Hey reddit! Ethan here. In case you missed it, last week I debated former DEA Head, Asa Hutchinson, on marijuana legalization. Here’s a great clip - my one minute summary on why I'm fighting to legalize marijuana: http://youtu.be/1SIfkp5oHcs

I was disappointed that I could only stay for a little while last week (http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1hfdy6/i_am_ethan_nadelmann_jd_and_phd_founder_and/) answering your questions, so I decided to come back for a second round! I’m happy to answer anything on your mind for the next hour or so.

Proof: https://twitter.com/ethannadelmann/status/354655751601528832

EDIT: Thanks for all your great questions, and also for the nice comments. Please follow me on twitter: @ethannadelmann and do your best to come to the next biennial international drug policy reform conference -- in Denver, Oct. 23-26, www.reformconference.org

Comments: 520 • Responses: 15  • Date: 

niquil291 karma

Hi Ethan, I lead a chapter of SSDP. Here's an idea I'm entertaining: What do you think about legislation to attach a fiscal note on charging documents/sentencing, etc. in the judicial process to help associate that there is a high price for incarceration we pay for non-violent drug offenders? I think once we make it more pronounced that we're paying $40k per year per prisoner, that could be a school teacher, a firefighter, or someone who actually helps society.

EthanNadelmann350 karma

One approach I really like is requiring that judges be informed of the fiscal cost of the sentences they impose on non-violent offenders. Missouri passed such a law a few years ago but had a hard time implementing it. Now we're working with local allies in Vermont to get such a law passed. it had some momentum in the legislative session earlier this year, and we'll be back next year and try to get it thru and make it a national model.

rhaskillah123 karma

What's the best way we can get involved to change things? What careers--if any--are there in advocacy, and how can we get our foot in the door?

Tongue420142 karma

I like to remind people that combat veterans have known for a long time the benefits of pot over opiates to combat pain. I tell them to at least consider this as a veterans issue.

EthanNadelmann135 karma

You're right about that. DPA is deeply involved in this issue, esp in NM where med mj can be recommended for PTSD and vets make up a substantial portion of the patients. Take a look at http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/2013/07/dpa-veterans-and-legislators-launch-freedom-choose-campaign-improve-veterans-access-med Not to chase anyone away but we are hosting a tele-press conf on this issue in 20 minutes.

baha2499 karma

Hi, Ethan. President Obama promised during his first term to cut down on the number of raids of medical marijuana facilities but very quickly reneged on that promise. Now that we have two states whose voters have legalized marijuana for ALL purposes, do you believe the Obama administration will back down or double down?

EthanNadelmann165 karma

I don;t think Obama is going to do either. His administration is clearly having a hard time trying to figure out what to do about WA and CO given the conflict between what those states have done and the letter of federal law. My guess is that they will do something like the 2009 "Ogden memo" that DOJ issued on medical marijuana, by which I mean their likely policy will probably be a sort of yellow light to WA and CO, effectively saying that we'll give you some room to implement the will of the people, but go slow, tread cautiously, etc and show us that legalization in one state is not going to create all sorts of problems.

catsilo86 karma

Hey Ethan, as a professional with a partner who uses cannabis to deal with the fallout from her autoimmune disorders [ and medications :( ], I feel like I must keep my head down in order to stay employed and maintain status quo. How could someone like me best advance the cause of full cannabis legalization without raising suspicion of violating state and federal laws?

EthanNadelmann147 karma

Just stick to the facts, and the science, and the economics -- and point to all the well regarded people that are joining us on this issue, including folks from law enforcement -- and make clear that advocacy for ending marijuana prohibition is not the same as advocacy for using marijuana. there will be times and places where people who like marijuana can include that fact as part of their advocacy but there's no need for you to do that. Keep in mind that tens of millions of Americans who don't use or like marijuana nonetheless believe it should be legal, not prohibited.

velma31264 karma

First, I've heard you speak and you're fantastic. I have so much respect for the work you do.

What do you think should be the main focus of drug policy reformers right now?

EthanNadelmann93 karma

Focus on what you're most passionate about, while learning about all the other issues that drive the drug policy reform movement. For DPA, we focus on marijuana policy reform, and harm reduction -- especially these days on reducing OD fatalities -- and on reducing overall incarceration for drug law violations. I'd say one of our biggest priorities now is ending the criminalization of drug possession in the US -- by which I mean Americanizing the Portuguese model.

aluminum_musher36 karma

What can be done to make drug policy reform less toxic for politicians to embrace? When I was running for State Senate a few years ago I kept my opinion about this to myself - left it out of the campaign website and brochures. But when asked face to face I had some really positive discussions with voters. My political support experts advised me to not talk about this at all because it would just give my opponent another thing to bash me with. How do we get past this, especially in politically conservative areas where being tougher on law & order issues seems to gain votes for politicians?

EthanNadelmann40 karma

I've been struck by the way a growing number of conservatives are speaking out on these issues, esp in addressing over-incarceration. Take a look at the website of Right on Crime, for instance. Fiscal arguments can be very powerful but so are moral arguments about the proper role of incarceration in a free society, and about the impact of overly punitive laws on families, and the importance of forgiveness -- and sometimes basic arguments about freedom also resonate.

I can tell you from our experience at DPA that we've successfully worked with local allies and legislators to advance all sorts of drug policy reforms on issues ranging from marijuana policy reform to drug sentencing reform to overdose prevention to honest drug education.

Often one finds that one's fears, and especially the experts' fears, about the backlash far exceed the reality once one dares to speak out.

the_mindless_monarch28 karma


EthanNadelmann70 karma

Generally speaking Europe is better than the US - with the obvious exception that at least some parts of the US are now leading the world when it comes to ending marijuana prohibition.

But Europe has a lot going on: the Dutch were pioneers with cannabis regulation and harm reduction in the 1980s, and the Swiss with heroin maintenance and safer injection sites in the 90s, and the Portuguese with their decrim policies since 2001. i am impressed by what Denmark has been doing in recent years on many fronts, and the Czechs are quite progressive on drug policy -- with an excellent drug czar I just met last month at the international harm reduction conference in Vilnius -- and other places are trying to move forward on cannabis regulation and harm reduction and decrim.

But not all of Europe is good. The UK seems to be going backward, notwithstanding the fact that PM Cameron seemed to get it in his earlier years; and the Swedes tend to be the leaders when it comes to pushing for repressive drug policies. France is making some progress under the new govt, but it's slow. And I like the way Norway is breaking away from Sweden, with former cabinet minister (and father of the current PM) Thorvald Stoltenberg playing an important leadership role.

eelia11120 karma

What are your suggestions on how to talk to my doctor's about my medical Cannabis use so they are not so mean to me? I moved from a state with regulation to one without do you think it is fair for a person needing Cannabis for health reasons become a criminal just for taking care of their health? any advice?

EthanNadelmann36 karma

Give your doctor the reports and studies from refereed medical and journals, and the lists of names and organizations that support medical marijuana -- and perhaps a copy of the federal court opinion making clear that doctors and patients have a First Amendment right to discuss the medical benefits of marijuana (I think it was Conant v. McCaffrey (or maybe Walters). DPA and ACLU won that one.

HellmanJoe19 karma

What's the single thing you would say to someone to persuade them to support the legalization of Marijuana?

EthanNadelmann73 karma

Watch this video from my debate last week with former DEA head Asa Hutchinson. It's my one minute response to your question. http://youtu.be/1SIfkp5oHcs

zxcvdfdff11 karma


There is a sense among some in the drug policy reformer community that DPA could do a better job collaborarating and working with other drug policy reform organizations (MPP, NORML, SAFER, SSDP, ASA, CJPF, etc etc).

A sense that DPA has, in some ways, become less of an "alliance" and more standalone. Is this fair? What do you think about the current state of collaboration between different organizations in the drug policy reform community?

EthanNadelmann18 karma

Well, it's in the nature of any growing political/social movement that groups proliferate, and sometimes find it challenging to work together, and that activists land up fighting over turf and credit and funding and girlfriends and boyfriends and and so on.

But, having read a fair bit about other political/social movements, I'd say that the drug policy reform movement wastes less time and resources on such internal conflicts than most other movements have -- and that DPA has generally done a better job of keeping the broader movement's interests front and center than have most other leading organizations in other movements.

As for evidence of DPA's collaborative role in the movement, you just need to look at the role our grants program plays in supporting allied organizations, and the role our biennial conference plays in building a broader movement www.reformconference.org, and the ways we've played all sorts of roles in supporting campaigns initiated by others while collaborating closely in campaigns where we take the lead.

So there's always room for improvement but I'd say DPA is powerfully committed to building a collaborative movement for ending the drug war.

aluminum_musher10 karma

There are several groups that are working for a more-sane drug policy in the United States, including the old standby NORMAL and the Marijuana Policy Project. What separates your group from the others, and why should I financially support your group?

EthanNadelmann31 karma

We're the best! :)

But, more seriously, the principal reason folks support DPA is that we work not just on marijuana policy reform but on the full range of drug policy reform issues. We've played a leading role in most marijuana law reform efforts, including a majority of the successful state campaigns to legalize medical marijuana, and in Colorado and Washington last year, and Uruguay right now, and other states and countries to come. But our work won't be over when marijuana is legalized because we're trying to end the entire drug war.

if you really ant to know what we're about, come to the next international drug policy reform conference, in Denver, Oct. 24-26. www.reformconference.org

sassr9 karma


EthanNadelmann42 karma

What's next after marijuana is legalized?

End the criminalization of drug possession.

Figure out ways in which people who are unable or unwilling to stop using drugs that are illegal can get them from a legal source rather than from the underground market.

Work to reducing incarceration in my country so that the US incarceration rate is at the world average rather than #1 in the world.

Promote a more honest view of drug use and misuse so that all drug policies, including those that do not directly involve the criminal justice system, are grounded in basic values of science, compassion ,health and human rights.

contempt4humankind5 karma

Do you think we will see a revamp of USA's drug policy in our lifetime? realistically.

EthanNadelmann29 karma

With marijuana, definitely.

With reducing incarceration, definitely as well, even tho it will be less dramatic than what's happening with marijuana legalization, and even tho we need to watch out that we don't replace our record high rates of incarceration with a maximum surveillance society in which fewer people are behind bars but millions more are under the supervision of intrusive governmental systems of control.

piyochama3 karma

Given the extreme histories of how the drug laws started and how these policies have changed over time, just how difficult is it to really get politicians to reconsider changing the law? Also, how much of drug policy law covers what's going on in Central / South America and/or takes into consideration how they would affect those countries, given the state that neighboring nations, especially Mexico, are in?

EthanNadelmann12 karma

Regarding South and Central America, I think the most significant development in drug policy reform worldwide over the past few years -- apart from the remarkably rapid progress of marijuana law reform in the US -- has been the incredible opening of the drug policy debate in Latin America, with first former presidents like Cardoso, Gaviria, Zedillo, Lagos and Fox speaking out, and now current presidents like Santos in Colombia, Perez Molina in Guatemala and Mujica in Uruguay calling for major reform of global drug policies.

I know that many people in Latin Americas who hate the drug war feel inspired by recent developments in the US with marijuana legalization.

There's no question that the transformation from the failed global drug prohibition regime of the 20th century to a more effective and humane drug control regime of the 21st century is going to be an incredibly difficult process -- in which varying paces of reform sometimes create serious problems -- but what's most important is to keep our eye on the long term objective. And that I define as reducing the role of criminalization and the criminal justice system in drug control to the maximum extent consistent with protecting public safety and health.

jarms842 karma

Hi Ethan. I'm a big supporter of DPA's mission, legalization, and harm reduction as a general public policy. My question is about age limits. At age 30 years old, I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. It's a mood disorder that, like schizophrenia, sets in around your late-teens, early-twenties – prime pot smoking time. I inhaled a lot of pot around then, and wonder if you're concerned like me that I may have made my undiagnosed Bipolar worse. If so, would an age limit of say 25 help mitigate that potential problem?

EthanNadelmann20 karma

While using marijuana may not be a good idea if you're bipolar, i am not aware of evidence that having smoked a lot of marijuana when you were younger would actually make the condition worse when you're older.

But more generally i think an age limit of 25 would do more harm than good. There's little evidence that such an age limit would make marijuana unavailable or significantly less available to young people who want to smoke marijuana, but, given that most people who are arrested for marijuana possession are under 25, would keep the costs of the current policy in place.

i actually think we'd be better off with an age limit of 18 rather than 21 given who is actually getting arrested combined with the costs and ineffectiveness of current policies. let's deal with the health risks as a health issue, not a criminal one.