03/10/17 Ethan Nadelmann

Ethan Nadelmann, Exec Dir of Drug Policy Alliance soon to retire + Canadian Senator Larry Campbell re opiod crisis, failure of drug war

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Friday, March 10, 2017
Ethan Nadelmann
Drug Policy Alliance



MARCH 10, 2017


DEAN BECKER: Hi, this is Dean Becker, thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. We have a great show lined up for you.

BOB DYLAN [MUSIC]: Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

DEAN BECKER: In just a few moments, we'll hear from Canadian Senator Larry Campbell, talking about the world's opium crisis, and necessary changes to the drug laws. But first:

You know, it's with some sadness, regret, but maybe a lot of optimism and hope on the side of our next guest, a gentleman who has spent the bulk of his adult life trying to influence, to change, our nation's drug laws. I want to welcome the executive director, the founder, of the Drug Policy Alliance, my friend and my partner, Mister Ethan Nadelmann. How you doing, sir?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Good, Dean, thanks for having me on again.

DEAN BECKER: Ethan, there is some news in the near horizon. You're going to retire from the DPA.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, it's about time to step aside, you know. I mean, Dean, I've been doing this, running DPA, for 17 years, and then it was six years building up the Lindesmith Center at the Soros Foundation before that, and, you know, and then I was involved for seven years before that, when I was teaching at Princeton, so I'm really thinking about this as moving onward to whatever my next incarnation's going to be, in drug policy reform. But with greater flexibility to be able to talk about issues beyond drugs, as well.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly. Exactly. Our allied group, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, just changed their name, if you will, to Law Enforcement Action Partnership, to diversify their outreach as well. Correct?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Uh huh, that's right, that's right. And you know, I'm really not sure, Dean, what lies head, you know, it's, I mean, drug policy reform has been, as you said, you know, the lion's share of my work throughout much of my adult life. I don't see leaving it behind. I am looking forward, I'll be stepping down around April 30th, and I look forward to, you know, taking a break and stepping back, and trying to help DPA and my successor thrive, once I'm no longer here.

But also to have a little more freedom to, you know, experiment with some other things and such. So, it will be good.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And I would hope that it's not going to leave your concepts -- you won't be leaving this concept behind, I would imagine we'll see some letters to the editors, op-eds, maybe more appearances on --

ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, I mean, Dean, I'll tell you, I mean, one of the things about running DPA, you know that DPA is now an organization that has over 70 people working for DPA, you know, in 7 or 8 offices around the country, you know, a substantial, multi-million dollar budget, so what I'm actually looking forward to is hopefully, if I'm still in demand, having even more opportunity to write and to do some public speaking than I've had to date.

You know, on the one hand, I won't have the platform of being the head of DPA, on the other hand I'll still have things to say, and so I'm looking at actually, you know, one thing is when you're running an organization like this, you have to turn down most of the speaking invitations because of the responsibilities of running the organization. So, hopefully the invitations will keep coming, and I'll have more time to do that sort of thing.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, and it was, I don't know, about 10 days ago, DPA had a phone teleconference, and you got a chance to in essence say goodbye to the, well, gosh, hundreds of people and organizations that have been partners with the Drug Policy Alliance, as well. That was a rather sad telephone conference.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Yeah. Yeah, I tell you, you know, I'm looking forward -- look, DPA's next biennial international conference is coming up in Atlanta, in mid-October. People want more information, just go to the website, it's ReformConference.org, that's the name of it. But I'm sure I'll be there, I'll be seeing people there as well. And, you know, I mean, I'm looking forward to no longer having to carry the responsibilities of running the organization, but I do well imagine that I'll be staying in touch with a variety of people, you know, into the future.

But I like the sense of not knowing, you know, the sense of adventure that comes with all this. The other thing I should just say is, you know, for me the decision to step down, it was a combination of personal, and organizational, and political things. You know, the sense of having done this for as many years as I've been doing, that getting, I guess, just a little bit bored with it, or tired, and feeling that it was time to, you know, to move on and to hand this off.

I wanted to do it at a time when, I mean, also, you know, whenever you build a new organization like this, you know, it, I don't know that anybody thought it was time for me to leave. I wanted to be the first person to think that. And I think, you know, I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from people, you know, just in terms of knowing, you know, knowing when to step down, when to step aside, and make room for a successor.

Part of it was organizational, that DPA's in a strong position right now, you know, we're in the middle of a number of ten-year financial commitments, so I wanted to give my successor a chance to, you know, to have the money in the bank so that they can, you know, build from there. I wanted to do it while Ira Glasser is still the board chair, he's been the board chair since the beginning and I really wanted, you know, him managing this process once I step down.

And then I think politically speaking, you know, I really feel like, you know, I've talked about this, I mean, you've heard me, Dean, and others, talk about this is a multi-generational struggle, like the movements for gay rights, and civil rights, and women's rights. And I really do feel like we're really into the second generation now. I feel that we made extraordinary progress in the marijuana reform issue. I feel that on the issue of ending mass incarceration and the drug policy reform piece of that, that although we haven't made as much progress as we'd like, that it's certainly the case that the dialogue has been transformed and I think in ways that Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions will have only limited ability to undermine.

And then even on the harm reduction front, you know, I mean, we've come a long way. I remember when needle exchange was the most radical thing in the world, and now you see those popping up even in southern states, and in, you know, a guy named Mike Pence, you know, when he was still the governor of Indiana was obliged to allow needle exchange, to deal with an outbreak of HIV. So I'm excited about the progress that's been made, and I feel like it's a good time to, you know, not declare victory, because we certainly haven't won this, won this effort yet. But a good time to acknowledge the progress we've made and, you know, look at what else still needs to be done, and to hand the baton off.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I think back, 18, 20 years ago, I was just kind of a rebel, lost in Texas. I had no connections with anybody who wanted to end the drug war. Ran into, you know, the good folks at the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, Al Robison, they kind of helped corral me a little bit, and then when I met you, I think 15 years ago, I found somebody that I could emulate, I could, you know, pull back a little bit. I could try to focus on, you know, bringing the truth forward rather than just pissing on the shoes of the drug warriors.

And it has helped me to make progress, and your presentation, your way of going about things, I think, has helped influence many others to help make changes in their community, and I want to thank you, sir.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, thank you, Dean, and I'm enormously appreciative of the role that you've played, I mean, whether it's in Houston, and your recent successes on the marijuana front there, or with this show that you've been doing for so many years, and effectively developing, you know, not just in a day in day out way a useful vehicle, but also effectively the archives of this movement. You know, I mean, the oral archives of this, I think you've just played a really key role in this, Dean. It's such a difference.

And I've loved the times I've come into Houston, you know, whether it was for the events at the James Baker Center at Rice, that Bill Martin was organizing, or other gatherings, I mean, just coming to Houston and seeing things beginning to move there and in Texas, you know, I mean, as they say, if things can change in Texas, they can change anywhere in America.

DEAN BECKER: You got that right. Thank you. Again, folks, we're speaking with Mister Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Now, you're not going to be there at the helm anymore, but can you give us your thoughts, some projections, of what you think may occur in the next few years?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, I mean, first of all, you know, hopefully for DPA, the search firm, the board has a search committee, they've hired a search firm, they will be posting the job announcement in the next couple of weeks, and then be really looking all over the country for who would be the strongest candidates to step into my shoes.

I think that for DPA, you know, I mean, things can always change, but we do have a mission and vision statement that's pretty clear, you know, about ending, you know, or basically ending drug prohibition as we know it, about embracing the core principle of sovereignty over mind and body, about advancing drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health, and human rights.

I think that on the marijuana issue, I think there we're going to see doing whatever -- do what we can do to keep the ball moving down the field, and also pushing for a more socially just version of legalization, of the sort that we just succeeded in putting through in California with Prop 64. You know, the states where we have offices, like New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico, are going to remain major priorities for trying to advance marijuana legalization.

I think with respect to the criminal justice element of our work, beyond marijuana, I think there we very much know our place. I mean, if you think about it, Dean, from roughly
'96 to roughly 2008 or so, you know, I and DPA were at the forefront not just of drug policy reform but even of broader sentencing reform efforts. Ballot initiatives, Rockefeller drug law reform in New York, elsewhere, and I think that was for two reasons. One was that I was the only one around able to raise that kind of money from the billionaires, to mount the ballot initiatives, and the second was that drug policy reform, after having been sort of the black sheep of criminal justice reform back in the '80s and '90s, by the time you get to the late '90s, the first place where the American public is saying stop locking up so many people, it was with nonviolent drug offenders, especially possession offenders.

And so I think we led the way in those years, and now, our niche is pretty clear, which is that we're the organization, we're the movement, that's going to be pushing hard to basically end the criminalization of drug use and possession, to advance the European sort of approach, the Portugal approach, other countries, where basically nobody goes to jail or prison simply for drug possession, so long as they're not hurting other people.

And I think that's going to be a major challenge in the US. You know, there's still zillions of people getting arrested for simple drug possession, or violated on parole and probation. It's an area where the harm reduction folks that we work with oftentimes don't delve as much into the criminal justice realm, and the criminal justice folks who are our allies oftentimes don't know enough about drug policy or harm reduction to understand what the right alternatives to incarceration are.

So I'm pretty clear that that's going to play a major role in DPA's future. And then meanwhile, we're going to keep pushing forward on things like safe injection sites, to, you know, reduce the public nuisance of drugs, and overdoses, and disease. We're going to try to push forward with allowing pharmaceutical heroin to be prescribed to people who've been addicted to street heroin for a long time. We're going to keep addressing the new issues around the new psychoactive substances that are popping up. We're going to keep advancing sensible approaches to drug education with young people. We're going to keep speaking to all the reasons why abstinence-only drug policies, treatment policies, you know, are wildly insufficient to deal with the problems of drug addiction. We're going to keep putting up the big issues around prohibition, and asking what are people afraid about around legalization and why we need to understand all the many ways in which prohibition creates all these harms.

So, I think DPA's future is, you know, the huge agenda ahead of us, and I feel confident that the organization is going to remain committed to a lot of these key principles.

DEAN BECKER: Ethan, during that teleconference from, what, 10 days ago, you had made the point that, okeh, pot's getting legal. But there's still a lot of work to be done beyond that point, which is music to my ears, that's always been my concern, that, yeah, I want pot legal, but I want to end the madness of this drug war itself, of prohibition that's empowering terrorist cartels and gangs. It's well beyond pot, is not, sir?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, it most definitely is. I mean, look, marijuana accounts for roughly half the drug arrests in this country, and probably half or more of all the drug arrests around the world. On the other hand, it probably only accounts for ten percent or a little more of all the drug incarcerations in this country. So, I think that taking on the other drugs is absolutely central.

The challenge of course has been that there's no indication of public opinion polling of any openness to legalizing heroin or cocaine or methamphetamine the way we have with marijuana. So the question becomes, what then do we do? And the way I've tried to frame it, Dean, is to, just to lay out to people to think about a drug policy, so that the alternatives, as arrayed along a spectrum, from the most punitive, you know, chop off your hands, you know, hang you by your fingernails, you know, executive you, whatever, you know, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, you know, those sorts of policies, to the most free market drug policies you could imagine, like, cigarette policy 40, 50 years ago.

And then, what we're trying to do, and I would really define, if I had to define drug policy reform in one sentence, albeit a long sentence, it would be to say, that the mission of drug policy reform is to reduce the role of criminalization and the criminal justice system in drug control as much as possible, while still advancing public health and safety. So, it's the basic notion of moving down the spectrum from punitive prohibitionist policies into less punitive prohibitionist policies, into harm reduction prohibitionist policies, into elements of decriminalization, into legal regulation as we're seeing with marijuana, into heroin prescribing as we're seeing with the heroin maintenance projects in Europe.

It's with, you know, the New Zealand approach, to regulating psychoactive substances that don't have medical benefits but that have a very low risk. It's all of that movement, down the spectrum, and I think that's a, that there's a long way to go on that still, and I think that's what we all need to commit to.

DEAN BECKER: All right, friends, there you have it, Mister Ethan Nadelmann. Ethan, you know, I think I speak for all of your partners, all of your allies, with the Drug Policy Alliance and that is, we're going to miss having you at the helm, but I know you're not going to be that far away, either, and I wish you luck, sir.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, thank you, Dean, and I won't be going far, and I look forward to staying in touch with folks and continuing to advocate for saner drug policies into the future. And thank you once again for all the amazing work that you've done as well.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you, sir. All right, friends, Ethan Nadelmann, executive director, Drug Policy Alliance. That website, DrugPolicy.org.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Abnormal dreams, confusion, coughing up blood, decreased sensitivity to stimulation, decreased sex drive, difficulty concentrating, difficulty speaking, hepatitis, impotence, memory loss, and sensitivity to light. Time's up! The answer: Claritin. Another FDA-approved product. Ah-choo!

It's really motivating when my local officials have just stopped arresting people for four ounces of marijuana, but there are many different parameters and tactics in this drug war, many of them failures. Here to talk about some of the positives and negatives up in his nation of Canada, is Canadian Senator Larry Campbell. Hello, sir.


DEAN BECKER: Thank you for joining us. Mister Campbell, the drug war is hanging on by its nails, at this moment. It's trying to cling to this need to lock up our youth for being stupid from time to time. Am I right, sir?

LARRY CAMPBELL: Well, I think it's an ongoing evolution that we see happening, and I think that I would agree with you that the drug warriors are hanging on, but I think that more and more, society realizes that the war is not really a war, and that if it was a war, the generals would have been fired a long time ago.

I mean, I point to, you know, your county, where you live, the realization that using police resources for what is in effect a relatively innocuous medicinal plant is simply not good use of resources in this day and age, when resources are important and money is scarce. We need to really take a look at, so, I mean, you know, it's not just in Canada, it's everywhere. I mean, we see how many states have legalized marijuana. It's everywhere in the world that we realize that we're spending an inordinate amount of money, we're causing really gross hurt to our communities, there of course is racism involved in it, and it's simply not good government policy.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Now, you know, many of those who stand in opposition to change, like our new attorney general, Jeffrey [sic: Jefferson] Beauregard Sessions, have no real experience in the field, so to speak, that they're not doctors, most of them have never been law enforcement, and you have a rather unique set of credentials. You were a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the drug squad, you were coroner there in Vancouver, and you were mayor of the city of Vancouver, and I think all of that gives you more experience and expertise, if you will, to speak in this regard.

And, many of the -- I guess what I'm saying is, many politicians just kind of speak from fear and ignorance, and remembrance of reefer madness. Would you agree with that thought, sir?

LARRY CAMPBELL: I would say they were suffering from arrested development, because, certainly, you know, ideas and thoughts on issues change, as you get older, as you experience more, they change, and hopefully they change for the better. The problem with most people who can't accept -- what, that they can't accept change is that they're simply afraid of change. And, I would suggest to you that many of these politicians believe they're still living in the mid-'50s, that picket fences abound, that there are jobs everywhere, and life is great. And I've got some bad news for them. I loved the '50s, but it's never going to happen again.

So, they have an inability to take a look, and should change their mind without -- and, because you change your mind or you move on doesn't mean that any ideals that you had, or maybe ideas that you had, were wrong. It just simply means that as you progress, you get more information and you start changing your views. And they can't accept that.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Larry, I know that, you know, in the US, we have progressive cities. San Francisco, maybe, being a prime example, and your nation of Canada has a similar situation with your, I guess, home town of Vancouver, where medical and recreational marijuana is not given the focus, doesn't have the laser pointed at it, like it does in other cities in Canada, and the same holds true for Vancouver's safe injection site, and then, a willingness to adapt, as you're saying, to changing circumstance.

LARRY CAMPBELL: All of these, all these changes come about because of crises. I mean, Insite came about in Vancouver because of the HIV crisis, we had higher -- our rates of HIV were going through the roof in the '90s, way more than for instance New York City, and this was in response to that crisis. And much of our, I mean, Vancouver's a beautiful place, and we're very progressive, but a lot of ours is based on simple, hard facts.

How do we stop this, how do we stop this HIV epidemic? And in the process, at the same time as the HIV epidemic, we had a glut of pure heroin coming in from southeast Asia. And so we started seeing those deaths rise. It's not, many of these, people would like to say, oh, it's because we're progressive. It's actually because we had a crisis and the citizens of Vancouver took the bold step of addressing it in a way that it had never been addressed in North America, namely with a supervised injection site, you know, with Insite.

But the same thing applies to, many people call it the laxness of enforcement, for marijuana in certain areas of British Columbia. Well, that simply comes about because there are finite resources that police have, and are your resources best spent on running around arresting people, who, in reality nothing's going to happen to, they go to court, they might get a small fine, if it's a first offense it's going to be, they don't even get a record, it's a conditional discharge. So, it's as a result of issues, and crises, that we really moved forward. We had to move quickly because people were dying.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir, and this brings me to perhaps a more current point I wanted to get to, and that is, we've got, you know, the Oxy pills are being sold all over the world, now, they're causing a lot of complications, but then we have these counterfeiters that are making fake Oxy pills with fentanyl, carfentanyl, even more deadly than heroin, we've got heroin as you say coming in from southeast Asia and other places around the world. Nobody knows for sure what the heck is in that bag or that pill. It's a direct result of prohibition, is it not, sir?

LARRY CAMPBELL: It is as a result of prohibition, but it's also as a result of foreign influence, I mean, most of our, most of the precursors for fentanyl come from outside our country, and so that's coming in. I'm afraid that from the point of view of fentanyl, it's turned into a disaster. I mean, there's at least 2,500 people died in Canada last year, we only have 33 million people here. Compare that to any other, and it's medical, because remember these people are addicted, and they have a medical disease. They aren't criminals. And I think, more than prohibition, it's how we view addictions, drug addiction in particular, as a society, rather than seeing it as no different than somebody who has cancer or has other some disease process, and being able to get it treated.

And, that's what we're addressing here right now. I brought a bill in yesterday, it will reduce the barriers to supervised injection sites. I would expect to see probably 10 to 15 of those within the next year. It allows customs to open where -- they weren't allowed to open 30 gram or less in packages coming from outside the country, well, 30 grams of fentanyl is enough to give you up to 15,000 overdoses. So, that's coming. Pill presses are involved in it. There are a number of steps that we're taking to address this crisis, but, overwhelmingly it has to come from the public to be able to understand that this is enormous, it has to be dealt with as a medical problem and not as a criminal problem.

But certainly, I would agree with you that all, virtually all problems involving all drugs is as a result of ill-designed prohibition.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. I mean, we want to, you know, protect our kids, we want to maintain safety for adults and, you know, design a better plan for the future. But there are so many who stand in the way, who refuse to re-examine what we're up to, am I right?

LARRY CAMPBELL: Well, I'll give you an example. Last weekend, a fourteen year old girl died in the Ottawa area as a result of a fentanyl overdose. She was not, she was not a drug addict, she was a teenager who experiments, as most teenagers do. Probably thought that it was an ecstasy-like drug, and it had been laced with fentanyl. We start seeing this going on, this is beyond the norm, beyond what we would normally expect. And so, you know, my position is this. My biggest role in life is to keep people alive. That's why I was a coroner.

And, people are going to have to get rid of some of their ill conceived ideas on this, because the idea that somebody chooses to be an addict, or that somebody is there because of poor moral judgement or character, is simply wrong, and it contributes to our rising death toll.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I'll tell you, Larry, it's aggravating, frustrating, maddening sometimes, the slow pace of change. Your thought there, sir.

LARRY CAMPBELL: Nobody said that the race goes to the swiftest.


LARRY CAMPBELL: And, you know, I've been in this for, since 1969, when I joined the Mounted Police. I can tell you something, that it's moved faster than I would have predicted. Marijuana certainly has moved faster than I ever would have predicted, and to be blunt, faster in the United States than I would have ever predicted. And so I think there is, there is a ground swell that's building. Now, we'll have to see what the new president does, with his choices, and how that affects drug laws.

But, everybody wants to write off the United States in this drug issue, but in fact, in many areas, they've been showing considerable courage and I think that that has to be recognized. But, I never thought this would be fast, I never thought that it would be easy. And, it hasn't been.

DEAN BECKER: I have to agree with that. Well, friends, once again, we've been speaking with Canadian Senator Larry Campbell, a man of honor and distinction in my opinion. Thank you, Larry.

LARRY CAMPBELL: Okeh, thank you very much.

DEAN BECKER: Man, I need a one hour show, just enough time to remind you once again that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.