10/27/13 Ethan Nadelmann

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Drug Policy Alliance Conference Report from Denver, featuring Ethan Nadelmann Dir of DPA, the Reverend Edwin Sanders & US Congressman Jared Polis

Audio file


Cultural Baggage / October 27, 2013


DEAN BECKER: This is Cultural Baggage, the Unvarnished Truth about the drug war. This is Dean Becker recording this week from Denver, Colorado where I’m attending the Drug Policy Alliance bi-annual conference with more than 1,000 attendees – most from the United States with perhaps another 100 from around the world.

Here to introduce the last speaker of the plenary session who I choose to put on first and I think you’ll hear why is the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Mr. Ethan Nadelmann.


ETHAN NADELMANN: And now it gives me great pleasure to introduce our final speaker of the morning session, my dear friend, the long-time board member of the Drug Policy Alliance, the senior servant and metropolitan interdominational church in Nashville, Tennessee, Rev. Edwin Sanders.


EDWIN SANDERS: I want you to stand back to your feet. All those freedom movements that Ethan just listed every one of them has a freedom song so I’m going to treat you to one today. I’m just going to start singing this song. If you know it and the rest of you who don’t know it I’m just going to ask you to learn it real quick because it goes like this.

[singing] We who believe in the freedom cannot rest, cannot rest.

We who believe in the freedom cannot rest until it comes.

[speaking] That’s it. That’s all of it.

[singing] We who believe in the freedom cannot rest, cannot rest.

We who believe in the freedom cannot rest until it comes.

[speaking] Come on....louder than that.

[singing] We who believe in the freedom cannot rest, cannot rest.

We who believe in the freedom cannot rest until it comes.

[speaking] Now take the roof off this time.

[singing] We who believe in the freedom cannot rest, cannot rest.

We who believe in the freedom cannot rest until it comes.

[speaking] Ethan talked about freedom but freedom is a constant struggle. Freedom is not what we do on our day off. Freedom is not the business that we are about when it’s convenient and easy. Freedom is not something that we can opt into and opt out of. Freedom is not something that we can excuse ourselves from when we desire.

If we are going to be a part of this movement there is a way in which we have to understand that we cannot rest until it comes.

On August the 12th Ethan sent me an email and the first line of the email was, “What a day. If only every Monday was like this.”

I’ve held onto to that ever since because we need to be the people who can stand up every day and say, “What a day.”

We need to be able that every day is the right day. It’s not just the day when we heard from Washington the news that we want and need to hear. It’s not just the day when we’ve been able to have the experience that allow us to have some since of individual and collective success in our efforts. It’s not just the day when we personally feel like something we’ve done has made a difference but it’s the day that has to become our every day.

Ethan said he wishes every Monday could be that way. I want every day to be that way because there’s a way in which we ought to be able to say every day it’s alright. It’s alright. I want you to have that line.

I’m used to talking to people who talk back to me. If ya’ll want to talk back to me you don’t have to say amen but nod, wink or do something that lets me know that you hear me.

The first thing I want to say about this business about it’s alright and that’s the line I want you to hold onto today is just simply it’s alright. Let me hear you say that.

AUDIENCE: It’s alright.

EDWIN SANDERS: You see it’s alright today because we’re the right people and we’re in the right place.

AUDIENCE: It’s alright.

EDWIN SANDERS: We’re the right people in the right place.

AUDIENCE: It’s alright.

EDWIN SANDERS: It’s the right day.

AUDIENCE: It’s alright.

EDWIN SANDERS: It’s the right issue and we allow ourselves to live up to the possibilities, the potential that are locked in the people in this room we can be sure that the drug war will be brought to an end.


EDWIN SANDERS: I realize I was only going to end up with about 15 or 20 minutes so I decided what I was going to do was give you the title of all five of the lessons I intended to deliver.

The first one was don’t take no for an answer. Is that alright?

The second is don’t turn back.

AUDIENCE: It’s alright.

EDWIN SANDERS: The third one was overcoming the culture of oppression.

AUDIENCE: It’s alright.

EDWIN SANDERS: The fourth one was living in the shadows of the empire.

The fifth one is one that many of you already know especially if you’re a reggae fan is living on the frontline.

Let me tell you what I heard in our session yesterday when we brought faith leaders together. One of the things that we talked about in that session was the whole business of how this movement has evolved in the places that we are celebrating here today.

One of the things I want to suggest to you is that movements don’t just happen unless there is something, some energy, some force, some dynamic, some presence, something that transcends what we can easily reduce to what we can embrace with our limited ability to logically and reasonably wrap our minds around it.

The first thing I’m convinced that we have to understand is that it is beyond the limitation of reason and logic. What we’re talking about in this movement requires you being able to see, being able to believe, being able to embrace, being able to visualize, being able to somehow carry in your heart the awareness that what you are trying to do even though all the factors in life might say it’s beyond what can be done you have to be the one that believes there is something bigger, something greater and something that you can do that no one can see and might seem impossible.

When Ethan stands here and talks about the movement that translated into the end of slavery don’t you know that no one that had shackles on their feet, that had the whip marks on their back, that did not have any of the privileges that were a part of our ideals of this country could even begin to see the possibility that we would be here today.

It’s only because there is a spirit that carried it. What we talked about yesterday was about how we own, how we shape, how we fashion, how we end up being a part of constructing the spirit of this movement.

I’m convinced this captured that little song I had you singing because simply said we who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes. Don’t you know there are those who will never believe that women’s rights would be where they are today? Don’t you know that 30 or 40 years ago there were those who never would have believed the same gender loving people would be able to freely marry and have relationships that are accepted and affirmed and celebrated in places where you never would have thought before?

Don’t you know that there’s no way that the rights that we take for granted are not the byproduct of some people who had to rise above the limitations of logic. We need to understand that from where we are today because this movement is one that’s going to have a transforming effect upon the world and the times in which we live.

Ethan has said it but you need to hear it in your own heart, in your own voice, in your own way. You need understand that if we do this right we’ll deal with all the complex and difficult issues that undermining the infinite possibilities of life available for us in this world.

If we do this right we’ll adjust the issues of economic opportunity. If we do this right we will deal with the issues of access to housing and that kind of thing. If we do this right we will deal with health care that’s available to everybody everywhere. If we do this right...you see there’s a thread in this. There’s a way in which I cannot be happy, I cannot be content, I cannot be satisfied, I cannot sit down, I can’t stop until I know the forces that drive and the forces that continue to be a part of what allows this horror to be visited upon us in the name of the drug war is not going to go away.

Don’t you know that the drug war - I want you to understand this right now – is nothing but the mask of all the stuff we hate. The drug war is the mask of racism. The drug war is the mask of sexism. The drug war is the mask of homophobia and all the other stuff. It’s the mask.

One of the things that we are going to do is take off the mask.



DEAN BECKER: Alright I want to remind you again this is Dean Becker reporting from Denver, Colorado attending the Drug Policy Alliance conference. Toured a cannabis dispensary and going to tour a grow site tomorrow. They are allowing me to bring my cameras. Nobody seems too concerned. There are no problems being reported from the sale and use of marijuana.

I guess the only problems are those who are growing clandestinely avoiding the state tax. I guess under this law they deserve whatever they get.

I’m kind of running the plenary session in reverse. Just before the Rev. Edwin Sanders we had Mr. Ethan Nadelmann, the director of the Drug Policy Alliance.


ETHAN NADELMANN: If we could all just start by thanking the people of Colorado and Washington for leading the way on freedom in America.


And I also have to say [spanish]

I got to say what I want to talk about today it’s about both the process of our taking our movement to the next stage and it’s also about the ways in which we challenge ourselves intellectually because my colleagues always hear me talk about the DPA thing – the Drug Policy Alliance thing. What’s the DPA thing? It’s about always finding the ways to connect the dots, to connect the dots.

We are not just a narrow movement for legalizing marijuana and we’re not just a movement for reducing incarceration. We’re not just a movement within the United States and we’re not just a movement for treating addiction as a health issue.

We are always trying to weave and spin. I think what I find so wonderful about this job and this task and this life is about the ways that requires each of us to open up, to open us to something new. That includes our hearts and our minds as well.

Part of what I’m going to do today is to offer a whole lot of apologies and a whole lot of thank you’s. Some of them are going to be heart felt and some of them are going to be a bit cynical.

But I gotta say that one way or another we are moving forward. We do have a long way to go. God knows we have hit the tipping point. I think we’ve hit the tipping point on marijuana.


For years I’ve been saying to my friends and allies who start talking this tipping point I say, “Don’t say that yet. Don’t say that in 2008 or 9 because you can only say you hit the tipping point so many times before you lose your credibility.”

I think we have hit the tipping point. We’ve hit the tipping point because of what Colorado and Washington did and what Uruguay is going to do. We’ve hit the tipping point because the Justice Department and thank you to the Obama administration for giving these states a little bit of room to run.

We’ve hit the tipping point...Did you love the way we arranged that Gallup poll to show up two days ago?


I wish I could claim credit but 58% of our fellow citizens say it’s time to legalize marijuana.


We’re going to do this right. We’re going this right but that does come with my apologies as well and these are sincere apologies. I apologize to those of you in Colorado and Washington and Uruguay because you’re going to have to bear the burden of leadership.

That means your system is going to have to be tighter and more constrictive and constrained then sometimes seems reasonable. It means you are going to have to put up with all kinds of bullshit from neighboring states and from feds and from others just so others can follow so that the rest of the country can be reassured that this is the right way to go.

I apologize to those of you under the age of 21 because we wish that we could make it legal for people who are down to the age of 18 and this absurdity of retaining the prohibition on people between 18 and 21 but we know that you look at those public opinion polls and all those people in the middle who we need to come our way get scared.

I apologize, too, to those of you who have made a decent living growing and producing and distributing good quality weed to all of us in here because the fact of the matter is the capitalist forces at work in a prohibitionist market are violent and brutal and ugly but we also know that the capitalist forces at work in a legal market are even more brutal in some respects. We know that the people who may come to dominate this industry are not the people who are a part of this movement so you have my commitment that I will do my best and the Drug Policy Alliance will do its best to ensure that those people who have risked their lives, have earned a decent living in this industry, that one way or another we will try we cannot promise to deliver but we will try that in a legal world of marijuana that there are millions of jobs including those people that worked in this industry before. We’ll do our best.

Of course, and you’ll have to forgive me if I repeat what I’ve said in past years here, we are not, of course, just a movement of people who like marijuana and relish our psychedelics and can’t stand the fact that the government wants to take away our freedom and treat us as criminals for what we put in our body, for the weed we smoke, the psychedelics that inspire and all the other drugs that we enjoy and that we do so responsibly.

We are also a movement of those people who have seen the worst that drugs can do, of the people who hang on and embrace sobriety every day, of the people who have that addiction running through multiple generations of their family, of the people who have seen their kids start with weed and go on into harder drugs, of the people who have lived with siblings and others dying of HIV and Hepatitis C and seen the horrors of drug addiction in our society who wish that we could have a drug free society but know that is not possible.

We’re also, of course, the people who don’t give a damn about drugs but who can’t stand the fact that we live in a country that has less than 5% of the world’s population but almost 25% of the world’s prison population, that we live in a world in which racism permeates our drug policies, that we live in a world in which we prefer to let people die than provide with a clean needle or an antidote to prevent their dying, that we live in a world in which prosecutors and law enforcement are willing to shred the Constitution in the name of the War on Drugs, that we live in a world in which doctors shy from carrying out the responsibilities because of drug war ideologies, that we live in a world that propagates myths to our children and puts them at greater risk.

So who are we this growing drug policy reform movement? We’re the people that love drugs. We’re the people that hate drugs and we’re the people that don’t give a damn about drugs. But every one of us believes that this War on Drugs is wrong, wrong, wrong, that this is no way to live with the reality of drugs in our society in America and around the world.



DEAN BECKER: Had to jump in here. At this point some first time reporter unplugged my audio cable but we’re picking back up again here with Mr. Ethan Nadelmann.


ETHAN NADELMANN: People say to me, “So what is it, Ethan? What is the Drug Policy Alliance fighting for?”

I step back and I give them an intellectual construct. I say let me put this is one admittedly long sentence. I’ll start by saying imagine all drug policy as an array among the spectrum. At the one end the Saudi Arabia, Singapore cut off their heads, pull off their fingernails, throw them away in pseudo-drug treatment camps, whip ‘em down to the other end, no controls whatsoever to cigarette policies of the 60s, Milton Friedman’s wet dream, right?

Imagine this spectrum from the most punitive to the most free market and everything that lies in between and that one sentence I would say that drug policy reform can be defined is that we seek to reduce the role of criminalization and the criminal justice system in drug control to the maximum extent that can stay consistent with protecting public safety and health. We seek to reduce the role of criminalization and the criminal justice system in drug control to the maximum extent that can stay consistent with protecting public safety and health.

We want to move it down, down, down. We want to get rid of those mandatory/minimums and reduce those prison populations. We want to end the criminalization of drug possession and embrace the Portugal model. We want to take marijuana out of the criminal justice system and we want to treat addiction more and more as a public health issue.

We want to ensure that people have clean needles and the help they need. We want to get resources shifted from the criminal justice system to health and education. We want to make sure that the people who are struggling from pharmaceutical opiates or heroin that naloxone is in every medicine cabinet in America so that they are not dying.


We want to move it down, down, down and then we want to see how much further can we push it. How much further can we push it before the risks if they exist are broader than legalization exists?

We know what’s happening with opioids in America today. They are out there more and more and as many people died last year in America of an accidental overdose as died in an auto accident and that is not acceptable. We know that the answer to that, however, is not more cops and prosecutors and criminal laws and prescription monitoring systems and all those sorts of things.

We know that the answer to that as with all dealings with drug policy is a health approach and an information approach and Good Samaritan laws and allowing pharmacists to make this stuff available because overdose in many respects is becoming the new HIV and Hepatitis C. It’s the thing that we need to deal with honestly and directly.

I’m asking every one of you who is here because you care first and foremost about legalizing marijuana to make a commitment to also help solve that problem and not just by telling everybody that marijuana is a better pain killer than opioids because it is for some but not for others. That’s part of our building a movement.

Also part of our building a movement is once we legalize marijuana and once we benefit from marijuana’s exceptional place in American and global society that you won’t wash your hands of being a drug policy reformer, that you’ll look around and see the other people rotting behind bars because of their involvement with drugs, that they’re being punished for putting in their bodies the same thing that we wanted to put in our bodies, that you’ll make that commitment to continue to fight to end the War on Drugs.


DEAN BECKER: Alright I had to cut in there if I’m going to include our other major guest from the plenary session, Congressman Jared Polis.


JARED POLIS: Welcome to our great state. We are excited to have you here. I’m sorry our Amendment 64 doesn’t go into effect until January 1s t but we are very excited about Amendment 64. A rare opportunity where politicians actually deserve some credit in our state legislature after Amendment 64 passed there was a good bipartisan coalition to implement Amendment 64 in good faith.

We kind of remove the politics out of it. The voters had their say and we got about our business. That’s exactly what we have to do at the federal level.

I think we all, to a certain extent, need to pinch ourselves because there’s been such transformation on how this issue is viewed just in the last few years. It was almost unforeseeable and many of you I’m sure are veterans of the movement and have had these positions all along but 10 years ago even 5 years ago to think that we would be at a place where a majority of our fellow Americans favor the legalization of marijuana. That’s where we are today.

And elected officials and this is something that I think you all understand but politicians and elected officials are as much followers as leaders so where public opinion goes so goes opportunistic elected officials.

You will see I’m confident increasing support among that lagging indicator which is elected officials both at national and state levels for supporting drug policy reform. In the way Amendment 64 performed here in Colorado and ballot initiatives in Washington and well as medical marijuana initiatives in other states has been a wake-up call to elected officials and policy makers that they can’t be on the wrong side of history and they can’t be on the wrong side of this issue because it will hurt their own prospects at the ballot box.

We have seen a little indication of this changing tide even in the United States congress - a couple things. When I first got there (this is my fifth year) legalizing marijuana, drug policy reform was not yet a mainstream issue. We talked about it. We advanced it.

I’m a Democrat. On my side it was not a majority position. There were, you know, a number of us who talked about it and, of course, a brave few Republicans (Ron Paul and others) who talked about it.

Fast forward to where we are today, 5 years later, it has become a mainstream position in my party, the Democratic Party. When we actually had a vote on an amendment to the Department of Justice Appropriations bill defunding prosecutions in states that have medical marijuana (before Amendment 64) we had more than 3/ 4 of the Democrats join us including the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, on that vote and we still have a brave band of Republicans whether they’re for states’ rights or individual liberty.

We have a brave band of Republicans – a new generation of Tea Party supporters and others who have replaced Ron Paul and work with us on all these issues. It was precisely this coalition that actually led to a win on the floor of the House. It was a win for hemp legalization and that’s important.

But we’re here to talk about a broader drug policy. A lot of the eyes of the nation will be turned towards Colorado, towards Washington, towards our experience here and it’s important to get it right.

It’s fine to celebrate and be excited. We should be, to pat ourselves on the back and get ready for the next battle as was mentioned in the previous speech. There’s rampant injustice in this country. There’s families that have been torn apart because of the drug war. There’s people who have lost their lives because of the drug war. There’s ancillary crime because of the drug war.

Here in the short term we need to make sure we get it right here in Colorado, get it right in Washington so that when articles are written, when studies are done they say, “Look what this has accomplished here in Colorado. Through legalization we’ve been able to decrease marijuana use among teenagers. We’ve been able to eliminate the criminal element. We’ve been able to create this many jobs. We’ve been able to generate this much tax revenue. We’ve been able to decrease crime in these areas.”

These goals that we’ve always talked about for years and, frankly, the American people are being won over towards but we need to now prove the point and demonstrate the results and I’m confident that we will but it isn’t easy and for those of you who live in Colorado hopefully you’re involved with this implementation effort which to our Governor, John Hinckley, has involved all the relevant stake holders in the discussion from law enforcement to the business community to the health community to the drug abuse prevention community to those entrepreneurs who have been brave enough to stake a claim in the marijuana space here in the medicinal side and now on the commercial sales in the last few years.

We know that the federal government still stands in the way of our local entrepreneurs and business scene. Access to banking privileges is high on our agenda. We’re working on that with my fellow Coloradans to make sure that banks are able to bank marijuana businesses here in Colorado. We know that there is still existential threat of a DEA crackdown. Of course we’re assured by Attorney General Holder’s clarification with regard to Colorado and Washington but all it takes until the statute is changed is an Attorney General or President waking up on the wrong side of the bed one day and rounding up and arresting people rather than allowing them to operate legal state businesses.

That’s why I’ve introduced the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act – HR 499”.


You all have a representative. You all have 2 senators. I want you all to call your representative, call your senators and ask them to co-sponsor HR 499, the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act” which would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, regulate marijuana like alcohol and help us gain support because it will come from you.

Remember your representative in congress is as much a follower as a leader and you can challenge yourself to be their leader. I encourage you to do that. Let’s pass marijuana decriminalization at the federal level and welcome to our great state of Colorado.


DEAN BECKER: This week you have to name your own drug by its side effects. Much more on this week’s Century of Lies show available on many of the Drug Truth Network stations.

This is Dean Becker reminding you because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.


Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org