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Ep.244: Ethan Nadelmann- The Exit Interview

Cannabis Economy Podcast
Ep.244: Ethan Nadelmann- The Exit Interview

Ep.244: Ethan Nadelmann- The Exit Interview

Ethan Nadelmann returns for his Drug Policy Alliance exit interview. Ethan explains that there are a whole range of issues- personal, professional, political and otherwise- that make this point in time most appropriate for a transition. We discuss what he’s liked most about the job…what he’s liked least and a bit of everything in between.
Ethan responds to what we should be looking for as far as qualities and qualifications of his successor. And we discuss what he’s planning on doing next. On leaving, he very deliberately decided to focus on being 100% present, ensuring that DPA was in a good place…which, he explains, it is.

Transcript:

Seth Adler: Ethan Nadelmann returns. But first, some supporters to thank. And thank you, as always, for listening.
This episode is supported by Mary's Nutritionals. Mary envisions a world without pain. Mary summoned a team of physicians, chemists, botanists, and nutritionists to create an unrivaled line of products enriched with hemp extracts and other plant nutrients that nourish the body, mind, and spirit. Every batch of Mary's products, from patches to muscle freezes, is laboratory-tested for quality and consistency. For accurately dosed, discreet-use, cleanly delivered CBD products, go to MarysNutritionals.com/canneconomy.
This episode is also supported by incredibles. As you know by now, incredibles brand chocolate bars have grown into Colorado's highest-volume and most nationally awarded infused product. Incredibles continues to help propel cannabis innovation by introducing new edibles and continuing to focus on food safety, dosing consistency, child-proof packaging, and government relations thought leadership. Tag CannEconomy in an incredibles post about your favorite cannabis innovation.
Ethan Nadelmann. Ethan Nadelmann returns for his Drug Policy Alliance exit interview. Ethan explains that there are a whole range of issues, personal, professional, political and otherwise, that make this point in time the most appropriate for a transition. We discuss what he's liked most about the job, what he's liked least, and a bit of everything in between. Ethan responds to what we should be looking for as far as qualities and qualifications for his successor. And we discuss what he's planning on doing next.
On leaving, he very deliberately decided to focus on being 100% present, ensuring that DPA was in a good place, which he explains, it is. Welcome to Cannabis Economy. I'm your host, Seth Adler. Check us out on social with the handle @CannEconomy. That's two ns and the word economy. Part three, following episode 67 and 202 with Ethan Nadelmann. The exit interview.
Okay. So I guess this is really happening, Ethan.

Ethan Nadelmann: It sure is. What are we, mid-April? A couple weeks to go. Yeah. On my way.

Seth Adler: How you feeling?

Ethan Nadelmann: I'll tell you, Seth. I'm feeling, I'm feeling really good. I mean, you know, this was a decision that I started thinking about a couple years ago.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: And really started to set in motion last summer. The key thing was getting my board chair, Ira Glasser, the former head of the ACLU in the 80s and 90s, you know, he's been my partner in building DPA for all the time we've been here, since 2000. And he knew it was going to put a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, and it was important to me that Ira still be around as the chair in order to oversee the transition.

Seth Adler: Got it.

Ethan Nadelmann: So I had to persuade Ira that, you know, I thought this through deeply, and that there were a whole range of personal and organizational and political factors why it made sense to do it now, as opposed to two years or five years or 10 years from now. But I have to say that while I have some trepidations about the future, I'm also quite excited about it. And I'm also quite confident that DPA is gonna, you know, continue to grow and flourish under whomever they find as my successor.

Seth Adler: Well, I appreciate that, and I'm happy that you feel that way. It's interesting to hear that you ... That part of the plan of you leaving was because Ira is still in that chair position, right?

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, I should say, I mean, you know, when you make ... I shouldn't say when one ... I'll speak personally.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Ethan Nadelmann: When I made this decision, it was probably about 25 different variables that went into it. You know, part of it was the personal. It was, you know, I was working on my 16th or 17th annual budget and preparing my 33rd or 34th board meeting in the 9th biennial conference, and some of that stuff gets to feel ... You know, I just noticed that my enthusiasm and energy. I mean, on the one hand, it gets easier because you've done it before and because you are able to hand off more and more of it to staff. But it was getting a bit tiring and such.
So that was a part of it on the personal. Part of it was, I just turned 60 in March.

Seth Adler: Happy birthday.

Ethan Nadelmann: Thank you. And I was looking forward to that, and thinking I'm still young enough and vigorous enough that I can think about what else I want to do with my life and not just retire retire.

Seth Adler: Ethan Nadelmann returns. But first, some supporters to thank. And thank you, as always, for listening.
This episode is supported by Mary's Nutritionals. Mary envisions a world without pain. Mary summoned a team of physicians, chemists, botanists, and nutritionists to create an unrivaled line of products enriched with hemp extracts and other plant nutrients that nourish the body, mind, and spirit. Every batch of Mary's products, from patches to muscle freezes, is laboratory-tested for quality and consistency. For accurately dosed, discreet-use, cleanly delivered CBD products, go to MarysNutritionals.com/canneconomy.
This episode is also supported by incredibles. As you know by now, incredibles brand chocolate bars have grown into Colorado's highest-volume and most nationally awarded infused product. Incredibles continues to help propel cannabis innovation by introducing new edibles and continuing to focus on food safety, dosing consistency, child-proof packaging, and government relations thought leadership. Tag CannEconomy in an incredibles post about your favorite cannabis innovation.
Ethan Nadelmann. Ethan Nadelmann returns for his Drug Policy Alliance exit interview. Ethan explains that there are a whole range of issues, personal, professional, political and otherwise, that make this point in time the most appropriate for a transition. We discuss what he's liked most about the job, what he's liked least, and a bit of everything in between. Ethan responds to what we should be looking for as far as qualities and qualifications for his successor. And we discuss what he's planning on doing next.
On leaving, he very deliberately decided to focus on being 100% present, ensuring that DPA was in a good place, which he explains, it is. Welcome to Cannabis Economy. I'm your host, Seth Adler. Check us out on social with the handle @CannEconomy. That's two ns and the word economy. Part three, following episode 67 and 202 with Ethan Nadelmann. The exit interview.
Okay. So I guess this is really happening, Ethan.

Ethan Nadelmann: It sure is. What are we, mid-April? A couple weeks to go. Yeah. On my way.

Seth Adler: How you feeling?

Ethan Nadelmann: I'll tell you, Seth. I'm feeling, I'm feeling really good. I mean, you know, this was a decision that I started thinking about a couple years ago.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: And really started to set in motion last summer. The key thing was getting my board chair, Ira Glasser, the former head of the ACLU in the 80s and 90s, you know, he's been my partner in building DPA for all the time we've been here, since 2000. And he knew it was going to put a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, and it was important to me that Ira still be around as the chair in order to oversee the transition.

Seth Adler: Got it.

Ethan Nadelmann: So I had to persuade Ira that, you know, I thought this through deeply, and that there were a whole range of personal and organizational and political factors why it made sense to do it now, as opposed to two years or five years or 10 years from now. But I have to say that while I have some trepidations about the future, I'm also quite excited about it. And I'm also quite confident that DPA is gonna, you know, continue to grow and flourish under whomever they find as my successor.

Seth Adler: Well, I appreciate that, and I'm happy that you feel that way. It's interesting to hear that you ... That part of the plan of you leaving was because Ira is still in that chair position, right?

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, I should say, I mean, you know, when you make ... I shouldn't say when one ... I'll speak personally.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Ethan Nadelmann: When I made this decision, it was probably about 25 different variables that went into it. You know, part of it was the personal. It was, you know, I was working on my 16th or 17th annual budget and preparing my 33rd or 34th board meeting in the 9th biennial conference, and some of that stuff gets to feel ... You know, I just noticed that my enthusiasm and energy. I mean, on the one hand, it gets easier because you've done it before and because you are able to hand off more and more of it to staff. But it was getting a bit tiring and such.
So that was a part of it on the personal. Part of it was, I just turned 60 in March.

Seth Adler: Happy birthday.

Ethan Nadelmann: Thank you. And I was looking forward to that, and thinking I'm still young enough and vigorous enough that I can think about what else I want to do with my life and not just retire retire.

Seth Adler: Well, let's take that tangent while we have it.

Ethan Nadelmann: Sure.

Seth Adler: So taking that tangent, what else is on the list? If nothing else ... Is something in place? I should ask you that directly, right?

Ethan Nadelmann: No, no, no.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Ethan Nadelmann: I very deliberately, for a set of reasons ... Once I sort of set the thing in motion at the end of the summer, and then once I'd set a date with my board chair ... You know, we set the date in, I think, December, for late January at our board meeting. I deliberately, though, made no inquiries, no anything, outreach for what I might do next.
I mean, for a few reasons. One is I wanted to take off some time. Another was that I basically ... I felt like, I didn't want it to leak out at all. I mean it was very closely held, just a few old friends and my family and my board chair knew. And then I also felt that both psychologically and morally, that I wanted to be as close to 100% present while I was still at DPA.

Seth Adler: Excellent.

Ethan Nadelmann: I mean, literally to the two days before I announced at the end of January, I was having meetings with different colleagues about their plan for calendar 2017. Nobody could pick up on the thought that I was beginning to think that I was fully engaged, in my mind, while I was here, I was fully present. So I made no plans, and then since that time, over the last 2 and a half months, I'd begun to think about what I might want to do.

Seth Adler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Ethan Nadelmann: I've made no hard plans. So here's what I know right now.

Seth Adler: All right.

Ethan Nadelmann: I know that, come May-June, I'm going to be on the road, both through still speeches and meetings I have to go to or want to go to and personal stuff. July and August, I'm just going to take off the first summer since I was a kid.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: I mean, I literally ... Until last February, I'd never taken off more than 2 weeks in my adult life. I mean, I never took a sabbatical, anything like that. So I feel a bit tired, too. And then I know that for, beginning of September, for at least a year, I know I don't want to run anything anytime soon.

Seth Adler: Got it.

Ethan Nadelmann: And I know that I don't want to have to be any place on a weekly basis. Like I don't want to be teaching a course at a university, at least for the next year. I just want to have that freedom and flexibility. And then in terms of the bigger ideas ... I'm gonna say, down the road, I might run something again. I might be, you know, I don't know, whatever.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Ethan Nadelmann: But I know there's a few things ... And I feel it's time for me to write the book I've been meaning to write, which keeps changing. So I plan on doing that at some point. And I hope I actually do it. I hope I'll be, have even more opportunity to be out there speaking because a lot of those invitations I had to turn down while I was running Drug Policy Alliance because not all of them made sense in terms of running a national and actually an international organization.

Seth Adler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Ethan Nadelmann: I hope I'll be more involved on the international elements of drug policy reform because that was only, you know, the international part was only ever 5 or 10% of DPA's work, even though it was the origins of my interest in the issue, and part of my passion, and for that matter, also part of the passion of George Soros and my connection with him.
But the thing I'm getting most excited about is starting my own podcast.

Seth Adler: Oh, look at you!

Ethan Nadelmann: Yes!

Seth Adler: Because we did talk about, it was right after the election, but I guess it was late enough that it was already out there that you were leaving.

Ethan Nadelmann: Uh-huh.

Seth Adler: And so I had offered you the opportunity to be a co-host of Cannabis Economy.

Ethan Nadelmann: I see. I see.

Seth Adler: And so I see that you took that to heart.

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah, there you go. Well, many people have suggested to me that I should do it over the years, and now the idea has bubbled up repeatedly.

Seth Adler: You're perfect for it.

Ethan Nadelmann: And I just think, I mean, I love talking with people. I'm not just a good talker. I could be a good interviewer, and my thought was to do something that focuses on drugs. I was thinking using the title for the show either like, "On Drugs" or "Altered States" and I would have authors, and I'd have activists. I'd have famous people, I'd have politicians. Some episodes would be 100% about drugs. Some would just be a little bit, but there'd always be a drug hook.
So I'd begun talking to people and trying to learn the nature of this field. It also, as I understand, you don't have to be some place every week, right? You could put three or four of these shows in the hopper, and then you can be on the road for weeks. And the show can evolve.

Seth Adler: That's right.

Ethan Nadelmann: And it seems, you know, that there's a sort of Wild West out there, this industry, or industry ... This field's growing so quickly.

Seth Adler: Totally.

Ethan Nadelmann: It really hasn't settled yet. So I'm really, I'm really intrigued to try my hand at that. I think I would love it.

Seth Adler: You've gotta do it. I completely agree. I think that that is a perfect place for you. Two things: On Drugs. Perfect title. Keep it, just run with it, please.

Ethan Nadelmann: Okay.

Seth Adler: The second thing is, and I think you already know it ... The only thing is consistency. Choose once a week or twice a week, whatever you want to do, and then just stick to that, and then you're fine.

Ethan Nadelmann: Right. And I'll be coming to you for advice, Seth, on how to do this right.

Seth Adler: Absolutely. I can tell you everything you need to know about how to get an interview with someone like Ethan Nadelmann, for instance.

Ethan Nadelmann: That'll be helpful. Yeah. Yeah.

Seth Adler: Well, who would guests be? I mean, you mentioned kind of subject matter, but like, who have you always wanted to have a conversation with?

Ethan Nadelmann: I mean, I think first of all, you know, one of the ... I used to read voraciously when I was growing up, and then when I was in academia, but I barely read books anymore. I'm looking forward to reading books and interviewing authors, people I think have written good books on issues involving drugs and other issues we deal with around this. There's activists I want to ... Many of whom have been my colleagues and friends and allies for many years. I think politicians. I mean, I was thinking Beto O'Rourke, the congressman from El Paso who first came to fame when he was on the El Paso City Council and popped out getting a resolution through the city council, calling on Congress to examine drug legalization.
Then he writes a book about why we should want to legalize marijuana, and then he gets elected to Congress. And now he's going to run against Ted Cruz for the Senate next year.

Seth Adler: Love it.

Ethan Nadelmann: Who by the way I just found out was a student of mine at Princeton when I was teaching there.

Seth Adler: Get out of here.

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah. Talk about the ultimate pedagogical failure.

Seth Adler: That's the name of the book, by the way.

Ethan Nadelmann: There you go. But I think politicians, and then maybe I'll try, you know, Richard Branson, who's become my colleague on the global commission, or other very prominent figures in politics and advocacy. You know, Michelle Alexander, who wrote the New Jim Crow or Brian Stevenson, some of these are my heroes in terms of activism on these issues.
And then sometimes it may just be active drug users. And one episode may be about marijuana, another one about psychedelics, another one about addiction and opioids, another one about the new synthetic drugs, something else about the incarceration issue, something else about ... I mean, you name it.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Ethan Nadelmann: So I'm excited to do it, and I think some things will be where there'll be a drug hook, like I'll be talking to Beto O'Rourke, but then maybe we get into broader politics.

Seth Adler: Okay. Good.

Ethan Nadelmann: And one of the things I'm looking forward to in running Drug Policy Alliance, I've really been somewhat constrained in the extent to which I can sort of speak my mind openly about other issues.

Seth Adler: How, well, what do you mean?

Ethan Nadelmann: I'll give an example.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Ethan Nadelmann: You know, my personal politics.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Ethan Nadelmann: I mean, they're kind of eclectically in the center.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: A little center-left.

Seth Adler: Sure.

Ethan Nadelmann: But I'm not as much to the left as many people in the progressive movement. On the other hand, I raise a substantial amount of money for Drug Policy Alliance from people who are politically more on the right, but who agree the War on Drugs is a disaster. And so I sort of pulled my punches on that. You know, I have views on other issues where there's no reason for me to ... It's always been important for me not, as the head of a drug policy, or the drug policy reform organization, the biggest one, and you know ... It's been important for me, if people are going to react to me, it should be about the things I say about drug policy, not the things I say about other issues.
And so for that reason, I've been censored, or editing myself, stayed in a lane-

Seth Adler: There you go. That's it.

Ethan Nadelmann: And I'm looking forward to just being able to, you know, float on this stuff. And the thing I always did as an academic and I probably, as my mother would remind me, I've probably been since I could speak was enjoying being argumentative and playing devil's advocate. And I'm looking forward to doing that, and I've done that internally within my organization forever. But I'm looking forward to playing that role a little bit more publicly as well.

Seth Adler: We've already found out and asked you why you're leaving. You kind of shared that.

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, let me just say, also, in terms of the why I'm leaving now ... I mean, there's a set of other variables in this. Some of it was the personal feelings. Some of it was organizational. DPA right now is strong. We built up substantial financial reserves. We're halfway through a 10-year commitment from George Soros. That's about a third of our funding, and we have other 10-year commitments that we're right in the middle of. So there's a good funding base. The organization can go on strong, without me. It can even afford to go through some bumps once I leave.

Seth Adler: That's great.

Ethan Nadelmann: So that was important. A lot of my senior staff had been with me for 10 or 15 years, so we have some real experience and talent within the organization. My board includes people who have been with me since the beginning, as well as some new people. So all of those means the organization is very strong, and then politically, there's just been ... I mean, if you look at the issues we work on, Seth ... First of all, on the marijuana issue, for me, playing a major role in America going from 25% in favor of legalizing marijuana back in the late 80s when I was getting going to almost 60% today, and from 0 states legal to 8 states legal overall and 28, 29 on medical ... That has been a massive accomplishment of which I'm immensely proud, personally and of my organization.
But if you're one of the younger people working for me or the younger people in this movement-

Seth Adler: You have no idea.

Ethan Nadelmann: You grew up with marijuana being legal for medical in a growing part of the country. You were in college when it got legalized in Colorado and Washington.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: For you, the question is not are we going to legalize? It just seems obvious we're going to do that. The question really is, what's it going to look like? And is it going to reflect social justice values and racial justice values, and are we going to make an effort to make sure that legalization benefits the communities that were most harmed by the drug war? So I care passionately about those issues, as well. But they're sort of secondary to me to the overwhelming issue of ending marijuana prohibition.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: So I feel like my biggest mission is mostly done, and it's time to hand off the baton to a younger generation who can be as enthused about this next generation of issues as I was about that.

Seth Adler: And who are built to do it now.

Ethan Nadelmann: Exactly. Exactly. You know, and it also reflects the fact that DPA has become increasingly diverse, ethnically, racially, in ways that are really important to the future of where we're going. The second thing is that marijuana's only been about a third of our work.

Seth Adler: Right. Of course.

Ethan Nadelmann: Then you look at taking on the drug piece of mass incarceration. Well, you know, when I started, everybody was gung-ho on mass incarceration, war on drugs. And I feel like I and the organization played an important role in moving public sentiment to the point where you now have almost a bipartisan consensus, leave aside Jeff Sessions, that we need to reduce incarceration in this country. And we provided leadership on that issue in California and in New York and New Jersey and New Mexico, other states. And now, there's momentum, and you begin to see the numbers coming down.
But somebody else needs to run with kind of implementing all that. I always tell [inaudible 00:16:00] that we pioneered the first ballot initiatives on reforming mandatory minimums or providing alternatives to incarceration or bail reform or changing drug-free school zone laws or all this stuff. And then there's a question of pushing it to the next level. Time for the second generation.
And even the other big issue, the third big issue we deal with, is treating drug use and addiction as a health issue, not a criminal issue. We led the way on needle exchange, changing laws to allow needle exchange programs, access to sterile syringes to reduce HIV-AIDS. We've led the way on trying to reduce overdose fatalities through making naloxone more available and 911 Good Samaritan laws. Okay, time to hand off that same thing, as well.
So I feel like you put it all together, and then I think the last thing I'd say is I don't know anybody who thought it was time for me to step down. I wanted to be the first person to think that.

Seth Adler: That's a good point, actually.

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah.

Seth Adler: And I'm absolutely certain that you were the first person to think that.

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, you never know, but I haven't heard it otherwise-

Seth Adler: Yeah, me neither.

Ethan Nadelmann: So it feels right.

Seth Adler: But I will say, when you mention all that pastiche of issues and policy, it is ... It does seem like an inflection point moment. So I take your point there.

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, I mean, it is, and it isn't, right? Because in a sense, I did not expect that Donald Trump would be in the White House.

Seth Adler: Right.We discussed that last time.

Ethan Nadelmann: When I made that decision to get this whole thing rolling, you know, August, September.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: And so that caused me, gave me some pause. But then I, together with Ira, my board chair, and a few others, say, you know, Ethan, you've made the decision. It makes sense in its own right. That's not a reason to stop and reconsider. And I think, given how much of our work is on the state and local level, that'll continue. I think Sessions ... The silver lining on Sessions is it's going to mobilize the opposition, us, in a huge way.

Seth Adler: Yup.

Ethan Nadelmann: So I think that's all for the good, as well.

Seth Adler: He did note that he was surprised at the backlash from his cannabis comments.

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, but I'll tell you, as I said to a marijuana industry conference in Las Vegas a week after the election, I said ... This was a day or two before Trump nominated Sessions, but I said if he nominates Sessions or somebody like him, watch out. Because it's not going to be a full frontal assault on this movement or this industry. It's going to be insidious. It's going to be picking off targets. It's going to be the federal prosecutors, the U.S. attorneys that get appointed. It's going to be the task force who look for ways to screw up the progress of this movement and this industry. It's going to be using asset forfeiture laws so that they don't have to take it to jury trials. It's going to be a lot of really despicable sort of stuff.

Seth Adler: Yep.

Ethan Nadelmann: So I think we're in for a bouncy time ahead in terms of what this administration is going to be looking to do. And with Sessions playing such a prominent role in criminal justice policy ... Folks have got to be careful. You know, batten down the hatches.

Seth Adler: Yup. Pay attention to everything that he says and everything that he does. And like you said, don't expect him to come through the front door, right?

Ethan Nadelmann: No, that's right. That's right. I mean, part of the question is whether they really want to create chaos because if they try to go after the state governments that are actually legally regulating this new industry in a responsible way, and therefore push the whole thing or most of the whole thing back into the black market, the underground, that could be a monumental mess. And it depends, are they willing to risk doing something like that?

Seth Adler: I think they're willing to risk doing anything, is what I'm-

Ethan Nadelmann: Could be. Could be.

Seth Adler: Is what I'm noticing.

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah. Yeah.

Seth Adler: How do you think it's all going? The last time we chatted, I think it was President-Elect at the time, right, so?

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, I think it's been ... I mean, now we're speaking in mid-April. The possibility that Bannon could be out of there is, I think obviously very good news for drug policy reform, criminal justice reform, and the future of America and the world.

Seth Adler: Sure.

Ethan Nadelmann: I think Bannon was a really, I mean, a profoundly problematic figure. I mean, I'm used to thinking, you know, Dick Cheney is Darth Vader. He's a mini Darth Vader compared to what Bannon appeared to be.

Seth Adler: It's amazing. Isn't it?

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah. I mean, it's just so, and his whole ... The whole narrative, the whole build the fear around violent crime even though it's close to its lowest level in decades. The insidious, implying the connection between blacks and violent crime, between drugs and Latinos, the build the wall rhetoric, the climate of fear, all of that. Of course, then again, Bannon has referred to Sessions as his mentor, so and Sessions, unless he gets in some kind of trouble, is not going anywhere.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: So we have a real problem there. I think we're in this weird position of the generals, you know Mattis in charge of the Pentagon and Kelly at Homeland Security-

Seth Adler: McArthur. McMaster.

Ethan Nadelmann: McMaster, the head of the National Security Council.

Seth Adler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Ethan Nadelmann: Those are smart, reasonable ... None of them are very advanced about thinking about drugs, although Mattis, General Mattis did make a semi-good comment about the benefits of decriminalization at a talk he gave, and when he mentioned Afghanistan. But Kelly was generally backward-thinking around drug policy. He's smart enough to know the limits of current efforts, but not smart enough to think creatively about what needs to be done.
I just, I think Trump doesn't really care very much about the issue if it's not squaring with the master narrative.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: So I think it's going to be problematic. I think there was ... Paul Ryan was ready to move forward with the sentencing reform bill. So was Chuck Grassley, the senator, conservative Republican senator from Iowa who chairs the Judiciary Committee. But they may sort of say, why bother, so long as Sessions is there telling Trump to veto that kind of stuff.

Seth Adler: Yeah, what's it gonna do? Yeah.

Ethan Nadelmann: We had real traction on reforming civil asset forfeiture laws at the federal level. Grassley had said he wanted it to be a priority. That was one area where the Obama Justice Department was not good. But, you know, I think it's going to be hard to get that one through because Sessions was never receptive on that when he was in the Senate.
On some of the health and harm reduction stuff, I think some of that maybe is locked in place, but doesn't look pretty. The fact that the vice president, Mike Pence, who had been ideologically opposed to needle exchange forever and ever, but when he was governor of Indiana in recent years was obliged to green light needle exchange because of an outbreak of HIV among mostly poor white drug injectors in his state. I think that was reassuring, and now you've had other Republican governors going that way.
I mean, to think that I was pleasantly surprised to see that Governor Christie from New Jersey has been given a major portfolio to deal with the opioid issue because the fact of the matter is, he was pretty good on that issue in New Jersey, and he worked very closely with my New Jersey office, Roseanne Scotti, the director of that, has done amazing work with his administration.

Seth Adler: On addiction. He's good on addiction.

Ethan Nadelmann: On addiction issues and this opioid issue, he's generally been pretty good. He hates marijuana legalization. He's been bad, but you know, and he's a bit unpredictable, but not bad. Now, mind you, you know, the appointment of this, the nominee for the drug czar, this Congress made up, what's his name? Congressman, I think from Pennsylvania? He just seems like an old drug war hawk.

Seth Adler: Yup.

Ethan Nadelmann: I think he got an F on the report card that Drug Policy Alliance, our 501(c)4, the Drug Policy Action puts out on people.

Seth Adler: Yeah. That's not good.

Ethan Nadelmann: So by and large, we're looking at a throwback to the bad old days with a few possible exceptions.

Seth Adler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So an inflection point in one respect, and certainly, kind of batten down the hatches and let's get the war paint back on type of thing.

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah. I mean, fortunately, all of this is, once again, it does have its backlash. Not just the movement, but it's forcing governors to stand up. I mean, it's not just Democratic governors or senators, but even some Republicans, like Senator Murkowski from Alaska or Gardner from Colorado who are writing letters to Sessions saying, "Don't come in here and start cracking down. Things are working pretty well in our states, and we don't need the feds to interfere."

Seth Adler: Yeah. I wonder if he reads those things, and if he takes them into account.

Ethan Nadelmann: Sessions will read this stuff. How much Trump is aware? I mean, the guy's got limited bandwidth-

Seth Adler: Oh, I was talking about Sessions.

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah, Sessions, Sessions will be aware of that. But whether he cares? I think his strategy is to position himself not as the federal government overriding state's rights, but to position the Justice Department as protecting the anti-marijuana states, the Idahos and the Nebraskas and the Arkansas against the marijuana reforming states.

Seth Adler: Got it. That's how the argument is set, so that we don't have the ... Well, but what about state's rights thing.

Ethan Nadelmann: I think that will be. I haven't heard him say it yet, but I think he's lining up for that.

Seth Adler: Yeah. That's what it feels like. All of the commentary is lined up so it's, I'm not coming after medical marijuana, but, you know.

Ethan Nadelmann: That's right. Well, but remember, even Sessions, even as the press secretary Spicer was reassuring about Trump's commitment to medical marijuana, Sessions, I don't think, has uttered a single word in that frame.

Seth Adler: Oh, about medical marijuana?

Ethan Nadelmann: I don't think Sessions has said a single word about medical marijuana being okay.

Seth Adler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Ethan Nadelmann: On the states that have legalized it, and that's, unless I'm missing something, and he's making every effort to associate marijuana with opioids and with violent crime and all this sort of stuff.

Seth Adler: You know, I asked both Congressman Blumenauer and Rohrbacher, who's a friend, of Sessions ... I said, "How can we get him better information?" And each of them kind of said, "Well, it's not necessarily about getting him better information." Meaning, if we were going to tell him, he wouldn't necessarily hear it anyway.

Ethan Nadelmann: Right. Right. I mean, you know, you see ... Like on the issue of violent crime, you can see he backtracked. He acknowledged, in a single sentence or two, that crime has actually dropped dramatically in the recent decades. But then, but the whole speech about the uptick that's happened in a few cities like Baltimore and Chicago. And I can see, maybe he'll stop making stupid comments about the connection between marijuana. You know, where medica marijuana is more readily available, you see reductions in opioid fatalities and things like that.

Seth Adler: Of course.

Ethan Nadelmann: And so maybe that kind of information might penetrate his consciousness. But a lot of this is just going to be straight-out political.

Seth Adler: Fantastic. Right? Fantastic. So as this is an exit interview, Ethan, I have to ask you some exit interview questions. What have you most enjoyed about this position?

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, I mean, winning's always nice. And winning takes different forms. I mean, winning can be most significantly when we win a major ballot initiative or legislative victory, and over the last 20 plus years, we've won dozens, if not hundreds. I mean, we've won dozens, at least a couple dozen, I guess ballot initiatives and hundreds of legislative victories around the country.
And I know as a result of that, hundreds of thousands of people who would've been in jail or prison are not. Similar numbers who would not have gotten drug treatment have. Others who would've died of an overdose or contracted HIV-AIDS have not. So I think, I feel very proud of the laws we've changed and the people who have benefited or not been hurt as a result.
Winning obviously takes the form of when you win a debate. I've debated almost everybody, major figure on the other side, and I've taken pleasure in pummeling and beating most of them. Winning takes the form of fundraising. A major role as executive director is building an organization and raising the money, and I've taken pride. And you know, we're now an organization with a budget of over $15 million a year, and that takes a lot of winning at the game of fundraising.
And then I think, the other part ... So that bigger political accomplishments, the way in which the country has transformed around marijuana ... I mean, in a way, I feel ambivalent because I'm very proud of it. On the other hand, I feel, in terms of people assessing my legacy, it's going to loom larger than I wish it would. I mean, most of my effort has not been around marijuana. I mean, probably a good third has been, but-

Seth Adler: It'll feel like 66, even though it's been 33.

Ethan Nadelmann: Exactly. And it also gets, you know, 66 or more percent of the headlines. But I feel that the role we've played in turning the country around on mass incarceration, on pushing the country to say we should no longer be incarcerating people for drug possession or even low-level drug dealing, and changing the harshness with which these crimes are viewed by the public ... You know, I feel very proud of those accomplishments. I feel proud of some of our accomplishments internationally, the role that we've played in kind of mobilizing around the United Nations gatherings back in '98 and again last year.
But there's something that's a little more subtle that I feel proud of, which is, I sometimes call it ... And the thing I get the greatest pleasure out of ... It's what I would call the weave. It's the weaving together of a drug policy reform movement. It's when we organize our biennial conferences, which are now getting 1500 people at them. You know, from around the U.S. and around the world.
And I can look at a single row in the audience and there in one row is sitting some 19-year-old with marijuana leaves woven into his blond dreadlocks, sitting next to somebody who's just celebrating 25 years in recovery and abstinence, but knows the drug war is wrong, sitting next to somebody whose life was transformed through the use of psychedelics, sitting next to somebody who was in law enforcement for 30 years enforcing drug laws and is now a member of LEAP ... It used to be called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and realized that it was basically doing more harm than good. Sitting next to somebody who just got out of prison from a 15-year prison sentence and joined prison ministry and is now mobilizing against the drug war, sitting next to somebody who's been doing needle exchange programs in southeast Asia, sitting next to an activist coming out of Mexico, sitting next to a high-flying academic who's just published an important book on this area.
And then, you know, sometimes, I'll say, who are we, the drug, DPA, or the drug policy reform movement? And I'll say, we're the people who love drugs. We're the people who hate drugs. And we're the people who don't give a damn about drugs. But every one of us believe that the war on drugs is the wrong way to go.

Seth Adler: Perfect.

Ethan Nadelmann: And so it's been, people from across the political spectrum, across the drug use spectrum, and across the drug law spectrum, right? All into one kind of vaguely self-conscious movement to uproot drug war thinking and policies from our country and from the world.

Seth Adler: So as you kind of state that and any person can kind of probably find some way in to one of those pockets ... With the exception of just a few people. Understanding that, understanding you're speaking to such a large mass of humanity, what have you least appreciated about your position? What has been most difficult?

Ethan Nadelmann: Oh, I mean, the most difficult thing about the position is really always the interpersonal stuff.

Seth Adler: How do you mean?

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, it's base, you know, it's an ... DPA is now an organization that's growing rapidly in the last few years from 50 to 75 people. We have 7 offices around the country. Dealing with things like staff, most of whom are wonderful. I mean, basically, if you're not really, we try not to hire anybody unless they're a mensch, a good person, but inevitably, you have to deal with staff stuff, and that's always draining on executive director. You know, the annual budgets, the things you have to do in running an organization.
The fundraising can be enjoyable and fun, but I'll end up spending a large amount of my time, not so much ... It's like as an academic, before I did this, teaching at Princeton, I put my intellectual energy into my writing for publication. Now, some of that energy goes into fundraising, into writing and talking and thinking about relationships with wealthy individuals so that we can get the money needed to do our work.
But I say that it's, sometimes it's dealing with the internal ... You know, every movement is full of difficult internal politics, and as I sometimes say that, oftentimes in any movement, the people you hate the most are your allies because they're the ones you know the best. They're the ones you fight with over personalities.

Seth Adler: Oh, sure.

Ethan Nadelmann: Girlfriends and boyfriends and fundraising, all this sort of stuff. And you know, I've always believed in the principle, you know, fight among yourselves, but keep your eye on the prize.

Seth Adler: Absolutely.

Ethan Nadelmann: And I've really tried to stay to that as much as possible, and even in people and allies who you have a problem with, it's professional. You do what you need to do. But some of those things are difficult.

Seth Adler: The business of running the business of DPA.

Ethan Nadelmann: Exactly. And those are the ones which are oftentimes the most draining. The bigger battle, you know, going after the bad guys, going after the drug war advocates ... The combat, you're engaged. It's challenging. It's fun. It's exasperating, whatever. But when you're running an organization and when you have to fire somebody you like, when you have to resolve conflicts between two good people ... That's the stuff you go like, it just feels like, okay. That's why they pay me the big bucks to be an ED, but that's the hard stuff.

Seth Adler: That's stuff you won't miss.

Ethan Nadelmann: That's the stuff I'm not going to miss.

Seth Adler: You ready for this one? Do you feel that you were qualified for this position?

Ethan Nadelmann: I remember when I was starting off back in the 90s, because I never took a class in management. I never took a class in fundraising. Even to this day, I never have done any of those things. And I remember, back in the 90s, and Barry McCaffrey was the Bill Clinton's second drug czar for most of his two terms. And I remember thinking, God, I envy that guy his management experience.

Seth Adler: Interesting.

Ethan Nadelmann: I just had to. When you're growing an organization, building an organization, you basically learn by making mistakes. Fortunately, with Ira Glasser, I had a good teacher because he really taught me. He didn't teach me as much of the substance. It was really more about building and managing an organization and that, so that's where I lacked the experience early on, and I was never the most disciplined at that. I've admired other colleagues outside my organization, or sometimes even within, who were really good at that. I'm very happy that a fellow named Derek Hodel, who was my deputy executive director, my number two, from 2000 ... I think it was '06 or '07 to '11 or '12. He really helped take this organization from a more horizontal one into a real, a better managed organization.
He is now coming back as my interim executive, my, DPA's interim executive director, as I'm stepping down, and as I'll be out.

Seth Adler: Great.

Ethan Nadelmann: So that's where I felt least qualified. On the fundraising, my instincts were pretty good, and I've done a, I think people feel, a pretty good job at that.

Seth Adler: Yeah, it sounds ... I mean, based on your reporting on the finances, it sounds very-

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah, plus it's not just DPA, it's also raising the money for ballot initiatives, which oftentimes is done over and above the fundraising for DPA, and so one of my proudest moments was getting George Soros, three billionaires ... George Soros, Peter Lewis, and John Spurling, into what turned out to be a $30 million partnership over 6 years, from 1996 to 2002, that enabled us to win, I don't know, 15 or more ballot initiatives on medical marijuana, marijuana decriminalization, civil asset forfeiture reform, and treatment instead of incarceration.
And pulling together that partnership and managing it over the course of 6 years, when I think the three principals ... Soros, Lewis, and Spurling, only ever met the three of them on two occasions. And so my job was managing that partnership. That was a high wire act, but it was something that delivered big time for the movement.

Seth Adler: For the rest of us, how do you deal with, maybe not necessarily those specific personalities, but you're talking about big personalities, right? Big money, and you need, you're driving the vision. How did you square that circle?

Ethan Nadelmann: It's a good question, Seth. I think part of it is I fortunately had part of my personality played well to that. The weakness in my personality was I was never all that good at exuding ... For older men who needed a sycophant or needed to be pushed ... I've never been good at that.

Seth Adler: You're not so good at that. Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: But for older men who were secure in themselves, the George Soroses, where they could take somebody like me, who was in their face and willing to argue them and call them out and tell them they were wrong. I was, look, I was blessed to meet George Soros. It was almost 25 years ago, the summer of '92, where I got this invitation to lunch from George. And it was shortly before he became famous, and where we hit it off. Two hours of arguing over his, over lunch in his office.
And so that was a great blessing. I mean, to have had this partnership with George Soros for basically just about 25 years, to the extent, and where this issue became perceived by most of the people in his network as one of his top three passions. Mind you, it only ever got about 2% of his philanthropy, but nonetheless, 2 or 3% ... And that George had my back in a very, very difficult arena and a very, very sensitive issue. That was probably one of the greatest blessings of all.
And having that partnership and his liking the way I was able to raise money from wealthy guys on the right who agreed with him on nothing but this issue ... I think he appreciated that, and so that was, that worked out well. Part of it also is, and as I teach people, too, it's being straight-up with people. You've got to, when you're talking to different audiences, whether they're public audiences, libertarians or liberals or African American audience or a mostly white suburban audience, you have to basically be saying the same thing wherever you are.

Seth Adler: There you go.

Ethan Nadelmann: Same thing with the donors from across the political spectrum. You may emphasize different points. You may use different body language and this and that. You may share little asides. But by and large, it has to be a coherent, consistent message. You cannot be two-faced.

Seth Adler: Be who you are.

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah, be who you are and know who you are.

Seth Adler: Know who you are.

Ethan Nadelmann: And know what you believe in.

Seth Adler: That's exactly right. You mentioned the interim director and the fact that the board is kind of engaged in the search. I think that was before we turned on the microphones. But another exit interview question. What should we be looking for as far as qualities and qualifications for your replacement?

Ethan Nadelmann: No, I've been asked that by obviously the search firm and by others. I think the most ... I mean, look. People say are they going to need to know drug policy coming in? Would help, but not essential. Right? Are they gonna need to be a person of color or not? I think would be helpful, all things considered, yes. But not essential, right? Do they need to be a certain age? I think a younger generation, not somebody in their 60s, somebody younger, but not essential. Right? I mean, so I think the things that are most essential, they have to be really whipper-smart. I mean, just they gotta have it.
And for a few reasons. One is the people who work at DPA, and especially the ones who have been there a long time ... You don't get to stay here unless you're really, really smart.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: And the new ED's got to be able to have their respect in terms of the intellect. So that's going to be key. And if they don't know drug policy coming in, this is a second reason. There's a lot to learn. One thing about drugs and drug policy is that there's this remarkable learning curve. And just as you think you're getting a handle on it, you turn a corner, a new issue pops up, and there's a whole other learning curve. And one of the things that's kept it rich for me is that even when I've been doing this work for 30 years now, right, for 7 years as a Princeton professor, for 6 years building the [inaudible 00:40:54] center within the Soros Foundation, and then 17 years heading up DPA ... So I've been doing this for 30 years and building this organization effectively for 23. There's still this learning curve, this nonstop learning curve.
New drugs, new sub-issues, right? And remember also, we're teaching really about two things. One is about drug policy. The other one is about drugs. And so shattering the stereotypes and the myths and the deep-seated ignorance and misconceptions around drugs and drug use and all this stuff is a major part of the job. So the person who comes in is going to need to be able to have, if they don't come in with it, a really deep understanding, not just about drug policy, but about drugs.
I think also, they're going to need to be a mensch. A mensch is defined as a person who uses their heart and their mind in the right mix in order to do right in the world. And that kind of basic ethical sensibility I think is going to be essential. So the combination of intellect and menschkeit, I really think are the two indispensable ingredients, and everything else will flow from that.

Seth Adler: Two things: the way that you just talked about drugs and kind of demystifying and taking down these old stereotypes, that is one reason that I think On Drugs is the best title because it just is ... It's a different definition for the term "on drugs."
Secondly, as far as thinking and talking about drugs and the entire movement, I spoke to Art Way who said when he sat down with you, he said, "Ethan has really taught me how to think and talk about it because there's just so much to know." He brought the passion, but you've got to figure out how to talk about it.

Ethan Nadelmann: No, I mean, it's a good example. Art, who heads our office in Colorado, and who came out of an organizing background, organizing against police violence and all these sorts of things ... But didn't necessarily come in knowing drugs, right? Somebody else comes in knowing about drugs, but not knowing policy. Some people come in impassioned about racial justice and knowing those issues, but not knowing the harm reduction marijuana field. Other people come in from a civil liberties background or HIV-AIDS background but don't know the sentencing reform or racial justice pieces.
So you do, people when they come to work here, it's that broadening out, right? And that's one of the things that gives me pleasure, and if the organization's going to continue to thrive, it's going to need to keep on doing that.

Seth Adler: You mentioned what time of year it was. You also used the word mensch and a derivation of the word mensch. What was that?

Ethan Nadelmann: Menschkeit is the ... A mensch is a person, and menschkeit is the act of being a mensch. That sort of thing.

Seth Adler: With matzoh on your desk, happy Passover.

Ethan Nadelmann: Thank you. Thank you.

Seth Adler: You remind me that your dad was big in the Reconstructionist movement.

Ethan Nadelmann: That's right. My dad was ordained as a conservative rabbi, but became a leader, and then for a little while, the leader of the Reconstructionist movement.

Seth Adler: I don't know if I said it on-mike last time, but I grew up a Reconstructionist, and I think what my parents really kind of dug into, what they appreciated, was kind of viewing faith through a lens of pragmatism.

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah. Well, you know, for your listeners that don't know ... People are generally familiar that, in America, there's three main branches of Judaism. There's the orthodox, which has many different strands, from the Hasidim to the more modern orthodox. There's the conservative movement, which is sort of not conservative, but kind of centrist. And then there's the reform movement, which kind of, you know, was more kind of assimilation-ist or more, not liberal politically, but liberal in their practice.
And reconstructionist Judaism emerged in Canada, the U.S. and Canada, about 80, 90 years ago. The founder was Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, who was my dad's mentor. And it really, it broke off in a number of important ways. It was the one that said Judaism should be seen not as a religion so much as an evolving civilization or people.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: It was the one that rejected the notion of the Jews as the "chosen people." So when we bless the Torah, instead of saying, [inaudible 00:45:04] ... We call hamim, who chose us from among all the nations. [inaudible 00:45:08], who gathered us to do God's work, right?
It was the first one to say that women should be entirely equal with men. So the first bat mitzvah of a girl. The first female rabbis all were reconstructionist. It also led the way in terms of gay and lesbian people being ordained as rabbis. It also believed that whereas making Aliyah, immigrating to Israel is a mitzvah, is a good deed, that nonetheless, North America's a special place, and that Judaism to flourish needs to continue to innovate and to retain what is vibrant and important about the rituals and history, the language, the Torah, et cetera. But at the same time, to make Judaism vibrant for new generations.
And then I think the last thing, which is what got Rabbi Kaplan, who was an orthodox rabbi, excommunicated by some of his orthodox colleagues, was they called into question the relationship between man and God.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Ethan Nadelmann: Basically saying, well, man may be God's creation, but God is man's creation. And there is a reciprocal relationship going on here.

Seth Adler: Yeah, that's the one that is ... The one that gets the press, right? You know?

Ethan Nadelmann: I think that's right. But you know, in a way, I've also sometimes thought about drug policy reform as a movement as analogous to reconstructionist Judaism because in a way ... And there has always been a tension in the reconstructionist Judaism. Should it be a fourth branch of American Judaism? Or should it just be an intellectual movement that infuses the others?

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: And similarly with drug policy reform. Are we in fact a distinct political movement, or are we just a movement that infuses the racial justice movement, that infuses the libertarian movement, that infuses the public health movement, that infuses the human rights movement? And I think that's still up for grabs.

Seth Adler: Yeah. You said it's up for grabs, but I took you to think maybe it was the latter, or you?

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, I mean-

Seth Adler: Still, are you still wrestling with that? Are you still reckoning?

Ethan Nadelmann: I think, look, with the marijuana moving into the legalization phase, it's going to be an interesting, transformative moment for this movement because a lot of the dynamism, some chunks of the funding came in for this movement. Marijuana's the issue that touched dramatically more people than all the other illicit drugs put together.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: So if that thing's beginning to break off as it is, how's that going to affect what remains of the drug policy reform movement? And then a second variable that's happening is that ... I remember, I was very frustrated in the 80s and 90s at why were there not more black people and brown people involved in this movement? I mean, my God, it was so obvious. We were calling the war on drugs the new Jim Crow well before Michelle Alexander ever wrote that historic book that she's written.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: And being frustrated about black leadership, brown leadership, Latino leadership, going along with many aspects of the war on drugs, just calling for sort of a kinder, gentler war on drugs.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: And now, what's happened, of course, is that it's been embraced among racial justice advocates. And you have the Black Lives movement and others who are basically owning much of the DPA drug policy reform agenda, which is a fantastic development. It's like now we at least have, at last have a new civil rights movement that embraces our cause. But at the same time, we now have this emerging issues around opioid addiction and what's going on with the declining white, lower class, lower middle class in America. The declining life expectancies, the way they voted for Trump, all of this. And the question is, are we going to continue to be effectively a movement that reaches across the political spectrum?

Seth Adler: Can we?

Ethan Nadelmann: Can we? Will we? Will we retain the discipline on the languishing in all of this to do that? And so I think these are interesting challenges that lie ahead.

Seth Adler: Yeah. Those are interesting challenges, and we talked about faith, we talked about travel, we talked about even reading. As we go forth here, where are you looking to be informed? Maybe those are the answers, reading, traveling, and you know.

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, reading, traveling, I mean, I realize one of the nice things about running an organization is when I have a question what's going on, I just send an email to one of my colleagues and get a memo from them on what's going on.

Seth Adler: Sure.

Ethan Nadelmann: A few weeks from now, I'll be sending an email to my colleagues, and they'll say, "Well, Ethan, you're not our boss anymore. I don't know if I can get to that anytime soon." So I am going to have that challenge. I'm not sure, you know, it depends. If I decide to try to set myself up and have a couple of assistants, just to have a little base of operations, whether it's at an institute or a university, hopefully I'll have some folks who can help with that, that I can pay to help me with that.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: So I haven't focused on or made any steps to try to build something like that, as well.

Seth Adler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Ethan Nadelmann: So we'll see. I tend to read voraciously magazines, newspapers, the media, all this stuff. So I'm just going to feel it out and just keep learning. Part of it, I'm going to be intrigued to spend more time learning about some other issue areas in a way that, you know, maybe that I want to interview an author who's writing something that's not about drugs, but about something that's analogous.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Ethan Nadelmann: I should say, I had a really fascinating, wonderful lunch ... I think it was a week or two ago, with Evan Wolfson.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Ethan Nadelmann: And Evan is the guy who led the gay marriage, marriage equality movement.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Ethan Nadelmann: And we're both two guys who just turned 60. He's like a few weeks older than me. Both grew up in Jewish families. I can't remember if he was one of four kids, as was I. He was a little more ... I grew up in a more religious background, dad rabbi and all that. And we both came out of basically law school and I think he graduated Harvard Law School the year before me. He got into this right out of law school. I more or less did the same thing. We spent 30 years doing these things.
His movement basically has won.

Seth Adler: Right, sure.

Ethan Nadelmann: And they now are disbanding the organization. In my case, on the marijuana issue, we probably passed the tipping point, but we haven't quite won.

Seth Adler: Well-

Ethan Nadelmann: On the other drug policy issues, we've made a lot of progress, but we definitely haven't won. But there's a sense. And if you look at it, what are the two big ... the two movements that have been the most successful in the last 20, 30 years on social justice issues and personal freedom have been gay rights and marijuana legalization.

Seth Adler: That's right.

Ethan Nadelmann: And I probably played a key leadership role in the latter, and he has in the former. And so we were actually thinking about going out, I said, maybe we should go on the road together and do some things about social justice movements. So we'll look into doing something like that.
But, I mean, I might have people talk like, somebody like him, on the show to talk about the analogies and differences among these movements, or now the whole movement around transgender rights, which was ... I used to think about drug policy reform as, you know, here most of the other areas around personal freedom and discrimination around racism and racial justice and women and gay rights, you know, that they'd mostly been won in the law, even if they weren't fully won at all in some respects on the ground.
And that drugs is the last one. But now, the issue of the rights of transgender people is emerging, and in a way, I feel like comrades with the transgender movement, that we're both out there, still trying to win recognition-

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: In the case, you know, the core principle for me of drug policy reform and for this movement in some respects, has been that we have sovereignty of our own minds and bodies. And that includes the notion that nobody deserves to be punished or discriminated against or amongst based solely upon what we put in our bodies if we don't hurt anybody else. And that's the principle that's quite parallel to the gay rights movement and obviously very analogous to transgender rights movements.
So I feel that, you know, we are kind of allies of a sort. I don't know if that means how we ally together in practice, but I feel a commonality of principles that we're fighting for.

Seth Adler: You mentioned making sure that we're in control of and on top of our own minds, right?

Ethan Nadelmann: And bodies. Yeah.

Seth Adler: And bodies. On the mind part, as you pack up these books that are in your office here, maybe two or three books that everyone should read.

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, you know, the problem I have is that for me, the books that made the most difference were the ones that were in the 70s and 80s.

Seth Adler: Have at it.

Ethan Nadelmann: The book, Andrew Weil's book, The Natural Mind, which he wrote in the early 70s about why people use drugs. This is Dr. Andrew Weil, W-E-I-L, who then became famous for his books on integrative medicine, book Spontaneous Healing and things like this. But his book The Natural Mind really about why people use drugs and why some people get in trouble with drugs, and looking at that ... I just thought was a formative book.
I thought the book The Meaning of Addiction by Stanton Peale was just ... I read it also in the late 80s, I think it was. And just really helped me think through these things in a new way. And when I think about it, the books are not the ones that caused me to have a 180 change in thinking. The books that oftentimes matter the most are the ones where you read it, and you go, "God, I was thinking that. I was thinking that. I was thinking that." And then you go, "Oh my God. They're taking it to the level which I haven't thought it through yet."

Seth Adler: There you go.

Ethan Nadelmann: So it's the books that, I thought I was being deviant in my thinking, and here was somebody who had already been there and then taken it to the next level and deepened it and refined it.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Ethan Nadelmann: So those were a couple of the key books. You know, I mean, an early book, David Musto's book, The American Disease: On the History of U.S. Drug Policy, was a bit of an eye-opener, just understanding how all this stuff evolved. And then the more recent books. You have to read Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. I mean, that book's now sold I think a million copies. It's had a really major impact on changing people's thinking. The book High Price by Carl Hart, who's my friend-

Seth Adler: Of course.

Ethan Nadelmann: And board member at Columbia. I mean, that's an important book because it's a book both about race and about challenging all these myths around drug use and drug addiction. So that's a key one. Some of the books about, Lester Grinspoon and James Bakalar co-authored a number of books. One was about understanding psychedelic drugs that they wrote back in the 80s.
Now, there's probably better books, but that one helped me understand all what had happened about psychedelics in the 50s and 60s, that history. That was an important one.

Seth Adler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Ethan Nadelmann: And they wrote a little classic called Drug Control in a Free Society that just sort of sorted through all the issues.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: So there have been big ones like that.

Seth Adler: Yeah. What about just for fun? Any non-drug related?

Ethan Nadelmann: Well, I mean, there's a few books that have meant a lot to me personally.

Seth Adler: Sure.

Ethan Nadelmann: But it's effective, and I think in this area ... I went through some terrible episodes of lower back pain and sciatica-

Seth Adler: Okay.

Ethan Nadelmann: Back when I was in my 20s and early 30s. And at one point, I was within two days of having surgery for a couple of herniated discs.

Seth Adler: Oh, wow.

Ethan Nadelmann: And I called Andrew Weil, my friend, and he said, "Don't get the surgery. Read a book by a guy named John Sarno." S-A-R-N-O. Called Healing Back Pain.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Ethan Nadelmann: And I read that book, and not only did it prove to be the cure for me, it also proved transformative in my understanding of the mind-body relationship. This was back in '91. And now, with all these issues around opioids and opioids and addiction, I think it's given me particularly personal insights. I was just thinking that if I were to give another TED talk, I'd probably want it to be on the issue of pain and opioids and opioid addiction and what that's about and how we should be thinking about it.
So that was a powerful book. There was a book about MDMA Ecstasy because I did, a few months after the Sarno back experience, I did MDMA for the first time.

Seth Adler: Oh, really?

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah, back in late '91. So I was already in my 30s. And that was a major experience for me, as well. And it was a book, I think it was called Pathways to the Heart or something. Just a series of vignettes by people who had done it that just help kind of reassure me that this was the right thing to be doing and got me to understand this drug in a way, I think either right before I used it or shortly thereafter, yeah.

Seth Adler: All right. On the globe. One place that you know you're going to go now that you've got some time.

Ethan Nadelmann: Wow. You know, I just ... I love beaches.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Ethan Nadelmann: And I haven't spent enough time on them. And so visiting a few more beautiful beaches in parts of the world ... I've never been to Bali.

Seth Adler: Sure.

Ethan Nadelmann: I haven't been to the beaches of Thailand. I've only been to a few in the Caribbean. I look forward to that. I love hiking, and I took some time off last year, and I walked to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Seth Adler: Oh, you did?

Ethan Nadelmann: Yeah.

Seth Adler: All right.

Ethan Nadelmann: And I wanted to do it before I get too old to do something like that.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: And I'd never, literally, done camping in my life, so it was not just a hiking trip. It was like a camping. All these people I was with was laughing at the New Yorker who didn't know what a tent was, basically. But I'd like to go to Patagonia and go hiking there and go to New Zealand and go hiking there, and I don't think I want to climb as high as Kilimanjaro again-

Seth Adler: Sure.

Ethan Nadelmann: But things like that. And there's probably some parts of the world that somehow I just never, I've never been to Greece, somehow.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ethan Nadelmann: I've never been to Finland. I mean, there's some places I've never been to, some parts of Asia. I'd like to spend more time in India, I think, so things like that.

Seth Adler: So I guess my phrase that I should say is, "Enjoy the trip."

Ethan Nadelmann: Thank you, Seth. And thank you. Good luck with this. You're doing a wonderful job with this. I'm gonna tell people applying for my job they should listen to this interview with you.

Seth Adler: There you go.

Ethan Nadelmann: And I look forward to getting your advice about how I can get my own podcast going.

Seth Adler: I will, speaking of hiking up a mountain, I will be your Tenzing Norgay to your Edmund Hilary, how about that?

Ethan Nadelmann: That sounds good.

Seth Adler: Sir Edmund Hilary.

Ethan Nadelmann: Thank you very much. Thank you.

Seth Adler: Ethan Nadelmann, thank you, once again.

Ethan Nadelmann: Thanks very much, Seth. Take care.

Seth Adler: All right.
And there you have Ethan Nadelmann. I mean, you know, I guess, as I said right at the beginning, we are doing this. So, you know, I think the DPA will miss Ethan. I think that the movement will still have Ethan. He doesn't seem like somebody that's just going to go away, as you heard there. So very much appreciate his time, your time. Thanks for listening.

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Cannabis Economy is a real-time history of legal cannabis. We chronicle how personal and industry histories have combined to provide our current reality.