On April 26, 2017, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), together with some of its strongest supporters, gathered to celebrate the career and resignation of the organization’s Founder and Executive Director, Ethan Nadelman. Tears were shed by family and friends alike, as DPA staff recounted the manner by which Nadelman, a New York native, championed drug reform over the course of decades, working from a basement office with a handful of volunteers, to a global organization that is over 70 employees strong. And when Nadelman took the stage, he wasted no time in thanking his loyal team and describing his emotions, hurdles, and accomplishments as he dared to challenge the failed War on Drugs and the unfortunate – and apparently purposeful -- disproportionate effect that the War on Drugs has had on people of color and minority communities. When Nadelman first embraced this cause, it was hardly mainstream.
Funded by philanthropist and investor George Soros, among others, DPA seeks to reform drug laws and promote sensible drug policy and “harm reduction” – i.e., initiatives designed to reduce negative consequences associated with drug use and addiction. DPA also produces educational content designed to encourage states to lift drug abuse out of the criminal justice system, and address drug abuse as a matter of public health. Nadelman, himself, is a cherished author, speaker, and advisor.
Nadelman did not discuss his future plans, insisting that such are still unknown, but he was looking forward to enjoying his “first summer off” since his schooldays.
That the celebration of Nadelman’s career took place in New York City has particular significance. New York is the birthplace of the controversial “Rockefeller Laws” – a series of sentencing guidelines enacted in 1973 that mandated incarceration for low-level drug offenders and imposes 15 years to life-long sentences for drug dealers and addicts – even for those who sell small amounts of cannabis. During the Nixon administration, other states embraced these laws, sparking the “prison boom.” And today, New York has perhaps the most restrictive medical marijuana regulations; its medical program has been heavily criticized as it lacks physician participation and patient access.
The public health community will forever be grateful for Nadelman’s contributions. And with hope, New York will fall in line with the progressive initiatives originally fostered by Nadelman and DPA.
Author bio: Lauren Rudick, Esq. is a Partner in the NYC-based boutique law firm, Hiller, PC. A “recovering litigator,” Lauren focuses on cannabis transactions, representing primarily investors and startup organizations. Lauren is also an Expert Contributor to Marijuana Venture magazine and works pro bono for the Cannabis Cultural Association and Drug Policy Alliance.