this discussion is rising fast.

The number of citizens willing and more importantly, able to speak increases daily as the taboos evaporate and real science is recognized and shared opening by the media.

I completely agree that with a phase attributed to Richard Cowan, a long time drug reformer that started that the main reason for the harms and escalation of the Drug War is bad journalism.

Praise be to the mainstream media, for at last is beginning to share the truth that drug prohibition is more harmful than drug use, that alcohol is at least as dangerous heroin or cocaine and that the laws against cannabis are patently absurd.

It seems however that major media has been caught in a web of their own making. They continue to tell both sides of the story, allowing Drug Czars and prosecutors to continually stand forth with their fables of yore that continue to sway fearful politicians and much of the populace to continue down this same failed path forever.

Gil Kerlikowske, the current US Drug Car, has declined numerous requests to be a guest on our radio show, there is always another nebulous reason why he cannot answer the phone for a few minutes in whatever city is in.

Gil was formerly a standup guy, a police chief in Seattle were cannabis is a lowest law enforcement priority, who thought that harm reduction was worth exploring. In becoming Drug Czar, he signed a contract that mandates that he take the opposite position and avoid any situation where the logic of drug prohibition can be challenged.

As he stated early in his tenure, nether Gil nor his boss President Obama have “legalization” in their vocabulary. If given the chance to interview Gil or any high elected official, I would begin the discussion the following:

“Given the enormous harms of drug prohibition, to include to feeding the Taliban’s cash cow, enabling the deadly Mexican cartels, giving reason for contaminated drugs being sold on street corners, needless overdose deaths, children’s easy access to drugs, 38 million drug arrests crowding our jails and justice system, 30,000 recent deaths in Mexico, what is the number one success of drug prohibition that more than justifies this horrific blowback from our policy?”

In that I will never to get the chance. I offer the question to any reporter that gets to interview Gil or any other drug war addicts. The answer is sure to head us back towards truth and reason to redeem journalism from its part in the madness of Drug War.

And that was written by me, Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network. Here’s hoping that you’ll keep in mind there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, no medical data, no reason for this Drug War to exist.

Please, visit our website: endprohibition.org

Prohibido istac evilesco!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker. Asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs, archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com