03/25/12 Ethan Nadelmann

Reports from the Students for Sensible Drug Policy convention in Denver, with candiate appeals, Brian Vicente & Ethan Nadelmann

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Ethan Nadelmann
Drug Policy Alliance
Download: Audio icon FDBCB032512.mp3



Cultural Baggage / March 25, 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: Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. This is Dean Becker. This week reporting from Denver, Colorado where I’m attending the conference for Students for Sensible Drug Policy with more than 400 attendees, representing more than 200 U.S. chapters and chapters from around the world.

In just a little bit we’re going to hear from some of the speakers who opened this conference but first I wanted you to hear some of the candidates who are running for office within Students for Sensible Drug Policy.


ANDREW LIVINGSTON: So my name is Andrew Livingston. I’m a senior and I go to Colgate University in West Central New York. I help to found a chapter Students for Sensible Drug Policy my sophomore year and am currently the president and have been leading it since that time.

I got interested in drug policy from seeing the non-violent end of the international commerce markets but learning where I grew up in suburban, non-violent New Jersey was the exception.

So I’ve pursued a academic research interest in international narcotics markets. Last summer I got the pleasure to work with Sanho Tree at the Institute for Policy Studies. With him and also with my University did some very large research papers on Mexico and other situations like that.

My primary achievements is in-depth research and organizational skills. These are things that are really important on the board.

ANNIE HUELEFELD: My name is Annie Huelefeld. I have two years experience as the chapter leader at the University of Cincinnati. I’ve been growing our fledgling chapter with an emphasis on organizational structure and efficiency. I have initiated our efforts to get a Good Samaritan Policy on campus by working with the student government, the Office of Judicial Affairs and the Wellness Center.

BOB NICHOLS: My name is Bob Nichols. I’m the chapter president at Georgetown Mall. I wanted to talk a little bit about why I am interested in running for the board of SSDP. I think it really comes down to how impressed I am with everything SSDP is doing across the country and how much I want to be able help us do more.

I think when you look around the room at what type of work SSDP chapters are doing, both in what we’ve accomplished on campuses, at a state level, in terms of the energy and the passion and, frankly, just the commons sense good ideas that we bring to the table, I think that’s really impressive and I want to be a part of improving that, of doing more of that.

FERNANDO ROMERO: Hi, my name is Fernando. I’m from Mexico. I am a senior student at DNAM. I study communications. We have a chapter that is a year working.

Mexico is going through difficult times and this is because of the War on Drugs. We don’t think that the answer to these matters will come from the politicians so we have to be in communication. We have to give a response to all of these matters.

In Mexico we suffer from crime. America jails people every day. If we want to succeed, change drug policy, we must work together. For us in Mexico it is very important the way the United States deals with these matters because we are not just neighbors – we share these problems.

GRAHAM de BARRA: My name is Graham de Barra. I’m running as an international member on the board. I’m from the very green Emerald Isle of Ireland.

I know you probably think that I live up to my “fighting Irish” stereotype but I wasn’t in a fight. It was actually a consumption of alcohol so I probably make up my own adversary being a drunk Irishman – it’s lose-lose, really.

There are a number of reasons why I feel I would be a good candidate for the board. I understand the difficulties with setting up an organization and, of course, fighting against the same common goal that we all have.

I set up SSDP in country where drugs is very much a taboo subject. Recently the Irish Times, the only paper of record in Ireland, actually published an article comparing cannabis to amphetamine abuse and they said that cannabis was worse.

I mean, this is the only paper of record, so you can imagine what the public actually thinks. So, it’s always going to be an uphill struggle but, to be honest, I think that’s what motivates me the most to get involved in the fight against illogical, rhetorical arguments.

When I first submitted my application to the University of Cork I was actually laughed at. The application was thrown back at me and I was called a hippie and I was trying to legalize it. That day I was so confused and so enraged that I almost quit. But that was actually the very thing that motivated me to continue and to keep going.

CANDIDATE ?: Hello everybody. I want to start my speech off with a little poll of the audience. How many of you are here and ready to make history by legalizing marijuana in Colorado this year?

AUDIENCE: [applause]

CANDIDATE ?: That is why you should all vote for me for board member because I think I have the most experience and the greatest diversity of experience to make something like that happen and to make sure all projects from here on out has somebody that actually has the passion to back them up to completion - because that’s the big thing.

Being a board member you need to have fundraising experience and the passion to actually show our vision to the rest of the world and implement it.

JEREMY ORBACH: I have to say that looking around this room right now it’s pretty astonishing because two years ago I was one of you guys. I was here alone. I was trying to found a chapter because I had a really good idea and I wanted to run with that idea.

2 years later a lot has happened. Just watching everybody in this room and how activism and how much passion there is has really helped motivate me in all that I have done.

For those who don’t know me, my name is Jeremy Orbach. I am a computer science major from Northern Illinois University. I founded my chapter in March of 2010. We were booted off campus because we didn’t follow the status quo from a state school and were effectively able to force a large policy change that would allow us to obtain funding in the end and also allow us to meet on campus.

KAT HUMPHRIES: Hi everyone. I’m Kat Humphries. I am from the College of Charleston chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. I founded it 2 years ago, same as Jeremy, in March of 2010. I got to go out to San Francisco for my first conference. It was an amazing experience. It really kind of changed my life.

Some of the experience that I’ve had in the past…I serve as my school’s Honor Board Chairman which means that I basically oversee all of the hearings of anybody who violates the Honor Code but, more specifically, the Code of Conduct. Anything alcohol or drug related comes to me. I’ve really gained some useful insight from seeing all the different students who have come through our process.

Additionally I’m really passionate about juvenile justice. I’ve served in an internship in the 9th Solicitor’s office in South Carolina. Basically what I was doing was working with the Juvenile Arbitration program. So I was able to become state certified as an arbitrator and hear these stories of these kids. Rather than giving them a record and providing a diversion program for them and keeping them out of the prison industrial complex.

KELLEN RUSSONIELLO: My name is Kellen Russoniello. I am the current president at George Washington University Law School. I am pursuing my Juris Doctorate and also a Masters in Public Health.

I only got into SSDP through a long series. I was interested in drug policy before ever hearing about SSDP. I originally got into it by viewing my best friend’s father - who was a heroin addict – almost destroy his life. Eventually everything turned out OK. We worked it out and he eventually ended up in treatment. So we know that treatment works.

Ever since then I’ve approached this from a public health issue which is why I’m pursuing a Masters in Public Health in addition to my Juris Doctorate.

SABRINA KORAMBLYUM: I first got involved in drug policy when I became the president of my school chapter in 2010, ironically like a lot of other candidates. After only 9 months we did something at FAU that everyone told us was impossible.

We fought so hard. We got the first-ever medical marijuana bill into the state of Florida.

STEPHEN DUKE: Hi everybody. My name is Stephen Duke. I am a chapter leader at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. I first got involved as the Events Coordinator of our chapter in 2009 before taking it over as president in 2010.

I also serve on the board of directors of the Drug Policy Education Group and the Alliance for Drug Policy Reform in Arkansas which is overseeing the campaign “Arkansans for Compassion and Care.” We’re trying to put medical marijuana on the ballot in Arkansas and we think we’re going to get it legalized in 2012. We’ll see in November.

I had two goals when I took over the chapter. The first one was to remove the stigma and the stereotypes that a southern chapter has to deal with when talking about drug policy reform.

It’s easily dismissed as a pot club or a group of hippies, liberals when, in reality, it’s people from all different backgrounds who want to end the War on Drugs because they realize it’s a war on us. It’s a war on everybody.


DEAN BECKER: I thought it important that you hear the fire, the enthusiasm of these candidates running for the board of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Chances are many of them will soon be active in helping to change the laws in your state.


(Game show music)

DEAN BECKER: It’s time to play: Name That Drug by Its Side Effects.

Nausea, heartburn, development of bleeding ulcers, vomiting, swelling of the brain, extensive liver damage, difficulty with mental functioning, nucreas syndrome and death...

{{{ gong }}}

Time’s up!

The answer: Aspirin. Another FDA approved product.


DEAN BECKER: Alright and now, as promised, here’s the first two speakers from the first full day of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Conference.


BRIAN VICENTE: My name is Brian Vicente. I’ve been an activist and a lawyer in Colorado for quite a while working on marijuana reform issues. My job is basically to welcome you guys to Colorado and talk about a couple things happening here on the ground.

This is very special for me to be here because I actually cut my teeth on marijuana activism and drug policy activism. In 2004, my first job working with Aaron Houston who is now the head of SSDP.

We have various misadventures working in Phoenix and Albuquerque and different states on marijuana reform campaigns. I’m trying not to go into the gritty details which I’ll share at the bar later but I was sort of the Acosta lawyer to his Hunter S. Thompson.

In terms of our misadventures …people were stealing our yard signs so we rigged paint grenades to the yard signs so they would blow up and get all over the perpetrators. We ran around videotaping these prohibitionist troll-type people who were stealing our signs, harassing our petitioners and so forth…so, good times.

But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about Colorado. This just the eye of the storm and having you guys here is wonderful. We have so many exciting things happening in Colorado and I’m going to talk specifically about Amendment 64 which will be on the November ballot.

Some of you guys may not know this but this is the 75th year of marijuana prohibition at the federal level. In 1937 the Marihuana Tax Act passed and the first person they busted under that act – the same day it passed – was a man named Samuel Caldwell who lives in Colorado. They busted him. He was the first guy 75 years ago.

So basically it started here and it’s going to end here this November.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

BRIAN VICENTE: So quickly, about our initiative, I’ve been kind of stumping all around our beautiful state talking to big groups, little groups about the initiative. I always talk about the three things the initiative is going to do – Amendment 64.

But today, because I’m so excited to be here with you guys, I’m going to talk about the fourth thing. I’m going to premier it for you. So, the four things our amendment will do…and this is a state-wide ballot initiative. It’s going to be on the November ballot and if we’re successful it will make Colorado the first place in the world to regulate the sale of marijuana to adults 21 and over.

So, the four things that this amendment will do…

First, it will remove criminal penalties for adults 21 and over for possessing up to an ounce of marijuana. It will also allow adults to grow a small number of plants in their home. So that will happen pretty much immediately when we pass this thing on November 6th.

The second piece is it’s going to set up a regulatory structure very similar to alcohol. When you’re talking to people about this amendment (which I hope you will) …you know a lot of people don’t understand ‘legalization’. It’s sounds kind of amorphous and weird.

“Does that mean marijuana is growing everywhere? Can little kids have it?”

Ultimately we are regulating marijuana like alcohol. People understand that model. We’ve had it for 100 years. It’s sold in stores. There’s IDs and checks. That’s what we’re doing here.

We’re going to be taxing marijuana. We’re going to be selling to adults 21 and over through individualized stores – not Walmart or anything like that. These will be individualized stores much like the dispensaries that you guys may have seen on your trip so far here.

That’s going to produce a considerable amount of tax revenue. The first $40 million dollars is actually earmarked every year for public school construction. So it’s really a way for our community to give back.

The third thing that our initiative will do and this is kind of not part of the dialog but should be is it will make Colorado the first state to really regulate the production of industrial hemp.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

BRIAN VICENTE: This would be an enormous step forward for global drug policy and for Colorado farmers to be able to grow this important crop and we hope we can lead the way there.

So this is the three things. The fourth thing that Amendment 64 will do when we pass it this November is it will change the fucking world. Who’s with me?!

AUDIENCE: [applause]


DEAN BECKER: Alright and next up…you’ve heard him on Democracy Now. You’ve heard him on my shows many times. He’s been speaking to the President of Mexico, the President of Guatemala. He’s involved in drug reform conferences all around this planet – the director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Mr. Ethan Nadelmann.


ETHAN NADELMANN: I love talking to SSDP. I love being with you. I love what you’re doing. I love the way that you are producing the next generations of the drug policy reform movement. I love the way that when DPA is looking for talent coming up we look at SSDP alum and graduates first and foremost.

I’ll tell you…making that commitment as SSDP grows…I mean always tease whoever the SSDP director is that when you guys graduate SSDP I want you to join DPA. In fact, join DPA before you graduate SSDP and college.

A year ago there was no Global Commission…I mean there was a Global Commission on Drug Policy but it did not come out with its report as yet. You had Presidents Carlos…I mean very respective presidents from Brazil and Mexico…you know Cardoso and Ernesto Zedillo but then you had George Shultz, the former Republican Secretary of like everything.

And then Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve Chair. And then you had Richard Branson who just seems on fire with this thing now. And then you have the guy who’s heading the Global AIDS fund. And then you have the former European Union Security Minister. And then you have other leading intellectuals.

And then they come out with a report that was about not just breaking the taboo, not just ending the drug war, not just in favor or harm reduction but spoke about moving forward with cannabis legalization and looking into experiments in legally regulating other drugs and said that harm reduction principles has to be applied not just to drug users but also to the people getting arrested for low-level sales and drug smuggling and … whoa!!

I mean this was … and that report came about why? Because of us! Because we’ve been putting those ideas out there for a decade or two. Because we’ve been cultivating those relationships. Because when these guys needed to know what they needed to say - their instincts were in the right place. But, “How did you flush it out? How did you say? What were the particulars? What were the models?”

Where were they coming to? They were coming to the people from the drug policy reform movement. When that report was being shaped to draft guess who was shaping it and drafting it? When it was being publicized and pitched to the media who were sympathetic it was because there was already a pre-existing drug policy reform community that could take an opportunity like that of distinguished people who wanted to step up – who could get the public eye in a way that we could not at our level – and could make stuff happen.

And then when you get a guy like President Santos in Colombia, former Defense Minister under a drug war, President Uribe in Colombia, and he steps up and he’s…I mean, he’s a fascinating guy.

Pay attention to Santos in Colombia. Former Defense Minister from one of the most famous kind of Kennedy-like families in Colombia. Turned out 14 years ago when we did that letter to the U.N. he had signed the thing so we knew he was interested.

And then what did he do in September of 2010? He convenes a meeting in Colombia – a little summit of 5 Latin American leaders. And what’s the subject? The subject is what if Prop 19 wins?

This is one of the reasons that Prop 19 was such a victory even though it did not win at the polls. He convenes this and they come out of there and publically they say, “Well, Prop 19 would just be bad because people in Latin America are dying to provide Americans with the drugs that they consume.”

And privately he’s letting it be known that he and others hope it wins. And the same thing is coming out the Mexican government.

You know, politicians almost by definition talk out of both sides of their mouth but this guy does it really well. And he does it for good as far as I can see.

And you know what else he is doing as is Arno perez Molina? They’re not just spouting out. They’re talking to people. They’re talking to academics. They’re talking to experts. They’re listening and they’re learning.

So we’re beginning to have, at the highest levels, a level of thoughtful strategizing about how to move this thing forward, right?! So, Santos now…once the Global Commission comes out – he makes a little statement of favor and then he starts stirring up a little bit.

Then he gets an interview saying, “Well, I think the world would be better off if we legalized cannabis. Colombia’s not going to be the first.”

And then he has another interview and another interview on this stuff. And then Calderon, you know, he’s got the moral authority. He’s waged this war against organized crime. He’s fought this battle. He doesn’t want to admit defeat but he’s got the moral authority.

The sacrifices that his government has paid in order to try to get the upper hand and even thought that haven’t really succeeded…but then he comes to America and not only does he say, “You guys should stop sending us all of these guns.” But” you should reduce your demand.”

He’s saying, “If you cannot reduce your demand maybe it’s time to look for market alternatives.”

Market alternatives, huh?! And then there’s a gathering called the Cusco Declaration where other Latin American presidents come together and that gets in there as well, right?!

So you have a level of sophistication that’s coming together. Right?!

Now what’s happening, I think…and this is how I’m thinking as of the last month or two about the broader strategy on this stuff. It’s about taking the two most dynamic elements that are going on.

The stuff about reducing sentences on the crack-powder reform and ending the drug-free school zone shit and all this sort of stuff is important. Reducing the number of people behind bars and doing…

But the two dynamic things that are going on right now…One is outside of the United States, right?! That is where you have the conversation around alternatives to prohibition, decriminalization and, listen, don’t be… when all of the sudden most Central Americans come out this evening and say, “We’re against it.” Do not be put off because it’s a first of opening it up.

For some of the Americas…but Santos is the one who embarrassed Obama when he goes down to Carta Henya next month for this whole thing. But the discussion will come up and even though it will be “poo poo poo” it’s opening up. It’s a multi-decade process, right?!

So what’s coming out is that more and more…it’s the elites…mostly at the elite level. From the political, the diplomatic, the intelligence, military, security, business, you know, media, talking to their counterparts in America and Europe and in other parts of the world.

It’s also, of course, going to be people like Javier Sicilia, the left-wing poet who’s leading the social movement in Mexico and a range of others. And it’s going to be the activists groups and the human rights activists and the student groups and SSDP…you know, Mexico and Latin America…and all these things coming up.

But it’s going to be that level, especially at the elite level, beginning to stir up and mix up the American elites in Washington and elsewhere.

And then…what is the other most dynamic element going on in the world today?! It is marijuana reform in the United States.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

ETHAN NADELMANN: Because the irony, of course, is this…America which, for centuries, has been the leader of the global War on Drugs is now as the level of civil society, public opinion and state government…becoming the global leader on marijuana reform.

The fact that there are now more, I believe, more medical marijuana dispensaries operating above ground in California and in Colorado East then there are coffee shops in Netherlands…that there are 1 million people who now have medical marijuana ID cards (maybe more). That one state after another is moving in that direction. The fact that we have legalization issues on the ballot in Washington and Colorado and maybe Oregon but that stuff is moving forward….whether we win or don’t win this year – we are coming back in 2014 and 16 and we are going to win eventually and the dynagraphics and everything else on our side….the fact of the matter is that when we’re down in Mexico and Central America what they’re asking about is,

“Are the legalization issues going to win?!”

They’re paying attention to what’s going on in Colorado right now. They want to know when California is going to be on the ballot again. This element, what we’re doing at driving and pushing and pushing at this level is something that is being paid attention to throughout the world and especially in Latin America.

It gives us the opportunity as we sit in that DPA…let the Latin America governments know that that within America our diplomats no longer speak for America when it comes to this issue right here.

AUDIENCE: [applause]

ETHAN NADELMANN: Think about this as pitzer move on the federal government, right?! Ultimately the federal government of the United States is the target and the elites are going to get hit from Latin America there and hit from our level of marijuana reform here…hopefully we can broaden out from beyond marijuana to harm reduction and sentencing reform and racial justice and the other important things but marijuana being the dynamic element.

We know that this is not an issue that the White House or congress can or ever will lead. We know that the repeal of alcohol prohibition was not led from Washington. It was led from the cities and the states and the public coming out and changing the laws.

And here’s going to be the principle challenge for us both domestically and internationally. It is going to be that while this momentum keeps going – it’s how we manage this.

So how we manage the conflict between the federal government and the state governments over the next 2 and 5 and 10 and 20 years. How we manage the fact that the fact that the feds have the constitution or, at least, as it is currently interpreted – the law on their side – the Supremacy Clause … but we have the politics and the public and the morality, by far, on our side.

How we negotiate that. All the struggles on medical marijuana. All the absurbity that Stevie D and all the other medical marijuana forces that are dealing with day after day and the ATF and IRS and all this stuff.

Our ability to be smart and sophisticated and savvy about managing that and negotiating that…not jumping too soon…being careful whether it’s legal cases or whether it’s political action. Not to set it up where we take two steps forward and then get pushed back 3,4, or 5. It’s being sophisticated and having those things.

That is going to be our number one challenge in being the maturation of our movement domestically. And internationally the analogy is the same that as countries begin to break off – whether it’s Bolivia or Colombia or Guatemala or Netherlands or Switzerland or some other new country emerging – how they manage the evolution from being a country that begins to diverge from international consensus as it crumbles while all the conventions and institutions and bureaucracies are on the other side…that they have the momentum and politics and morality…managing that also is going to require incredibly nuance and sophistication.

I know that you realize that this is a challenge not just about advocating for marijuana legalization but this is a challenge about bringing our intellect and our minds to bare.

This is about the senior thesis you are going to write and the masters and PhD’s you’re going to write. This is about what you are going to do as lawyers. This is about what you are going to do in government. This is about what you are going to do when you go to work for some corporation and they tell you that they are going to drug test and you say, “Fuck you…I’m out of there.”

AUDIENCE: [applause]

ETHAN NADELMANN: What it means to build a movement is to have the passion, the long-term commitment to recognize your children have a place in this too. What it means to make sacrifices to stand up personally and to be as incredibly smart and thoughtful and strategic as you possibly can be.

God bless you. Thank you very much.


DEAN BECKER: That was Ethan Nadelmann. Here’s hoping you high school and college students will consider joining http://ssdp.org

And, as always, I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s I 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.