It's been seventeen years since I started DPA, and 23 since I started The Lindesmith Center. So tomorrow is my last day as executive director, and I'm ready to answer any (or almost any!) question you have.

It's been an amazing run. I'm feeling enormously proud of all the progress and accomplishments that DPA and the drug policy reform movement have made over the years. No doubt we have lots of work ahead, especially with Donald Trump in the White House, Jeff Sessions as AG, and others now in power.

I say "we" because although I'm stepping down as head of DPA, I fully intend to stay involved in drug policy reform both in the US and around the world. This has been my guiding passion for thirty years so far (first as a professor at Princeton from 1987 to 1994, then creating and heading The Lindesmith Center from 1994 to 2000, and most recently as head of DPA for the past seventeen years). I'm looking forward now to my fourth incarnation in our growing movement, whatever that may be.

Ask me anything!



EDIT #2: Came back to answer some more of your questions and now I have to be going. Follow me on Twitter at @ethannadelmann and continue to support the Drug Policy Alliance in the fight to end the war on drugs!

Comments: 66 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

czj11318 karma

What is currently the biggest lobby fighting marijuana legalization on the federal level?

EthanNadelmann7 karma

At this point I think it's political supporters of the drug war: Sessions and the folks he'll appoint throughout the federal law enforcement bureaucracy; and state-level political figures like governors, attorneys general and other key law enforcement folk who don't like seeing marijuana get legalized.

friendofcheese9 karma

Hi Dr. Nadelmann:

Do you still plan on fighting against mass incarceration after leaving DPA?

Longtime DPA SSDP MAPS activist here. Nonviolent LSD felon with a now useless political science degree that is having extreme difficulty finding a legal job, do you have any advice?

Thanks for all of your hard work and the incredible progress you've achieved

EthanNadelmann12 karma

Yup, I'm not going to stop fighting to end mass incarceration til I drop!

As for advice in finding a job, I don't know. I guess just apply yourself to doing whatever you most love to do and are relatively good at -- and then bust your ass to be as good at it as you possibly can. And, if you're lucky, things will work out really well!!

CharacterZero07 karma

Ethan!!! I'm such a big fan of yours. Please don't go too far from the movement.

What's the next issue area you'd like to see take off like marijuana legalization has in recent years?

EthanNadelmann18 karma

The new cutting edge of drug policy reform is ending the criminalization of (all) drug possession in the US - basically trying to do Portugal-style decrim in our own country.

zorro6666 karma

Ethan - thank you for all the incredible work you've done to help so many people. You are a badass and a true warrior of light!!

My question is: Will our society ever accept the role of psychedelics as medicine?

EthanNadelmann3 karma

Yes, I think that will happen. I was just at the MAPS conference in Oakland last week - almost 3000 people there, with scientists reporting on their research from around the US and elsewhere, Phase 3 studies beginning with FDA approval in mind. Rick Doblin is making history, and I'm so impressed by the work that MAPS, Hefter and others are doing.

I also think that Michael Pollan's forthcoming book on psychedelics and medicine will take media interest to yet another level. The more people know about this, the faster psychedelics will be legally accepted as medicines.

LegalizeMyself5 karma

You've talked about doing a podcast in your free time after DPA. What would it be about?

EthanNadelmann9 karma

I'm thinking I'll call it "On Drugs." Basically conversations with all sorts of interesting people -- authors, activists, politicians, famous people, thoughtful drug users, etc about anything involving drugs: marijuana, psychedelics, opioids, addiction, legal drugs, performance enhancement, the drug war and drug policy reform, mass incarceration and the racist dimensions of the drug war, etc. Some conversations would be all about drugs, and some would just have a drug hook and then branch into broader conversations about political and personal stuff and so on.

And if this starts to take off like I hope it will, then I'll begin to explore other approaches beyond just conversations with one or two guests.

I must say that doing Joe Rogan's podcast a couple years ago was a real eye opener for me. I had never heard of him before and was blown away by how many people listened to and watched. And I loved his style of doing it. So I realize Joe is special, but right now he's my podcast role model.

Octoplatypusycatfish2 karma

Hey Ethan, thank you for doing this tedious work of freedom fighting and humanitarianism. Maybe when you do start up your podcast, you can ask Joe if you can come back on to let people know about it, I'm sure it could help garner an audience.

I like the name you choose, can't wait to be a regular listener :)

EthanNadelmann3 karma

Yup, Joe Rogan told me he'd like me to come back on the show. Hopefully later this year.

EthanNadelmann3 karma

I'm thinking I'll call it "On Drugs." Basically conversations with all sorts of interesting people -- authors, activists, politicians, famous people, thoughtful drug users, etc about anything involving drugs: marijuana, psychedelics, opioids, addiction, legal drugs, performance enhancement, the drug war and drug policy reform, mass incarceration and the racist dimensions of the drug war, etc. Some conversations would be all about drugs, and some would just have a drug hook and then branch into broader conversations about political and personal stuff and so on.

And if this starts to take off like I hope it will, then I'll begin to explore other approaches beyond just conversations with one or two guests.

I must say that doing Joe Rogan's podcast a couple years ago was a real eye opener for me. I had never heard of him before and was blown away by how many people listened to and watched. And I loved his style of doing it. So I realize Joe is special, but right now he's my podcast role model.

BananasKnapsack5 karma

How scared should we be of Jeff Sessions?

EthanNadelmann13 karma

Very scared, and very motivated, and very strategic. Sessions is a reefer madness ideologue and apparently a strong advocate for mass incarceration. He's to the right of almost all his former Republican colleagues in the Senate. He doesn't give a damn aboutb personal freedom or racial justice, indeed quite the opposite. Steve Bannon called Sessions his mentor. Trump seems to be signing off on whatever Sessions want to do. And he's in the process of making sure that senior federal law enforcement positions are filled by people who believe in the drug war and are notably lacking in anything resembling human compassion or honest and decent policy sensibilities.

But Session will overreach, inevitably, and it's our job as reformers to make the most of the opportunities when he does so, and to build powerful, broad, bipartisan coalitions to stop him and keep building on them omentum we've achieved in recent years.

metastar135 karma


I actually was an intern in the NYC office a few years back and met you many times. With you being the bonafide leader of DPA, how do you envision the organization's vision and methods of moving forward in such an unstable political climate?

Hopefully I will see you in Atlanta!

EthanNadelmann6 karma

I'm leaving DPA in good shape. Seventy highly talented colleagues, many with well over a decade of experience at DPA. Our board chair since the beginning, Ira Glasser, is overseeing the transition, including the search for my successor. My former deputy director, Derek Hodel, has returned and will become the interim e.d. starting next Monday. We've built up a good reserve (rainy day) fund so that DPA is solid for the foreseeable future. And most of our major donors have made clear that they are committed to DPA's future even after I leave. So, all in all, I'm feeling good and confident that DPA is going to grow and flourish without me!

I'm hoping and assuming that the basic mission and vision of DPA (see it on our website) is going to remain more or less the same for years to come. And some key objectives remain clear: keep the ball moving down the field on marijuana legalization, while doing what we can to make legal marijuana a model among legal industries in terms of ethical behavior and social justice consciousness: keep pushing to reduce and end the role of drug war mindsets and policies in mass incarceration in the US; and do everything possible to reduce the role of criminalization and the criminal justice system in drug control while still advancing public health and safety.

TrynaCatchTheBeat4 karma

How do you feel about the concept of prison abolition?

EthanNadelmann7 karma

I've always thought that some people need to be incarcerated both because of what they've done to hurt or kill other people, and because they cannot be trusted to refrain from hurting other people in the future.

But that said, I'm really impressed by what some countries in Europe, especially in Scandinavia, have been able to accomplish in terms of minimizing the number of people behind bars and maximizing the chances that people once released will refrain from criminal activity in the future.

And, just to be provocative here, without advocating, it's worth thinking about lots of other ways both to punish offenders and to hold then accountable for crimes they've committed against others.

anythingnoniding4 karma

What do you believe is a reasonable timeline for the first US state to decriminalize all drugs?

EthanNadelmann4 karma

I think of decrim as along a spectrum - from felony to misdemeanor to infraction to ticket to fully legal to possess. Our challenge is to move policies and penalties down that spectrum with the basic objective of having no one lose their freedom, or even be punished in other ways, simply for possessing a modest amount of a drug for one's own use.

I think it will be a few years before at least one state really embraces the notion of no jail-time for possession of anything.

gbggmu3 karma

What are your favorite books on drugs, addiction, and drug policy?

EthanNadelmann2 karma

Sad to say I haven't kept up with the literature as I did when I was still in the university. But among the older books that influenced me back in the 80s, the top would be Andrew Weil's The Natural Mind, Stanton Peele's The Meaning of Addiction, and Norman Zinberg's Drug, Set and Setting. Some of Grinspoon and Bakalar's books, especially Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered and Drug Control in a Free Society, were really well done.

And more recently, I'm blown away by the impact of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. It's a brilliant book, by an inspired thinker and advocate, that has had an incredible impact. And Carl Hart's High Price is unparalleled in the way it simultaneously critiques all the mythd about drug use while presenting a sophisticated and very personal take on the role of racism in the drug war.

Oh yeah, David Nutt's book. That's one smart guy! Just met him for the first time last week at MAPS' biennial conference.

AStoutBreakfast2 karma

What is a good way for someone to get more involved with the organization and outreach? You guys are fighting the good fight

EthanNadelmann4 karma

Sign up for DPA's emails. Respond to the "take action" messages which often involve contacting your political representatives. Follow Drug Policy Alliance on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and tell your friends to as well!! Reach out to my DPA colleagues and let them know where you live, what you're passionate about, and how you realistically think you can help. Get sophisticated about being an activist and an advocate. Remember, effective advocacy is not just about saying out loud what you think and believe but much more importantly about learning to communicate and act in ways that persuade others to embrace our viewpoint. One big reason we've been so successful in changing public opinion and policy re marijuana is that key leaders have been relatively disciplined in our messaging.

And remember too: Think global, act local. All politics (sort of) is local. That's where the real change happens.

manfromixtlan2 karma

Hey Ethan! Big fan and card carrying member of the DPA for 10 years. Do you think that if the drug war were to end, that the government owes reparations to those that were negatively affected by the drug war? If so how should the amounts be determined and distributed?

EthanNadelmann6 karma

Yes, some sort of reparations makes sense. I'm particularly proud of the provision in the California marijuana legalization initiative, Prop 64, that we co-drafted and won last year -- which dedicates up to $50 million in marijuana tax revenue to be spent in the communities that have been most harmed by the drug war.

alfrep2 karma

Dear Ethan,

If you had to choose between cannabis legalization in Colorado or the one in Uruguay, which one would you say is the best and why?

EthanNadelmann1 karma

I'd go for Colorado, but I'm supportive of Uruguay's approach as well. Just as national alcohol Prohibition was replaced not by one national approach but rather by hundreds of not thousands of different state and local approaches to alcohol regulation, so marijuana prohibition will be replaced by a great diversity of models.

Canada will be implementing its own new approach next year, and a number of European countries will get there in coming years. That is all to the good.

I must say that I really hope that smaller producers can continue to play a significant role in the legal marijuana markets, akin to but biger than the place of microbreweries in alcohol markets. Won't be easy given the basic economics of marijuana production, marketing and distribution but we have to try.

anythingnoniding2 karma

What has prevented organizations so far from succeeding in decriminalizing all drugs and turning drugs from a criminal issue to a public health one in any US states?

EthanNadelmann2 karma

That's a tough one. It's all about moving public opinion and then translating that shift in opinion into policy and legislative changes through either the ballot initiative process of legislative action.

More resources would always help, of course, because that could pay for important research and advocacy. But we shouldn't underestimate how tough all-drug decrim is in the US given our long history and attachment to abstinence-only ideologies and policies. (Think alcohol Prohibition!) And the fact that it's tied in noth just with US style abstinence ideologies but also with fears around kids and layer upon layer of racist, ethnic and xenophobic prejudice make it all the harder.

But we will win this one day, I'm sure!

zanellaice2 karma

Hey Ethan,

Even though you're stepping down from DPA, will you be helping organize the Reform Conference in October? Additionally, will you be in attendance?

EthanNadelmann4 karma

I'll be at REFORM in Atlanta in October, most definitely! I look forward to seeing many of you there.

As for the program, I gave my colleagues my last comments and suggestions last week. A lot still to be finalized, but I guarantee it's going to be an amazing gathering, and there's a good chance it will break new records in terms of attendance.

somtam3212 karma

Hi Ethan, thanks for being here. Do you think there is a relationship between US's historic approach to drugs policy overseas and the ongoing war on drugs seen in the Philippines and previously Thailand? Do you think figures such as Duterte and Trump could undermine global progress of policy reform?

EthanNadelmann2 karma

Trump is definitely going to be a problem for global drug policy reform. Obama administration, especially during its last three years, really began to break away from almost a century of US leadership of the global war on drugs. We're sure to roll backwards during Trump's rule.

As for Duterte's war crimes in his country, what's most scary about it is that he still seems to have the support of a majority of Filipinos. I don't think, however, that he's providing a role model for other political leaders and countries -- indeed, he may be producing a productive backlash.

yourIP-wouldbe2 karma

what can you say about Rodrigo Duterte?

EthanNadelmann2 karma

I look forward to the day when he will be indicted and convicted as a war criminal.

I wish he didn't he remind me so much of Donald Trump!

bozobozo2 karma

What is your favorite dinosaur?

EthanNadelmann2 karma

I don't know dinosaurs well enough to have a favorite, and I can't remember if I had a favorite when I was a kid learning about dinosaurs.

anythingnoniding2 karma

Drug decriminalization by 2024

Knowing what you know now, if you were starting DPA from scratch with the single goal of decriminalizing all drugs federally and making drugs a public health issue by 2024, how would you do it? Would $50 million be enough? What other resources would be most critical — if people, what type? What do you believe the rough percentage odds of success might be?

EthanNadelmann3 karma

We'd need much more than $50 million. We know two things about how most Americans think about this issue. They agree that people caught in possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use should be given multiple opportunities for drug treatment to achieve abstinence; and they also are not ready to get rid of criminal penalties unless there are some sanctions for continuing to use illegal drugs.

Our challenge as reformers is to be as innovative as possible in working within those two majoritarian viewpoints. Drug courts I tend to think of as one or two steps forward and three or four backwards, for all sorts of reasons, but mostly because they effectively expand the reach of the criminal justice system and make it more or less impossible to practice harm reduction with people caught up in the CJ system. On the other hand, I'm impressed by LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), which you can think of as either the least problematic form of criminal justice diversion in the US or the closest thing to Portugal in the US. It's great to see LEAD getting some traction now around the country, although I'm wary of ways in which its basic precepts may get corrupted as it expands to more, and more conservative, locales.

anythingnoniding1 karma

If you had $30 million in funding, how long do you believe it would reasonably take to decriminalize all drugs in California only?

EthanNadelmann3 karma

Impossible to say, but with $30 million we could pull together an extraordinary ballot initiative that might not fully legalize all drug possession but might in fact get us close to that, especially if combined with innovative harm reduction, treatment and criminal justice policies to ensure that the new law improved the lives of the vast majority of Californians. Win that and we'd have a national model that could really get things moving around the US.

czj1131 karma

Ethan, what does the next chapter of your career, post-DPA, look like?

EthanNadelmann1 karma

I deliberately have not made any plans. I'm going to be on the road for much of May and June with speaking gigs, meetings, personal stuff, and so on. (San Francisco, Phoenix, Miami, Maui, L.A., Warsaw, Geneva, not sure where else). Then nothing on my calendar this summer. Hoping just to hang at home in NYC, and have nice beach time on both coasts. And starting September, all I know is that I don't want to run anything or have to be anywhere every week, for at least a year. Then we'll see. But I'll keep out there, public speaking, writing, advising, mentoring, etc -- and I guess the one thing I'm sort of excited about starting right now is a podcast. I think that would be a blast. Oh yeah, keep an eye on my personal Twitter @ethannadelmann

bunoutbadmind1 karma

Hi Dr. Nadelmann:

Do you think that countries that have reformed their drug laws in recent years will face sanctions or other forms of retribution from the Trump Administration? If so, what can we do? I ask as a Jamaican who fears that our ganja reform could lead to problems in our relations with the US.

EthanNadelmann2 karma

I've been thinking about this one lately and I don't feel as confident as I did in the last Obama years that the US government will simply leave other nations alone when they move to legalize marijuana. On the other hand, even the Trump administration will be hard pressed to condemn other nations for legalizing marijuana so long as eight and possibly more US states are implementing their own legalization laws. And, quite frankly, Uruguay is far away and of little interest to the US government, while Canada is a force in its own right, not easily bullied by the US government.

So I guess the bottom line is that other governments will likely be OK as they move to legally regulate marijuana, but they should tread cautiously and and make sure there's no increase in their marijuana exports to the US.

LazySummerDays471 karma

Ethan, are you satisfied with the legal age limits of alcohol and tobacco in america or would you change something about them?

EthanNadelmann5 karma

I think the 21 age limit re alcohol is absurd, hypocritical and bad public policy all things considered. I'd recommend cutting it to 18, give or take a year.

Advocates of the 21 age limit point to evidence that it reduces auto fatalities, and there may be some truth to that. But it's almost certainly the case that those fatalities could be reduced even more by other public policies, perhaps including higher taxes on alcohol. Meanwhile, criminalizing behavior that more than half of all people under the age of 21 engage in promotes more dangerous drinking practices as well as disrespect for the law, and drives a wedge between adults who might exercise a moderating influence and young people who are likely more reckless about their alcohol use in part because no adults are around.