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Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann recently gave an excellent TED talk on the failed war on drugs. In it, he rightly describes the near-global adaptation of the US’s drug policy model as the international projection of a domestic psychosis about drug use, and urges for sensible drug policy and for the treatment of drug abuse as a medical issue, not a criminal one — changes that couldn’t come soon enough.

Certainly, significant progress is being made in the legalization of cannabis, with Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. recently joining the list of states in which cannabis is legalized and regulated. However, Nadelmann notes the disproportionate amount of prisoners in the US population, which has approximately 5% of the world’s population and almost 25% of the world’s prison population. Regrettably, many of these prisoners are behind bars for victimless drug crimes that often receive penalties far harsher than those handed out for violent crimes. Hopefully future legalization efforts will involve granting pardons for victimless drug crimes.

After you watch the talk, check out the Drug Policy Alliance and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.


Notable quotes from the talk:

“There’s probably never been a drug-free society. Virtually every society has ingested psychoactive substances to deal with pain, increase our energy, socialize, even commune with God. Our desire to alter our consciousness may be as fundamental as our desires for food, companionship, and sex. So, our true challenge is to learn how to live with drugs so that they cause the least possible harm, and in some cases, the greatest possible benefits.”

“The reason some drugs are legal and others not has almost nothing to do with science or health or the relative risks of drugs, and almost everything to do with who uses and who is perceived to use particular drugs.”

“If the principal smokers of cocaine were affluent older white men, and the principal consumers of Viagra were poor young black men, then smokable cocaine would be easy to get with a prescription from your doctor, and selling Viagra would get you 5-10 years behind bars.”