Rolling Stone Profile of Ethan Nedalmann

ethanRolling Stone magazine gives the full rock star treatment to my friend Ethan Nadelmann in the current issue.

In 1988 and 1989, three events thrust drug legalization onto the national agenda — where it remains — as the primary remedy for the dual problems of drug abuse and the disastrous unintended consequences of drug prohibition. Ethan played a key role in that moment that this profile does not share.

The first event was a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors by Baltimore’s new mayor, Kurt Schmoke, calling for drug legalization to address the crisis of the new AIDS epidemic, among other things. Schmoke, the city’s first African-American mayor, was a former United States Attorney and former elected State’s Attorney for Baltimore City. Mayor Schmoke was an important political figure making an unusually frank and significant statement at obvious political risk. With a bullet-proof background in the Ivy League and as a well-regarded prosecutor, his courageous stance had an unchallenged political legitimacy.This event was stunning in its timing — Nancy Reagan was still First Lady, just saying “No,” Congress was developing of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, and the crack cocaine epidemic was growing and become more violent.

In September 1989, new President George H.W. Bush, speaking from the Oval Office announced an anti-drug strategy from the first modern “drug czar,” Dr. William Bennett. Politicians had been pushing a “war on drugs” for eight years, and the nation was really ready for some new thinking.

As Bush’s speech was being written, one of the nation’s most prestigious intellectual journals, Science, published an article by Dr. Ethan Nadelmann making a case for legalization.This peer-reviewed article blessed the intellectual legitimacy of the critique of prohibition, the second key event.

Third, the morning after the President’s address, it was attacked at a well-attended press conference in a Washington, DC with Ira Glasser, head of the ACLU, Neal Sonnett, a very distinguished bar leader and President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Dr. Arnold Trebach of the Drug Policy Foundation, Don Fiedler, Esq. head of NORML, and Rev. Andrew Leigh Gunn, head of Clergy for an Enlightened Drug Policy. I had set up the press conference and was moderator. The national news media reported our critique of the enforcement emphasis of the drug strategy as a terrible failure, and that it needed to be replaced by legalization. For the first time, drug policy was no longer reported as the tit for tat of Democrats and Republicans trying to sound tougher than the other.

Schmoke’s speech, Nadelmann’s article, and the organized voices of a drug policy reform movement demonstrated a moral vision, an intellectual maturity, and a political and media savvy that planted drug legalization firmly in the national discourse about drug policy. The legitimacy of prohibition was, from that point on, always under attack!

It took several years for Ethan Nadelmann to move to the center of the drug policy reform movement. Rolling Stone outlines the seminal moment of his leadership, Proposition 215 in California in 1996. Ethan saw the emerging opportunity, recruited the major funders and political strategist Bill Zimmerman, which resulted inmarijuana winning one million more votes than Bill Clinton winning re-election in California.  Read more…

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.