This focus ultimately led Nadelmann to drug reform advocacy. He now serves as executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to ending the conflict Richard Nixon declared in 1971. But don’t misunderstand Nadelmann: He wants to reform America’s drug laws, not legalize all drugs, something he says the late drug-legalization advocate Milton Friedman used to tease him about.
“For me, the ultimate objective in drug policy should be two-fold,” he explained. ”The first is to reduce the harms of drugs, to reduce addiction, disease, criminality, suffering for both individuals and their families. And the second is to reduce the harms of government policies.”
He said he doesn’t “have that confidence that full legalization of all drugs is the optimal policy.”
“I think the optimal policy,” he said, “lies some place where Milton Friedman and some libertarians would put it and between what I would call the sort of the harm-reduction public health-driven prohibitionists, the ones who want to treat addiction as a health issue, who want to decriminalize possession, who maybe want to legalize marijuana but don’t feel ready to do everything.”
Like most who oppose America’s drug laws as draconian, Nadelmann believes “people should not be punished for what they put in their bodies.” But he also adds that America’s failed “prohibitionist” policies have created a “climate of fear” internationally “where people cannot live under the rule of law, where they are intimidated.”
Finally, he added, “if another country had a rate of incarceration like ours, we would regard that country as a massive violator of human rights.”
Nadelmann said he hasn’t been encouraged by America’s leadership on drug policy. The White House, he said, “is basically ducking the issue, providing no leadership whatsoever.” (Though he did suggest that he’s heard Vice President Joe Biden is hinting to people at Democratic fundraisers that things will change if the Obama administration should win a second term.)
As for other elected officials, Nadelmann said they “are scared of their own shadows, scared of the drug issue as sort of the third rail of American politics.”