Ethan Nadelmann

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Ethan A. Nadelmann
Ethan Nadelmann by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Nadelmann in 2014
Born (1957-03-13) March 13, 1957 (age 64)
New York City
Alma materHarvard University (Ph.D.)
London School of Economics (M.Sc)
Harvard Law School (J.D.)
Harvard University (B.A.)
McGill University (transferred to Harvard)
OccupationFounder, Drug Policy Alliance
WebsiteEthan Nadelmann

Ethan A. Nadelmann (born March 13, 1957) is the founder of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York City-based non-profit organization working to end the War on Drugs. Described by Rolling Stone as, "The driving force for the legalization of marijuana in America,"[1] Ethan Nadelmann is known as a high-profile critic and commentator on U.S. and international drug control policies.

Early life[edit]

Nadelmann was born in New York City, where he was raised, in a Jewish family; his father was a rabbi.[2] He earned B.A., J.D., and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University and a master’s degree in international relations from the London School of Economics. He taught politics and public affairs at Princeton University from 1987 to 1994.


Ethan Nadelmann at the World Economic Forum on Latin America in 2012

While he was at Princeton, Nadelmann lectured and wrote extensively on drug policy, attracting considerable attention with his articles in such periodicals as Science,[3][4] Foreign Affairs,[5] American Heritage[6] and National Review.[7][8][9] He also formed the Princeton Working Group on the Future of Drug Use and Alternatives to Drug Prohibition.

After Barack Obama won the presidential election, Matt Elrod, the director of the drug policy reform group DrugSense, filed an internet petition for Ethan Nadelmann as the new Drug Czar. Although any hopes in getting Nadelmann appointed were downplayed, "this petition will at least encourage President-elect Obama to think twice about his choice of drug czar."[10] Drug Policy Alliance never lobbied for Nadelmann, however once media reports alleged that James Ramstad (R-MN) would be appointed to the post the organization urged people to oppose the appointment due to his opposition to medical marijuana and needle exchange among other things.[11] Seattle's police chief Gil Kerlikowske became the next head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP),[12] an appointment that DPA is cautiously optimistic about.[13]

On September 28, 2012, Nadelmann spoke at the Human Rights Foundation’s San Francisco Freedom Forum. He discussed the United States' incarceration rates, which are at 743 people per 100,000 inhabitants, and how America's drug policies are affecting that number.[14]

Drug Policy Alliance[edit]

Nadelmann founded the Lindesmith Center in 1994, a drug policy institute created with the philanthropic support of George Soros. Six years later the Center merged with the Drug Policy Foundation founded by Arnold Trebach. The merger became the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group for drug policies "grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights."[15] As the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Nadelmann takes a public health - rather than a criminal justice - approach to the War on Drugs advocating for the application of harm reduction principles.

On December 20, 2012, the Alliance paid for a full-page advertisement in The New York Times to celebrate the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, signaling "the beginning of the end for the costly and unjust war on drugs." The advertisement thanks numerous politicians, including former president Bill Clinton and congressman Ron Paul, for their efforts to combat the war on drugs.[16]

Criticisms of drug policies[edit]

Latin America[edit]

Nadelmann has referred to the United States' drug policies in Latin America as brutal and prohibitionist. He is an advocate for legalization in Latin America.[17][18]

United States[edit]

Nadelmann has been a strong advocate of less restrictive cannabis laws in the United States including legalizing the use of canabis for medical purposes, regulating recreational usage, and imposing civil rather than criminal penalties for those who are caught using or possessing small amounts of cannabis.[19]

Overall, Nadelmann is optimistic about the future of drug policies under President Obama, particularly after his December 2012 interview with Barbara Walters. During the interview, Obama expressed that he did not "at this point" support widespread legalization of marijuana, which Nadelmann likens to his previously evolving viewpoint on gay marriage, before publicly announcing his support.[20]

In 2013, Nadelmann joined Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group; George Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece; David Marlon, Las Vegas-based addiction recovery advocate, to discuss the War on Drugs within the U.S. borders, and cannabis' involvement in policy, incarceration, and addiction prevention. The panel was specifically debating U.S. drug policy at the Starbridge Capital Alternatives Conference, a high-level investment event that brings in top names in business, government, and politics to discuss issues leading to wise investment decisions, which took place in Las Vegas, Nevada. [21]


  • Nadelmann, Ethan (1993). Cops Across Borders: The Internationalization of U.S. Criminal Law Enforcement. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 978-0-271-01095-3.
  • Nadelmann, Ethan; Andreas, Peter (2006). Policing the Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-508948-6.


  1. ^ Dickinson, Tim. "Ethan Nadelmann: The Real Drug Czar". Rolling Stone Magazine. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
  2. ^ Per Ethan Nadelman's remarks on Flashpoints, December 24, 2008
  3. ^ Drug prohibition in the United States: costs, consequences, and alternatives. Science, Vol 245, Issue 4921, 939–947. Accessed on April 30, 2007.
  4. ^ Response: Drug Decriminalization. Science, 1 December 1989: 1104–1105. Accessed on April 30, 2007.
  5. ^ Commonsense Drug Policy. Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine Foreign Affairs, January/February 1998. Accessed on April 30, 2007.
  6. ^ Should We Legalize Drugs? History Answers. Archived 2007-01-26 at the Wayback Machine American Heritage Magazine. February/March 1993, Volume 44, Issue 1. Accessed on April 30, 2007.
  7. ^ The War on Drugs is Lost.[permanent dead link] National Review. 2/12/1996. Accessed on April 30, 2007.
  8. ^ Switzerland's Heroin Experiment.[permanent dead link] National Review. 7/10/1995. Accessed on April 30, 2007.
  9. ^ The Future of An Illusion.[permanent dead link] National Review. 9/27/2004. Accessed on April 30, 2007.
  10. ^ Matt Eldord: Drug Czar of my dreams, The Huffington Post, December 18, 2008
  11. ^ "Obama's Drug Czar?". Drug Policy Alliance. 2008-11-24. Archived from the original on 2009-03-05. Retrieved 2009-03-05.
  12. ^ Seattle police chief to become nation's drug czar Archived March 18, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Breaking News: Obama's New Drug Czar". Drug Policy Alliance. 2000-02-12. Archived from the original on 2009-03-05. Retrieved 2009-03-06.
  14. ^ Valencia, Robert. "Redemption After Jail: How The World Reintegrates Ex-Prisoners". Archived from the original on November 30, 2012. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
  15. ^ Nadelmann's biography Archived 2007-04-04 at the Wayback Machine at the Drug Policy Alliance.
  16. ^ Frauenfelder, Mark. "Drug Policy Alliance runs full-page New York Times ad: 'Prohibition is Finally Coming to An End'". Boing Boing. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
  17. ^ Nadelmann, Ethan. "The Genie Has Escaped the Drug Prohibition Bottle". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
  18. ^ Nadelmann, Ethan. "Legalization Debate Takes Off in Latin America". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
  19. ^ Lyons, Daniel (May 17, 2009). "Legalization? Now for the Hard Question". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-14.
  20. ^ Nadelmann, Ethan. "Parsing Obama's Words on Legalizing Marijuana". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
  21. ^ Velotta, Richard (May 7, 2015). "Branson argues for end to the war on drugs". The Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 2019-05-05.

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