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Ethan Nadelmann on drug policy reform

October 14, 2013
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Ethan gave a particularly stirring and effective speech at the Nantucket Project last week.

I enjoyed this quote defining who we are as drug policy reformers:

We’re the people who love drugs, we’re the people who hate drugs, we’re the people who don’t give a damn about drugs, but every one of us believes that the war on drugs is not the way to deal with the reality of drugs in our society.

Yep.

The speech is about 20 minutes, but it’s quite engaging, so the time flies by. Very nice job and worth a watch.

I struggled a little bit with his drug policy reform objective statement:

The objective of drug policy reform is to reduce the role of criminalization and the criminal justice system in drug control to the maximum extent consistent with protecting public safety and health.

I think it’s a good statement — he’s definitely on the right track and he’s trying not to make it even longer or more convoluted, but I guess my own bias is that I’m not sure that “reduce” is a sufficiently strong term when talking about the criminal justice system and drug policy. Because it isn’t just a matter of lessening the devastation of the criminal justice system, but also of recognizing that other methods besides the criminal justice system can be more effective in reducing the harms of drug abuse (without adding their own harms).

Perhaps adding two words: “…to reduce and replace the role of criminalization…” would strengthen that statement a bit.

Alternatively, I might take a different approach to the notion and say that the ultimate goal of drug policy reform is to achieve a system of drug controls whereby the negative effects of drug abuse are lessened to the extent possible without adding negative effects to society from the controls themselves. (That’s also not perfect, but I may continue to work on it.)

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Pete Guither is the editor of drugwarrant.com

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