Ethan Nadelmann stepping down from Drug Policy Alliance

Ethan Nadelmann’s Farewell Letter to Drug Policy Alliance Staff

The time has come for me to step aside as executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

This is just about the toughest decision I’ve ever made but it feels like the right time for me personally and also for DPA. It’s almost twenty-three years since I started The Lindesmith Center and approaching seventeen years since we merged with the Drug Policy Foundation to create DPA. We’ve grown from little more than an idea into a remarkable advocacy organization that has built, led and defined a new political and cultural movement.

Transitions like this are never easy but I am confident that DPA will continue to flourish. Our finances are strong and our donor base more diversified than ever before, with new sources of potential funding rapidly emerging. The talent, experience and commitment of staff and board are extraordinary. Our mission and vision are as relevant today as when we started, even as our many victories present new challenges and opportunities. […]

End of an era. I’ve been working in drug policy for quite some time now, and Ethan was always head of the DPA. I’ve had the good fortune to meet him and work with him a few times, and always enjoyed our interactions.

Passionate about his beliefs.

As a reminder, here’s his excellent Ted talk:

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45 Responses to Ethan Nadelmann stepping down from Drug Policy Alliance

  1. Daniel Williams says:

    Change is good.

    • jean valjean says:

      Only if you’ve got something good to replace it with. What you got Daniel? More stumping for Trump perhap?

      • Daniel Williams says:

        Just stumping for better drug policy reform leadership, from both inside and outside government.

        Ethan Nadelmann spent a considerable amount of time attempting to grow consensus inside the UN and among leaders in South and Latin America against drug prohibition. And while that may be laudable, in the greater scheme of things it was mostly ineffective. Yes, there were several former leaders – key word being former – that came out against drug prohibition, but none moved the needle and were soon forgotten.

        The United States led the world into drug prohibition, and it is the United States that will lead us out. To that end, one Ethan Nadelmann must’ve understood from the beginning, the bulk of his reform efforts should have been directed at the United States. Without the US onboard, consensus among bit players is meaningless.

        Much of that failure can be laid at the feet of Soros, Ethan’s (former) employer. I continue to believe it was not in Soros’ best global interests, and no one can deny the man has such interests, to force Obama’s hand on true drug reform – so he tied Ethan’s. If there was not outright agreement between Obama and Soros to focus just on cannabis here (and slow-roll it), it was certainly implicit. Either way, Ethan towed the line, but, one can only hope, against his better instincts.

        And I have no doubt that in the coming months Ethan will lament he couldn’t have done more. He is, after all, not a bad man. But I believe he could have been a far more effective warrior in battle.

        “May you live in interesting times.” Indeed we may.

        • primus says:

          It is not ‘towed’ the line, rather ‘toed’ the line, as in keep your toes to the line. It is a term left over from old time bare-knuckle boxing, where there was a line across the ring, and the boxer who was unable to ‘toe the line’ lost the match. OK, I will accept that I am a grammar Nazi, however errors such as this jump from the page at me. My parents were both sticklers for correct English and raised me with a love of the language.

        • Daniel Williams says:

          Thanks, primus. I stand corrected.

          But wouldn’t a true grammar Nazi be unable to let jean valjean’s ‘perhap’ escape similar scrutiny? Good for the goose-step, good for the gander…

          And in the context of stickler parents raising one to love the language, wouldn’t okay have been the more correct, if not more formal, use than OK?

        • Justin Auldphart says:

          I would opine that “perhap” is an obvious typo…using towed as opposed to toed is a malaprop..I have no opinion on OK v okay but do feel that you should have let it go at “thanks primus….”

        • Daniel Williams says:

          Actually, Justin, my mistake was not a malaprop. (A malaprop is someone saying how much they enjoyed seeing the leaning Tower of Pizza.) And perhaps ‘perhap’ was a typo, but a grammatical error nonetheless for Nazis of that persuasion.

          I guess I could have let it go at “Thanks, primus.” And probably would have had primus let it go after explaining the error of my way. But then he had to go and tell me how errors like mine just jump from the page at him, in some disconcerting way, diminishing the value of the overall content in which they occurred.

          And then he gets OK and okay mixed up, something no self-respecting grammar Nazi would abide. He may want to ask his stickler parents for another tutorial on the language they raised him to love.

        • jean valjean says:

          Daniel, you need to get outdoors more. And what’s behind this resentment of Nadelmann? Surely not jealousy towards someone who has so clearly made a better fist of bringing drug reform policy to a wider audience than you ever will?

        • Daniel Williams says:

          Oh jean, I love it when you talk dirty to me. You must be wearing your purple paisley panties today.

          I’m not jealous. Results, not how big your audience is, are what matter most. We’ll see if the sky falls and the jails fill without Ethan leading the charge.

          But if you say he’s made a better ‘fist’ than me, who am I to argue? Especially when you don’t make any sense.

        • primus says:

          Surely you are not equating the use of the WRONG WORD (your error) with a small spelling error in the correct word, or a choice of style in a posting on a web chat forum? This would be a straw man argument. Yours is the greater ‘crime’. The comparisons you attempt to make are not equivalents. Having read many of your submissions here over the past few months, methinks there is but one word to describe you, TROLL.

        • jean valjean says:

          Oh Danny, admit it. The green eyed monster has taken you over. You make yourself ridiculous and it’s plain for all to see.

        • Will says:

          Daniel wrote;

          “Much of that failure can be laid at the feet of Soros, Ethan’s (former) employer. I continue to believe it was not in Soros’ best global interests, and no one can deny the man has such interests, to force Obama’s hand on true drug reform – so he tied Ethan’s.”

          Based on the above statement, it would appear that your criticism of Ethan Nadelmann’s leadership is misplaced. If Soros’ “best global interests” aren’t met by wide open drug policy reform, then his steering of DPA’s agenda — through substantial financial support coupled with tying Ethan’s hands in a strategic way — is the real “leadership” issue here. It suggests that Soros is a sort of double agent: on the surface he seems to be committed to righting the wrongs of the global war on drugs, but dig deeper and he’s really manipulating the breadth, scope and direction to serve his “interests” (which you don’t attempt to describe).


          “If there was not outright agreement between Obama and Soros to focus just on cannabis here (and slow-roll it), it was certainly implicit.”

          In recent years there have been criticisms from other large donors (Peter Lewis, before his death, was one such critic) that those who were beginning to profit handsomely from newly formed cannabis businesses are/were not committed to donating more of their largesse in support of legalization. Do you think Soros has ulterior motives for heavily bankrolling cannabis legalization AND, paradoxically, “slow-rolling” it at the same time? If so, any ideas what those motives might be? Those undefined interests again? In fairness to you, some of what you are suggesting might just fall in the category of plausible speculation. But surely there’s something behind it, yes?

        • DdC says:

          Deciphering the political correctness of Tow & OK. Just to confuse the issue. A Tow Line was attached to mules to Tow barges along the Erie Canal. So I guess the mules were towing the line too.

          Chevy sells OK Used Cars. I don’t think its because they’re made in Oklahoma. Okay seems a bit weird to formalize a slang word or colloquialism. Unless it was from the Choctaw word “Okeh”. That was given as an alternative spelling of “okay” in the 1913 Webster’s. While OK’s original presentation was perhaps an etymology “all correct” “Oll or Ole Kurreck”

          “Toe the line” is an idiomatic expression meaning either to conform to a rule or standard, or to stand poised at the starting line in a footrace. Other phrases which were once used in the early 1800s and have the same meaning were toe the mark and toe the plank.

          In the textile industry, a tow is a coarse, broken fibre, removed during processing flax, hemp, or jute. The very light color of flax tow is the source of the word “towhead”, meaning a person with tousled light blonde hair. Not “Toehead, a person with tousled light blonde hair looking like a toe.

          In the composites industry, a tow is an untwisted bundle of continuous filaments, and it refers to man-made fibres, particularly carbon fibres (also called graphite). Tows are designated by the number of fibers they contain.

          The Amazing Hemp Battery

          A fullerene consisting of bonded carbon atoms in sheet form one atom thick. It is an allotrope of carbon in the form of a two-dimensional, atomic-scale, hexagonal lattice in which one atom forms each vertex.

          Hemp fibres ‘better than graphene’
          The waste fibres from hemp crops can be transformed into high-performance energy storage devices, scientists say. Hemp fibers are heated over the course of 24 hours, causing the material’s carbon atoms to align and form nanosheets, each of which are only one carbon atom thick, and which can be used as conductors in batteries. Dr. David Mitlin, the head researcher of a group working on supercapacitors at the University of Alberta in Canada says that their project turning hemp fibers into a graphene substitute is about one thousand times cheaper than making graphene/

        • Daniel Williams says:

          To jean valjean and primus: While my comments may not conform to your worldview, at least I make them under my real name. A true hallmark of a troll is using an alias, as both you do. Real courage.

          Will: George Soros has verbally and financially supported open borders and the free flow of migrants, both globalist (and socialist) agenda items. To believe Soros has had no effect on Obama’s worldview is akin to believing in the tooth fairy. (My apologies to jean and primus if I just ruined that for you, as you more than likely have yet to lose all your baby teeth.)

          And yes, I believe Soros has ulterior motives. There doesn’t necessarily need to be much daylight between bankrolling an initiative and slow-rolling its implementation. You may feel his efforts to legalize (mostly) medical cannabis while, simultaneously, keeping one foot on the break is a contradiction, and that’s fine. But you’d be wrong: Soros has a history of hedging his bets. And I believe this is just another example.

          If Soros truly wanted to expedite cannabis legalization here in the US, all it would take is one phone call to Obama. Obama has shown fealty to Soros and his views on many occasions. Therefore, it isn’t much of a stretch to believe Obama’s slow-rolling cannabis legalization is just another example.

          Does anyone on the couch actually believe that Obama, with his infamous phone and pen, was somehow legally restrained from being more aggressive on reforming cannabis policy? And if you do not, what other explanation do you have for Obama’s timidity?

        • jean valjean says:

          Will: do you have any idea what Daniel is talking about half the time? Conspiracy theories (Soros!) and weird sexual projection. And yet I’m the one who, according to Danny, fits this profile: “Especially when you don’t make any sense….” Gor bless you Danny boy, you’ll figure it out one day, perhapSSSSSSS.

        • Daniel Williams says:

          DdC: My my… Coming (somewhat) to my defense. Should this happen again, I may need to rethink my position on the existence of God.

        • Daniel Williams says:

          Gor bless you too, jean valjean.

        • DdC says:

          Daniel Williams
          January 30, 2017

          Surely by accident Daniel. 👍.
          Not on purpose, can’t blame me for that.
          I think the thread can be summed up by…

          The term anal retentive (also anally retentive), commonly abbreviated to anal, is used to describe a person who pays such attention to detail that it becomes an obsession and may be an annoyance to others, potentially to the detriment of the anal-retentive person. The term derives from Freudian psychoanalysis.

          I just saw an opportunity to post about the Hemp Battery…

        • Daniel Williams says:

          Well, that’s a relief…

          But I trust that the anally retentive types you’re referring to in this thread exclude me. And while that may be a bridge too far, I suggest my faux pas on towed and toed shows a considerable lack of attention to detail – a hallmark trait of the anals, as deduced by Freud and summed up by you.

          I plead not guilty.

        • Will says:

          Daniel wrote;

          “To believe Soros has had no effect on Obama’s worldview is akin to believing in the tooth fairy.”

          I never suggested what you mention above, one way or the other. But the word “believe”, which you use quite often, is obviously the crux of much of what you posit. So, I guess much of what you post belongs in the ‘idle speculation’ category. Good to know.


          “And yes, I believe Soros has ulterior motives. There doesn’t necessarily need to be much daylight between bankrolling an initiative and slow-rolling its implementation. You may feel his efforts to legalize (mostly) medical cannabis while, simultaneously, keeping one foot on the break is a contradiction, and that’s fine. But you’d be wrong: Soros has a history of hedging his bets. And I believe this is just another example.”

          Soros has been bankrolling cannabis legalization for a long time and he turns 87 this year. Wouldn’t you say decades of doing this, is, perhaps, enough slow-rolling even for the most cautious, hedged investor? I have not heard, and honestly don’t know, whether or not he’s made a counterbalancing bet on the other side of his legalization wager that would mitigate dumping millions of dollars toward that effort if it were to fail. Now, if you know, please offer more than just a “belief” this time, if you don’t mind.

          Yes, I do think his efforts to legalize cannabis (in whatever form) while leaving his foot on the brake pedal is a contradiction. Maybe at the beginning, but decades in? And it’s non-sensical to say that I’m “wrong” when all you’re doing is spouting what you “believe”. I was hoping for more substantive reasoning from you to back up some of the claims you’ve made. I guess I asked for something that doesn’t exist. No problem.

          -And still;

          “Does anyone on the couch actually believe that Obama, with his infamous phone and pen, was somehow legally restrained from being more aggressive on reforming cannabis policy? And if you do not, what other explanation do you have for Obama’s timidity?”

          I, along with many others, never thought Obama was going to be a true drug law reformist, with cannabis or anything else. There’s this ridiculous concern about ‘legacy’ that all presidents seem to obsessively worry about. I just couldn’t see the former Choom Gang member attach cannabis legalization to his coveted resume. And to all those who shake their heads in disbelief that Obama didn’t do what they thought he should do regarding cannabis laws — with no evidence to suggest he ever claimed he would change them — what the hell were you thinking? He even resorted to that all-too-common, absurd caveat, “My marijuana use was a youthful mistake”. What unadulterated bullshit. His “timidity” on this topic has been described as “fecklessness” on Pete’s blog many, many times. To that I would add “cowardice” along with many other less than glowing attributes.

      • jean valjean says:

        And Danny. I realize that your vocabulary is limited, so here’s a definition of the verb to fist which doesn’t involve your juvenile dirty mind:

        • jean valjean says:

          Oh, and Danny, some of us here on the couch know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a fascist like your man Trump. Aliases? How fucking dare you! Get back under your fucking bridge you piece off shit. You dare show your face in this week of all weeks when your man rides roughshod over the Constitution and puts us all to shame in the eyes of the entire world? You are a fucking disgrace. (Pete, I realize you’ll have to delete this, but not too quickly please. Apologies to you, Pete, but I’m pissed at what’s happening in America right now with these assholes.)

  2. Suzanne Wills says:

    You’re irreplaceable, Ethan. You’ve served us well.

  3. claygooding says:

    He may be stepping down from DPA but whatever he chooses to do next he will make a step up.

    Thank you Ethan for your service,,a true drug war veteran.

  4. Hope says:

    I’ve loved and admired the man for decades. All I can think of is, “You picked a fine time to leave us, Lucille.”

  5. Hope says:

    I remember before I ever got on the internet watching him with Bill Buckley. Before the turn of the century. He’s done so much for so long. Thank you Ethan. Thank you so much.

  6. I will miss you and the wisdom you conveyed so well to others. I wish you well, and even still I hope you reconsider. Best to you in whatever endeavor you choose to undertake from here.

  7. Servetus says:

    I had the opportunity to hear Ethan Nadelmann speak at several public engagements. I was always impressed by the force of his delivery and the sincerity of his message. Ethan was indefatigable, a breaking avalanche who covered his audience with logic and reason, turning suffering into outrage, sparking individual political activism from people who normally wouldn’t approach politics without shark repellant. And today, despite all the anti-drug/anti-human propaganda the government assembles, more than half of all voting Americans reject the drug war with every opportunity they’re given. Outstanding.

  8. CJ says:

    I should be the new head of the dpa.

  9. WalStMonky says:

    Boulder DA Stan Garnett named to group that will advise Trump administration on pot

    But while [Boulder Colorado District Attorney Stan] Garnett said there are a wide variety of states in different stages of marijuana legalization represented in the group, he said for the most part NDAA still is a conservative group, which is why he felt it was important to add his voice.

    “I always end up on the more liberal position than anyone else, particularly on marijuana,” Garnett said. “I think one of the things that happens is that many of the people in states where there is no legalization have a complete misunderstanding of states like Colorado. If nothing else, I’m able to say, ‘Wait a minute, this is a huge business in Colorado, it is largely supported by the editorial boards, polls show it was being very popular, and by and large we have not seen an impact on crime rates.

    “For somebody from Missouri or South Carolina to tell Colorado how to handle an issue of its own choice like legalization of marijuana is not only bad policy, but it fails to respect the importance of local control and state rights.”

    • Having these DA’s advising Trump on pot seem about as sensible as asking the foxes in charge of the hen house how they think things should be done.

      Having a mix of legal and non legal DA’s is smart. But, are these really the people that he should be asking for their opinions?

      • “there are a wide variety of states in different stages of marijuana legalization represented”

      • DdC says:

        I prefer Secession over Sessions.

        DA Stan seems to fit in with the nitwitter having “great respect” for the likes of Joe Arpaio. With FAST Act approaching and CO’s rules on driving. Trumple SAM needs a way out to keep states rights keeping tax bucks and economic growth. Jobs and possibly has a firm grasp of the obvious to ward off Cartels buying another brick for the Wall. Plus still fill the for profit cages and deny all those Bill of Privileges amendments and public assistance. While leaving the CSA Lies in place and Congress free to burn and pillage.

        Boulder DA Stan Garnett administration on pot

        Ganja enhanced driving FAQs. In Colorado the legal limit is 5 nanograms per milliliter in whole blood. A urine test has no value when it comes to marijuana because traces of the drug may show up in your system long after you’re sober. A blood test is the only accurate indicator of active THC at the moment.

        In Oregon Blood tests are so imprecise they can lead to wrongful convictions. How will police officers catch stoned drivers? The officer evaluates the driver. Some signs are obvious: bloodshot eyes, candy bar wrappers and what Iwai calls the “typical Beavis and Butthead laugh.” Others are more subtle — for example, slightly protruding veins on the person’s neck.

        The federal government still considers marijuana illegal, which means any evidence that you have partaken in or purchased the drug could affect your federal student loans, certain employment positions, and social benefits such as food stamps or public housing.

        Hickenlooper has a food fetish understanding of the problem and is giving advise to other governors changing opinions as the money rolls in. Including Jerry Brownie who was against 64 initially backing the prison and police unions.

        2012 Hicke said; “Don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.” Then Legal Marijuana Industry Has Created 123,000 Full-Time Jobs. Colorado pot retailers raked in $996 million in sales and turned over more than $135 million in taxes and fees to the state, Make That $1.2 Billion and Rising. So in 2016 his tune changed to “Focus on marijuana-infused brownies, gummy candies and lollipops.”

        California’s Pot Makes More Money Than the Next 5 Largest Crops Combined. If they were all adult about it they would drop the fake concern and alternative facts and realize Traffic fatalities decline in states with medical marijuana laws.

        If they really were concerned about the children they would not sell their hypocrisy and profit as much as they do for as long as they have. Doing harm to the very children they hide behind, spewing gossip. Or as Kinky Kellyanne calls it, “alternative facts” or perhaps Civil Information Management.

        Toxic chemicals: Kids in danger
        Is our dependence on pesticides harming the health of our children? Every day, children are exposed to up to 130 chemical pollutants from pesticides. Not used on Hemp also lumped into the CSA scam as a non psychoactive schedule#1 narcotic hallucinogenic menacing bird seed, fiber steel and blue jeans.

        California looks to build $7 billion legal pot economy
        Hemp and Pot Restrictions Not Dying Fast Enough –

      • WalStMonky says:


        The way I read it is that the NDAA is volunteering they’re opinion. Regardless, I think that it’s smart to be optimistic. I’ve got almost 24 years of experience as an optimist so there’s no way I don’t believe what I’ve seen with my own two eyes. I admit that it’s much easier because I know that there’s nothing the Federal gov’t can do about it.

  10. Daniel Williams says:

    jean valjean: Wow. Get any on ya?

  11. Servetus says:

    O.T. — Duterte draws the line at the police murder of a South Korean businessman:

    Duterte calls off drug war tactics so his police can “cleanse themselves of corruption”. Good luck on that one:

  12. Mouth says:

    Arkansas not allowing Medical Cannabis.

    Jason Rapert is Public Enemy number one.

  13. tensity1 says:

    Jesus Christ, some of you (people at the top of the comments) are getting tedious.

  14. Servetus says:

    E. Nadelmann: “DPA… an ever more powerful advocate for drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights! ” — extra points for mentioning science. A team of researchers at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) and Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) appear to have found a remedy for those who suffer from withdrawal due to opioid dependence:

    30-JAN-2017 — Neuroscientist Tuan Trang, PhD and his team, including PhD student Nicole Burma, explored the underlying causes of opioid withdrawal and identified an important target in the spinal cord that is responsible for producing withdrawal symptoms in rats and mice. The target, called pannexin-1, is located throughout the body and importantly, in the brain and spinal cord. The study was published January 30 in the prestigious journal Nature Medicine.[…]

    Once they identified the mechanism, the researchers were able to test an existing drug – in this case an anti-gout medication called probenecid that is known to have non-selective pannexin-1 blocking effects. The drug is Health Canada approved, is relatively inexpensive, and has few side effects. Importantly, the researchers were also able to demonstrate that the drug did not affect the ability of the opioid to relieve pain.

    “This is an exciting study which reveals a new mechanism and a potential therapeutic target for managing opioid withdrawal, says renowned Canadian pain researcher Dr. Michael Salter, Chief of Research at SickKids Hospital in Toronto. “The findings of Dr. Trang and his team could have important implications for people on opioid therapy and those attempting to stop opioid use.”

    AAAS Public Release: Researchers identify drug that alleviates opioid withdrawal

    • DdC says:

      Anti-gout medication called Probenecid that increases uric acid excretion in the urine. It has also found use as a masking agent, potentially helping athletes using performance-enhancing substances to avoid detection by drug tests.

      Once they identified the mechanism, the researchers were able to test an existing drug – in this case an anti-gout medication

      Policies grounded in science or science from the ground…

      Ganja 4 Gout Apr 21 04
      Botanical: Cannabis sativa (LINN.) Family: N.O. Urticaceae
      The principal use of Hemp in medicine is for easing pain and inducing sleep, and for a soothing influence in nervous disorders. It does not cause constipation nor affect the appetite like opium. It is useful in neuralgia, gout, rheumatism, delirium tremens, insanity, infantile convulsions, insomnia, etc.

      Nature’s Pharmacy: Ancient Knowledge, Modern Medicine

      More than 2,000 years ago, the ancient pharmacopeias of China listed marijuana. It was used to alleviate pain, induce sleep, and soothe nervous disorders. Marijuana was used to treat inflammations of the eye and “to cool the uterus” in ancient Egypt. First records of marijuana’s use in India date back to about 800 B.C.E., when it was recommended for congestion. Marijuana also appears in the 1st century C.E. Chinese medical work, Divine Husbandman’s Classic, where it was described as a treatment for “female weakness, gout, rheumatism, beri-beri, constipation, absentmindedness and malaria.” By the 3rd century C.E., patients were advised to consume the leaves whole or in an infusion to relieve pain during surgery. Medieval physicians prescribed the root to relieve the agonies of gout and other painful diseases. Mixed with oil and butter, the root was used as a salve to treat burns from the newly introduced gunpowder. During the 19th century the plant was a standard painkiller for menstrual cramps.

      Is pot good for you?
      What we know is that healers have accumulated copious anecdotes on weed’s powers over the past 4,700 years. Understanding Marijuana author Earleywine credits a (possibly mythical) Chinese emperor with introducing the plant as a treatment for gout around 2700 B.C.

      The History of Marijuana In The U.S.
      The United Stated Pharmacopeaia recognized marijuana for its medicinal value as early as 1850. It was used to treat lack of appetite, gout, migraines, pain, hysteria, depression, rheumatism and many other illnesses.

      Some of the links are old.

  15. kaptinemo says:

    WRT the business of maintaining drug prohibition, consider this: the major banking houses of the world are prohibition’s ultimate beneficiaries, for reasons that should be readily apparent.

    The major banking houses of the world essentially control the governmental apparatus in the Developed World through staffing government positions with the alumni of supposed non-governmental organizations. In the US the dominant government NGO is the Council on Foreign Relations.

    If you want to co-opt a movement that seriously threatens your economic – and therefore, political – rice bowl, you recruit its leadership.

    Ask yourself which leader in the drug law reform movement has been a member of the CFR since 2005.

  16. CharlieDarling says:

    His group mostly focused on the blue states – low hanging fruit. But in the next phase, they should set up offices in Southern / Midwest states where the drug laws are most draconian and reform has always been most needed.

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