Last night, students packed into an Angell Hall auditorium and, with eyes shut tight, raised their hands if they admitted to using drugs like marijuana, mushrooms or cocaine. The questions helped Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, gauge the drug experience of his audience.
The Drug Policy Alliance is a nonprofit firm dedicated to ending the “war on drugs.”
Nadelmann said he hoped his talk would encourage students to become activists in seeking drug policy reform.
“It will be worth it if you don’t grow up to be the hypocrites your parents are,” he said.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a campus group headed by LSA sophomore Christopher Chiles, hosted the talk and the University’s Substance Abuse Research Center was one of numerous sponsors for the event.
“Hopefully he’ll inspire some of the future leaders here at the University to look at drug policy with a very serious tone and give it the respect that it deserves,” he said.
During his talk, Nadelmann explained why he thinks drug regulation should be handled outside of the criminal justice system.
He said that in some cases the justice system has banned drugs as a way to discriminate.
Decriminalizing the drug war, Nadelmann said, would drive prison rates down. He noted a Pew Center study that shows that the U.S. is responsible for 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of its incarcerated population, making it the world’s most incarcerated.
“There is something really messed up with this country when we have the prison rates that we do,” he said.
Nadelmann also said Americans fail to acknowledge the constructive uses drugs can have.
“Americans have this notion that has to do with not tolerating any relationship with those drugs and our bodies,” he said. “We have a fundamental moral feeling about something we regard as horrific even though nobody else is being harmed.”
Nadelmann spoke with passion and was constantly gesturing wildly with his hands throughout the talk. During one outburst, he vented about the injustices of drug laws.
“You, who did not commit any other offense against a human being, you will be treated as a goddamn criminal,” he shouted.
When asked which magazine could best promote his cause, Nadelmann said the cover of either AARP or Oprah’s magazine, with a middle-aged woman explaining how marijuana has added vitality to her sex life.
Nadelmann also provided the audience with tips on how to use marijuana in the safest manner.
“When you want to smoke marijuana relatively safely, take a few hits, and don’t hold it in,” he said.
LSA freshman Brianna Iddings said she enjoyed the honest and somewhat informal tone of the talk.
“I liked how open and frank he was about everything,” she said. “It made the issue seem more open and easier to discuss.”
LSA freshman I.K. Olomu agreed.
“I just thought it was great and really informative. He presented ending the war on drugs in a way that seems possible,” he said.