Ethan Nadelmann

Ethan Nadelmann is the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit organization working to end the War on Drugs. Ethan Nadelmann is known as a high profile critic and commentator on U.S. and international drug control policies.

Life and Career

Early Years

Nadelmann was born on March 13, 1957 in New York City. He had a strict, Sabbath-observant upbringing in Yonkers, by his Father who was a Jewish Rabbi, my mother came from an Orthodox family. He admired his father's ability to unite a diverse congregation that included both fellow rabbis and members with barely a high school education.
When he was 18, he left home to attend McGill University in Montreal, where he began smoking hash. His drug use amounts to his marijuana use, which he knows remarkably little about and just recently got it straight between indica and sativa blends. Cocaine which he tried a few times and related it to drinking too much coffee and having post-nasal drip. And is more keen to psychedelics where he compares mushrooms to fasting on Yom Kippur "Once a year, it's a good thing." But finds ayahuasca to be the king of the hallucinogens.
While in graduate school and law school he found himself in a quandary about what interested him the most. He realized he was fascinated by the whole issue of how drugs and crime were dealt with. So he got a security clearance and went to work in the State Department’s Narcotics Bureau. He wrote the first classified report on the U.S. efforts to deal with drug related money laundering, and interviewed DEA and other law enforcement agents in 19 countries around the world.
Finding the whole policy as absurd lead to him devoting the rest of his life to teaching and educating about drugs and the way we deal with these things, and addressing broader issues in our society.


Master’s degree in international relations from the London School of Economics
B.A., J.D., and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University


Nadelmann began his career after receiving his Ph.D., teaching politics and public affairs at Princeton University from 1987 to 1994, where he lectured and wrote extensively on drug policy, attracting international attention.
In 1994, Nadelmann founded the Lindesmith Center, a drug policy institute, created with and funded by philanthropist & social reformer George Soros. In 2000, the growing Center merged with another organization to form the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.
He has authored two books and his writings have appeared in most major media outlets in the U.S. as well as top academic journals (e.g., Science, International Organization), policy journals (Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Washington Quarterly, Public Interest) and political publications from the right (National Review) to the left (The Nation). He is interviewed frequently by media, including The Colbert Report, The O’Reilly Factor, Real Time with Bill Maher, and news programs on all the major U.S. networks as well as dozens of networks elsewhere.

Recent Times

Notable Events and Accomplishments


Nadelmann has referred to the United States' drug policies in Latin America as brutal and prohibitionist. He is an advocate for legalization in Latin America.
And has been a strong advocate of less restrictive cannabis laws in the United States including legalizing the use of cannabis for medical purposes, regulating recreational usage, and imposing civil rather than criminal penalties for those who are caught using or possessing small amounts of cannabis.


Nadelmann and his colleagues have played crucial roles in most of the major drug policy reform ballot initiative campaigns in the United States on issues ranging from medical marijuana and marijuana legalization to prison reform, drug treatment and reform of asset forfeiture laws. They also have reformed state and federal laws involving drug sentencing, access to sterile syringes to reduce HIV/AIDS, access to drug treatment, prevention of overdose fatalities, and all aspects of marijuana policy.




In the late 1970s during his collegiate youth, it was a time thought of as America's marijuana spring. In the Carter years, ending the federal war on marijuana seemed like a possibility with Carter himself in favor of decriminalizing the drug. But that would soon be squashed with the rise of Ronald Reagan and his strict ideas and policy concerning illicit drug use.
As he internalized his personal rage against the absurd nature of the drug war he quickly established himself as a top young expert in the field, lining up a professorship at Princeton, just as the drug war was reaching an all new level. While teaching at Princeton he formed the Princeton Working Group on the Future of Drug Use and Alternatives to Drug Prohibition, at a time when the drug reform movement was growing in strength and scope.

Was Influenced By

John Stuart Mill –Philosopher
Alfred R. Lindesmith

Has an Influence On

Nadelmann plays a key role as 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.

Collected Works


  • Policing the Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations [with Peter Andreas] (2006)
  • Cops Across Borders: The Internationalization of U.S. Criminal Law Enforcement (1994)
  • Psychoactive Drugs and Harm Reduction: From Faith to Science [with co-editors Nick Heather, Alex Wodak, and Pat O'Hare] (1993)




Categories: Biographies

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