Last updated on: 1/12/2018 | Author:

Ethan Nadelmann, JD, PhD Biography

Founder of Drug Policy Alliance
Pro to the question "Should Recreational Marijuana Be Legal?"

“[T]he argument has been that marijuana prohibition and that the war on marijuana and the war on people who use marijuana has been a ghastly, horrific policy in America and around the world for many, many decades… almost 20 million people have been arrested for marijuana over the last 40 over 50 years…

[A] misdemeanor marijuana conviction can lead to a bar on adopting a child in 38 states, a revocation of professional license in 20 states… for non citizens it can trigger deportation… How many people have been hurt by that policy?

I’m also aware of the extraordinary racial disproportionately and racism that has permeated this war on marijuana and the broader war on drugs for all too long.

Ask why was marijuana criminalized in the first place?… There was not medical evidence being provided. There was no National Academy of Science saying that marijuana prohibition would be a better policy than marijuana legalization and regulation. What it had to do with overwhelmingly was prejudice and stigma and fear directed at Mexican American and Mexican migrants in the Southwest and western states of the country beginning with the first criminalization of marijuana in Texas and California a little over 100 years ago…

This substance is just simply not that dangerous where it’s going to cause a lot of harm in this society…The notion that we should keep it illegal and continue to impose those penalties on millions of Americans that we’ve seen over the last 10 to 20, 30, 40 years, I think would be a ghastly mistake.”

Statement at The Great Marijuana Debate (sponsored by, video available at, Mar. 3, 2016

Involvement and Affiliations:
  • Advisor, Global Commission on Drug Policy
  • Member, Advisory Board, Open Society Foundation’s Global Drug Policy Project
  • Drug Policy Advisor to George Soros
  • Executive Director, Drug Policy Alliance (formerly The Lindesmith Center), 1994-2017
  • Co-Founder, Open Society Institute’s International Harm Reduction Development program, 1995
  • Founder, Drug Policy Alliance, 1994
  • Professor, Politics and Public Affairs, Princeton University, 1987-1994
  • Chair, Princeton Working Group on the Future of Drug Use, 1987-1994
  • PhD, Political Science, Harvard University
  • JD, Harvard University
  • MA, International Relations, London School of Economics
  • BA, Political Science, Harvard University
  • Twitter handle: @ethannadelmann
  • Performed a TED Talk titled “Why We Need to End the War on Drugs” in Oct. 2014
Quoted in:
Pro & Con Quotes: Should Recreational Marijuana Be Legal?