Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, delivered a fiery TED Talk last month at TEDGlobal 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the talk, released today as the lead item on TED.com, Nadelmann delivers an unflinching and powerful analysis of U.S. drug policy that was greeted with a standing ovation.
“The reason some drugs are legal and others are not has nothing to do with science or health or the risk of drugs, and everything to do with who uses, and is perceived to use, certain drugs,” says Nadelmann during his TedGlobal talk. “If the principal smokers of cocaine were affluent older white men and the principal users of Viagra were young black men, using Viagra would land you time behind bars.”
Described by Rolling Stone as “the point man” for drug policy reform efforts and “the real drug czar,” Nadelmann is widely regarded as the outstanding proponent of drug policy reform both in the United States and abroad. Nadelmann is the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the world’s leading organization working to end the war on drugs and to promote drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.
Nadelmann and his colleagues at the Drug Policy Alliance have reformed state and federal laws involving drug sentencing, access to sterile syringes to reduce HIV/AIDS, access to addiction treatment, prevention of overdose fatalities, and all aspects of marijuana policy. Nadelmann is drug policy advisor to George Soros and other prominent philanthropists as well as elected officials ranging from mayors, governors and state and federal legislators in the U.S. to presidents and cabinet ministers outside the U.S. He and the Drug Policy Alliance have worked closely with the Global Commission on Drug Policy, with members including global leaders, former heads of state and luminaries like Sir Richard Branson and Kofi Annan, to break the taboo on public discussion of non-prohibitionist drug policies.
DPA and its lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, played an instrumental role in securing monumental drug policy reform victories in the recent midterm elections, including marijuana legalization in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., marijuana decriminalization in New Mexico, medical marijuana in Guam, and groundbreaking criminal justice and sentencing reforms in New Jersey and California.
“I’ve dedicated my life to building an organization and a movement of people who believe we have no choice but to turn our back on the failed prohibitions of the past and embrace new drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights,” Nadelmann told the audience. ”We come from across the political spectrum and almost every other spectrum as well. We’re people who love drugs, people who hate drugs, and people who don’t give a damn about drugs, but every one of us believe that this war on drugs — this heartless and disastrous war on drugs — has got to end.”
Nadelmann received his B.A., J.D., and Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard as well as a Master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics, and taught at Princeton University for seven years. He has authored two books - Cops Across Borders and (with Peter Andreas) Policing The Globe - and his writings have appeared in most major media outlets in the U.S. as well as top academic journals (e.g., Science, International Organization), policy journals (Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Washington Quarterly, Public Interest) and political publications from the right (National Review) to the left (The Nation). He is interviewed frequently by media, including The Colbert Report, The O’Reilly Factor, Real Time with Bill Maher, and news programs on all the major U.S. networks as well as dozens of networks elsewhere.
TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful oratory.