03/11/12 Ethan Nadelmann

Ethan Nadelmann, Dir of Drug Policy Alliance speaks at James A. Baker drug conference "The War on Drugs Has Failed. Is Legalization the Answer?" + Rice Prof William Martin & Terry Nelson of LEAP, Rev. Pat Robertson

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Ethan Nadelmann
Drug Policy Alliance



Cultural Baggage / March 11, 2012


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!”

DEAN BECKER: 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.


DEAN BECKER: Hi, this is Dean Becker and man do we have some powerful shows for you today on the Drug Truth Network here on Cultural Baggage. We’re going to hear Mr. Ethan Nadelmann. He’s the director of the Drug Policy Alliance speaking at a major drug conference at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

But first we’ve got these segments from our regular reporters and a bit more.


This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Politics, they say, makes strange bedfellows. Well this week it appears that activism can now claim that it also “makes strange bedfellows”. For those of you that have not heard, TV televangelist Pat Robinson since 2009 has been calling for Cannabis legalization. He did so again this past week on his “700 Club” presentation.

LEAP welcomes his stance and encourages more to have the moral courage to stand for what is right and quit pandering to the “cool-aid” drinkers that think they can arrest their way out of this drug war mess. Will Robertson's comments lead to more conservative politicians and elected officials speaking out for drug policy reform? Will they create room for progressives and Democrats who are sympathetic but are worried about being attacked from the right?

It should be a common sense moment that any policy which causes more harm that it does good is a bad policy. This can unequivocally be applied to the four decades long war on cannabis and other drugs. In the past decade alone there has been approximately 14 million people arrested for non violent drug offenses. That means this number of people have been marginalized in society. They cannot be bonded in some cases, cannot get loans, cannot get decent jobs, and furthermore do not earn the higher paying jobs that would enable them to pay a fairer share of the taxes.

It also often destroys the arrested person’s family as it denies him or her the earning power they need to better provide for their families. It can be the difference from having a one earner income permitting one parent to stay home and care for the kids. The kind of monitoring that will hopefully keep them out of trouble and out of the criminal justice system. Currently there are 1.4 million kids that go to bed each night with one or more of their parents in jail. And, approximately 25% of kids that go to jail today came from foster homes or institutions. Many of which went there because the government decided their parents, due to cannabis use, were not fit parents to raise the children. Many because their parents were in jail.

So there has to be a better way to deal with our society’s drug issues. LEAP believes a better, far more humane approach is to legalize these prohibited substances that are cause such harm so that we can better control who has access to them. Most are much too dangerous to allow them to be distributed by criminal drug gangs and cartels. LEAP believes that a policy of education and treatment is a far better policy than one of arrest and incarcerate. And due to the four decades of failure of the current policy you can see why we think it is time for a change is strategy.

This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, www.leap.cc signing off. Stay safe.


DEAN BECKER: This is the Reverend Pat Robertson.


PAT ROBERTSON: “Tough on crime. Lock ‘em up.” That’s the way these guys ran and they got elected but wasn’t the answer. We’re locking up people that take a couple of puffs of marijuana and the next thing you know they got 10 years. The mandatory sentences and these judge throw up their hands and say there’s nothing we can do because of mandatory sentences.

We’ve got to take a look at what we’re considering crimes. That’s one of them. I’m not exactly for the use of drugs. Don’t get me wrong but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot and that kind of thing is costing us a fortune and it’s ruining young people.

Young people go in their presence and they go in as youths and they come out as hardened criminals and it’s not a good thing.


BILL MARTIN: My name is Bill Martin and I have the pleasure of directing the Drug Policy Program here at the Baker Institute. I welcome you to the institute and also welcome you on behalf of Ambassador Djerejian who’s sorry he couldn’t be here since it was he who formulated the title for our conference: “The War on Drugs Has Failed: Is Legalization the Answer?”

I’m sure that no one here doubts that drugs explicitly including alcohol can cause enormous harm. It can ruin the lives of those who use them and those whose lives they effect. They implicated in a wide range of crimes and are associated with activities that enrich criminals, endanger innocent citizens of numerous countries, involve and fund terrorism our seriously undercut the development and practice of democracy.

But there’s considerable disagreement over the nature and extent of those harms, the factors that contribute to its many facets and the best ways to go about addressing the many issues that gather under the umbrella of what we call “the drug problem.”

For more than a century U.S. drug policy has been based on the concept of prohibition, on the desire for a drug-free America with zero-tolerance for drug producers, traffickers and users. For the past 40 years it has been known as the War on Drugs.

It is truly a war with all the hallmarks of war: displaced populations, disrupted economies, excessive violence, terrorism, the use of military force, the curtailment of civil liberties and the demonizing of enemies. And like other wars we’ve been engaged in over this same period victory has been elusive and, in fact, many people argue, many people here today, that our policies of criminalization which include poppy eradication, interdiction and incarceration not only fail to affect the supply of drugs but they greatly exacerbate the problem.

We do not live in a drug-free America. We never have and we never will. In addition to the legal pharmacopeia which runs from Oxycotin, Vicodin, Xanax, Prozac, Ritalin, Lunesta, Cialis, Lamisil (the really scary drug) and five-hour energy drink to alcohol, nicotine, caffeine illicit drugs are used in various combination by huge numbers of citizens.

Today from a number of angles we want to explore the wisdom, efficacy, economic sense and justice of policies that prohibit some drugs quite harshly while allowing other drugs of equal or greater potential danger to be regulated, legally sold and aggressively marketed.

Our opening session this morning in examining premise, framing the issue features Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of Drug Policy Alliance and widely recognized as a leading voice calling for reform of U.S. drug policy. He’s currently also working at high levels with government leaders in Mexico, Central and South America regarding their drug policies.

First I welcome Ethan Nadelmann.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Thank you very much, Bill. It’s great as this is the second such conference that Bill Martin has organized at the Baker Institute. The last one was also a wonderful gathering and it’s good to know also that the leadership within the organization here is supportive of this sort of debate deep in the heart of Texas.

The question: Is legalization the answer? Sort of…yeah…maybe…a bit…depends what you mean. That’s my answer.

I should start off right off the bat by saying that I am not a dyed-in-the-wool Libertarian. I’m not Milton Freidman’s intellectual Godson athough I have enormous respect for the principles and analysis that he provided and therefor I don’t think that this is a simple solution. I’m not here to say that the right approach is to simply treat all drugs like alcohol and cigarettes – to make them all legally available, produced, taxed, regulated. It’s a possibility that that might be the optimal solution but I don’t have the conviction to say that that’s the answer.

We do know that that would have a lot of benefits but I think what I want to do…I should say by the way that John Cole and I have known each other for a long time and we debated many times over the years and there are few people I have enjoyed more in mixing it up with than John because he is a gentleman and I respect the role he played at DEA as head of operations.

So I thought in that spirit to really frame this not as a kind of ping pong debate which still lays out there but really in terms of a more sort of nuanced understanding of what this debate is really about. So that’s what I want to lay on you and in the context of that talk about where I and my organization, the Drug Policy Alliance, would like this thing to move and how we think about it in our own internal discussions and debates.

I think the best way to think about this is to think about drug policy, the various ways of dealing with drugs in our society, as a set of options that rate along a spectrum: from the most punitive policies on the one hand to the most free market on the other hand, from Singapore and parts of Asia and America where it’s kind of “Lock ‘em up, punish them, drug test them, execute them” you know, no tolerance for nothing whatever…down to let’s call it the free market: Milton Friedman’s wet dream, no control not even much in the way of regulation but basically no controls except access to kids.

In the conversations I used to have him before he died that’s where he would put it. You think about that for example would be our policies with effect to cigarettes in the 1950s or 60s, right? No tax and almost no regulations.

Now along that spectrum…what do we know? We know that when you deal with something like the legal drugs (alcohol and cigarettes) we have a problem here which is massive levels of addiction, abuse, harm to society, the cost, the access – all of those things. And some of that is a result of the fact that they are legal and therefor cheaper and more available. And some of that is a result of the fact that they have been woven into western culture and society for hundreds of years for tobacco and alcohol for thousands of years. They have been the “devil we know” and even when alcohol was illegal and the other drugs were legal (going back 70 / 80 years) alcohol was still the most popular.

Alcohol’s wide-spread use and abuse is not just a result of its being legal it’s also its popularity, its relationship “batting good” to humankind for a very long time. Cigarettes, of course, you know, part of its distinctiveness is its remarkable addictiveness. You know these surveys where they ask heroin addicts, “What’s the toughest drug to quit.” And always, consistently heroin addicts will say cigarettes – much harder to quit than heroin.

I hate cigarettes. I don’t want to criminalize them but I think they’re devastating, highly addictive. When we look at the massive levels of use and abuse over here what we know is that some of this is about they’re being cheap and legal but there’s a lot of other variables including addiction, what have you that also explains it.

We also know that by doing things like increasing taxation and regulations and bans on consumption on where you can take it that you actually can reduce the consumption of these things and the misuse of these things. We’ve seen a lot of that. We’ve seen dramatic drops in the incidence of cigarette smoking in the U.S. and other countries, etc., etc.

Now, take on the other hand the draconian policies you see in Asia and many parts of the United States. We know the problems there. We know the problems that even when you prohibit something that viciously you still get high levels of use. We see that there are countries like the United States with very tough laws and very high levels of use and there are other countries around the world that have much lower levels of use – some with tough laws and some with easy laws.

The best evidence, a good book by Reuter and MacCoun called “Drug War Heresies” shows that essentially there’s not much of a relationship between the harshness of the law and the levels of drug use. The levels of drug use has a lot more to do with culture and other variables like that.

But we know what stems over here. We know when you have this policy of punitive prohibition you get the crime, the violence, the corruption, the degradation of society, the drug dealers, the bootleggers, the overflowing jails and prisons. You get the adulterated drugs, the spreading of HIV/AIDS. You get the drugs becoming more potent and more dangerous because smugglers don’t want to smuggle bulky drugs like opium or coca. They want to smuggle very compact drugs like hard liquor or crack-cocaine. They just try to think how do they efficiently operate drug smuggling.

You look at what’s happening in Mexico with 50,000 dead in these drug wars and look at these drug dealers taking over parts of territory in many countries. Now it’s South America, Central America and Mexico, in parts of West Africa now, in Afghanistan and what have you. You know, we’re talking about a global black market in drugs worth 3 to 400 billion dollars a year according to the United Nations.

The single most ready source of capital for organized and unorganized criminals, apolitical and political terrorist – that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about when you want to make your money illegally there’s a lot of things you can get into but nothing gives you the return that that does.

What you also see is that every time we have a success somewhere…you know the ol’ “push down, pop up” phenomena. Push down in Colombia it pops up in Central America. Push down there it pops up in the Caribbean. Push down in Southwest Asia it pops up in Southeast Asia. What we’re talking about here is a global commodities market.

Marijuana, cocaine, heroin and these other substances – these are global commodities markets. Like coffee, like sugar, like alcohol, like cigarettes, like precious metals, like food products – these are global commodities market. So long as there is a demand there will be a supply.

The bigger choice we have as a nation and as a global society is are we going to find sensible ways to try to regulate this stuff or not. Do we think we need for moralistic reasons or other reasons to continue with the prohibitionist strategy now withstanding the obvious costs and negative consequences or do we have the guts and intellectual integrity to move in a new direction.

Now the reason I lay out that spectrum is to say we don’t go from here to here…from total prohibition to total legalization. First of all, politically it’s never going to happen. There is no 18th amendment of drug prohibition to be repealed by a 21st amendment. There is no Berlin Wall of drug prohibition that’s just going to torn down and all of the sudden we’ll have a transformation. It’s not going to happen.

These laws, these prohibitionist laws are embedded in a hundred years of federal, state and international laws and personal psyches and culture and fears and race and all of these things. It has to be unraveled and transformed.

The other thing, of course, is to go from here to there…not only is it politically unrealistic – but there’s not much to part over there. 50% of Americans may now see that it’s time to legalize marijuana but when it comes to the other drugs you have maybe 15%. There’s some polls that show a little more, a little less but I don’t see it happening anywhere. A country like the Netherlands where marijuana has been semi-legal for decades – you don’t have huge support for legalizing heroin and cocaine in the same way.

So there’s a distinction between these things but I think what the objective is is to find the balance on this spectrum which best accomplishes two goals. My definition of the optimal drug policy is the one which most successfully does two things. It’s the one that most successfully reduces the harms of drugs – the death, the disease, the crime, the suffering, the devastation to individuals, families and communities. Reducing the harms of drugs – the number of people overdosing, the number of people who have died from HIV/AIDS and Hep C. - all the people involved in crime. That’s first.

And then there’s a second objective which is to reduce the negative consequences of our government policies – of our prohibitionist policies. To reduce the crime, the violence, the corruption, the empowerment of gangsters, the black markets, the overflowing jails and prisons, to reduce the violations of civil liberties and human rights, to reduce the way the distorted role models who provide for young people growing up in inner-cities.

The best drug policy is the one that reduces the harms of drugs and the harms of drug control policies. That mix is what we’re aiming for.

Now where on this spectrum do we best accomplish this? Where on that spectrum? I would say the objective is to move things down the spectrum to the point where we get not there at the other end but some place in here. Let me show you.

So if we’re over here. Here’s Singapore way out there. In Singapore they have lower levels of drug use but they got a growing drug abuse problem even with all their caning, whipping and executions going on. The other Asian countries you look at Malaysia and Viet Nam and Indonesia and all these other places that also were following the Singapore model and you know what happened? They started developing rising drug problems as well - notwithstanding that model. Then they started worrying about HIV and so in the last 5 or 6 years you have Viet Nam, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran all setting up like needle exchange programs and methadone maintenance programs. Things that were inconceivable ten years ago because they know they have to stop HIV/AIDS and they’re freaked out about that.

So you begin to see some modification here. Then you look at the United States where we’re less than 5% of the world’s population and almost 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. We’ve gone from 50,000 people behind bars on drug charges 30 years ago to half a million behind bars on drug charges today.

The racial element of this thing is absolutely extraordinary. We’re locking up black people like, I mean, apartheid South Africa looks like nothing compared to the way we lock up black people in America. Our rate of incarcerating black people in America far exceeds the rate of incarceration of the Soviet gulags in the 30s, 40s and 50s.

So we have a monstrous policy here. Now what is beginning to happen, though, is we see the movements towards reducing prison population. After 30 years of growing our prison population from half a million people in 1980 to 2.4 million people last year it’s finally beginning to come down.

And even states like Texas, believe it or not, are showing innovative approaches to finding alternatives to incarceration. Texas went through this prison binge. It was like Stalin was in charge or something. Locked up people in horrendous numbers in the 90s and the early part of the last decade but you see the alternatives emerging - the effort to reduce it, to find alternatives to incarceration.

Then you begin to move further down the spectrum. And here’s where you get into the kind of European policies. You look, for example, what the Dutch pioneered – allowing marijuana to be sold through coffee shops. Now there’s a conservative government that’s kind of going back the other way a bit under pressure from its neighboring governments and they’re saying foreignors can’t go to the coffee shops anymore especially in the border towns. But by and large that Dutch policy looks fairly well stabilized.

And even though nobody gets busted for marijuana. If you sell to underage kids you get your shop closed down. But, by and large the Dutch policy has been quasi-legal and regulated at the retail level but not at wholesale. And what you see is the marijuana use levels for young people and older people are significantly lower than they are in the United States.

But you also see the percentage of young people in the Netherlands who go on to experiment with harder drugs is less than they are in the United States. Why? Because, as the Dutch will say, “We separated the two markets.”

Typically drug dealers in the United States…there’s a good survey on this by Craig Rheinarman and some others that show that drug dealers in the United States are much more likely to sell multiple drugs. In the Netherlands pot’s over here – other stuff is over there.

So the Dutch policy has been quite successful in that regard and now the Danes are beginning to look at it, the Spanish, and others. You see this easing up on marijuana policy. So we see that’s a model that can work.

We see that what the Portuguese have done with respect to decriminalizing all drug possession. 10 years ago you heard Rick Steves speak about this last night. Decriminalize all drug possession. Decide to employ a much more public health model. Shift resources from criminal justice to health. It wasn’t just the decriminalization – it was a health approach as well.

And what did they find? You know, drug use didn’t drop. Drug use didn’t jump. It kind of hovered. But what they reduce was HIV, Hepatitis C, arrests, incarceration. They saved money. By in large they found you could stop arresting people for possession of any drug for personal use and you could stop drug testing them and throwing them in jail for dirty urine and you know what? You have a healthy, saner, more cost effective drug policy.

So that’s another model that’s out there. Then you have the things that, for example, the Swiss started to pioneer 20 years ago. They saw the cops were chasing more and more junkies around town and they would catch them, throw them into a drug-free program, throw them into a jail, get them to do methadone…that’s a good approach for some - for some drug-free is good. But they were still left with some thousands of junkies who were involved in crime and criminality and problems.

A policy initiated by local governments with the support of local law enforcement and business they said, “Let’s try something new. What is we say to these” (I apologize for using the phrase junkies because it is an insulting term but I’m using it for dramatic effect. “Let’s take these injecting-heroin users. Let’s allow them to go to a clinic where they can get legal heroin from that clinic. They can’t take home. Can come in up to three times a day. We’ll give them health services, HIV medications all this sort of stuff.”

What they found is…this is Switzerland and it was replicated in the Netherlands, in Germany, in Denmark, and England and Spain and Canada…what they found is when you allow people to go and get their heroin from a clinic like that – pharmaceutical heroin produced by a company – people’s health improved, there HIV and Hep C risk behavior declined, arrests dropped. They actually reduced their use of other illegal drugs because they pulled back from the illegal drug markets. Some of them reunited with their families. Some of them got part-time work and a significant minority of them actually said, “Wait a second. I don’t want to come to a clinic 1, 2, 3 times a day. What am I doing here.”

They began to realize for the first time ever, they actually looked into the mirror and said, “This is not about the heroin. This was about a lifestyle I chose. I don’t need this.” And 20% of them became drug-free. A whole bunch of others shifted into methadone maintenance programs and finally made it work for them. What they realized that it was more about the chase than it was about the drug itself.

These policies have been amply evaluated. There’s results in the Journal of American Medical Association, New England Journal of Medicine, the leading European journals. The stuff I’m telling you about is all amply documented in the scientific literature.

One of the tragedies in the United States is you have these innovative European policies but essentially our government won’t spend a penny looking at the stuff. There’s still a kind of …Trying to study these issues in the united states is a little bit like trying to do interesting social science research in the old Soviet Union. There’s just certain questions that you’re not supposed to ask – never mind seek funding for.

If you do ask them it raises eyebrows that you don’t want to have raised and it makes it less likely that you’re going to have access or influence to government funding, resources and other stuff. There’s a way in which political blinders that operate in this world, in the United States become intellectual blinders - where people just stop asking interesting questions.

So, what I think we need to do is move the drug policy down the spectrum. What I’m fighting for, what Drug Policy Alliance is fighting for is to move both the debate over drug policy and the policies themselves from…the policies right now are over here. The debate is either over here about…as far as I say moving the chairs around the titanic of drug prohibition or it’s a ping pong legalization thing.

The really meaningful debate is going to be when we get over here. We know based upon all the available science and evidence and history and everything that the optimal drug policy is going to be over here. And by over here what I mean is some place between Milton Friedman’s vision of the free market but regulated and over here which is the prohibitionist model embedded in the principles of decriminalization, public health, human rights, what have you.

The Drug Policy Alliance, my organization, leading organization of the country – really the world – that people advocate full-term drug policy - what we represent is this spectrum over here. Our membership ranges from conservative, Libertarians to legalize everything to people who are uncomfortable to legalizing anything except maybe marijuana but who want to reduce incarceration, treat addictions as a health issue, treat the whole thing in a more sensible, humane, European style.

I look forward to the day when membership of the Drug Policy Alliance reflects the mainstream of the United States. Increasingly we’re heading in that direction. I look forward to the day when all of my allies when we can all take out our knives and fight with one another because the fights among ourselves between the prohibitionist, harm reduction model and the legalization, regulatory model are the really fundamental ones that really matter to congress and the state legislatures.

For now, John and I are going to mix it up over here but I look forward in coming years and decades when what the debate looks like is over here because we know ultimately the drug policy that best reduces the harms of drugs and the harms of prohibition, that’s the most cost effective, humane, protective of human and civil rights is some place over here and that’s where we need to go.

Thank you.


DEAN BECKER: Again, that was Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance speaking at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University Houston, Texas.

Next week we’ll hear from John J. Cole, former administrator U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration who responded to Ethan’s presentation.


[game show music]

It’s time to play, Name That Drug by its Side Effects.

Loss of personal freedom, family and possessions. Ineligible for government funding, education, licensing, housing or employment. Loss of aggressive mind set in a dangerous world. This drug’s peaceful, easy feeling can be habit forming.


Time's up! The answer: Doobie, jimmy, joint, reefer, spliff, jibber, jay, biffa, jazz, blunt, steege, greener, cracker, hogger, bone, carrot, maryjane, marijuana, cannabis sativa.

Made by God. Prohibited by man.


[bagpipe music]

DEAN BECKER: Educate yourself and your friends with the latest cannabis news. Oaksterdam University will ship you copies of the latest West Coast Leaf cannabis activist newspaper. Call and leave your name and number at (510) 832-3746.

Did you know that the California Medical Association endorses complete legalization for all adults? Please call (510) 832-3746.


DEAN BECKER: Ok, friends, I’ve already called. I’ve already got my copies of the West Coast Leaf to share with friends to help end this madness. I urge you to do the same.

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


DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

Drug Truth Network archives are stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org
Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.