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TED Talk: What Has The War On Drugs Done To The World? [Video]

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by Sharda Sekaran

on November 12, 2014

Twenty years ago, Ethan Nadelmann left his teaching position at Princeton University to become a full-time advocate for ending the drug war. As the founding executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the largest and most influential organization promoting drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights, Ethan’s vision and leadership have had a monumental impact on public opinion and changed the course of history.

Take a few minutes, as soon as you can, to hear Ethan Nadelmann’s newly released TED Talk that was featured on Wednesday as the day’s lead item at TED.com. There is a good reason for the standing ovation Ethan received at the conclusion. The ideas he presents are provocative, enlightening and becoming more mainstream than anyone could have imagined when he began his activism more than two decades ago.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has reformed state and federal laws involving drug sentencing, access to sterile syringes to reduce HIV/AIDS, addiction treatment, prevention of overdose fatalities and all aspects of marijuana policy. DPA and its lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, played an instrumental role in securing monumental drug policy reform victories in the recent midterm elections, including marijuana legalization in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., marijuana decriminalization in New Mexico, medical marijuana in Guam, and groundbreaking criminal justice and sentencing reforms in New Jersey and California.

Ethan is drug policy advisor to George Soros and other prominent philanthropists as well as elected officials ranging from mayors, governors and state and federal legislators in the U.S. to presidents and cabinet ministers outside the U.S. He and the Drug Policy Alliance have worked closely with the Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include global leaders and luminaries like Sir Richard Branson and Kofi Annan, to break the taboo on public discussion of non-prohibitionist drug policies.

“I’ve dedicated my life to building an organization and a movement of people who believe we have no choice but to turn our back on the failed prohibitions of the past and embrace new drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights,” Nadelmann told the audience. “We come from across the political spectrum and almost every other spectrum as well.  We’re people who love drugs, people who hate drugs, and people who don’t give a damn about drugs, but every one of us believe that this war on drugs –– this heartless and disastrous war on drugs –– has got to end.”

TED is a nonprofit devoted to “ideas worth spreading,” and Ethan is a passionate and tireless proponent for restoring sanity and humanity to drug policy: an idea whose time has come.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.