Pubdate: Mon, 13 Dec 2004
Source: San Diego City Beat (CA)
Copyright: 2004 San Diego City Beat.
Author: Jed Gottlieb


The Clean-Cut Look Of Today's Drug-Legalization Debate

Picture two guys talking about legalizing weed. OK, got it. Do you picture 
trays of grilled red and banana peppers? How about a burnished silver 
coffee urn? In your mental picture, are the men wearing suits and ties? If 
you picture two burnt out hippies shouting about how "the man" won't let 
them smoke their herb, you need to update your image of the 
drug-legalization camp.

On Thursday, Dec. 2, in the Mission Valley Marriott's dignified Rio Vista 
Ballroom, San Diego State University sponsored a classy and catered public 
forum to address drug-enforcement alternatives. The night's centerpiece was 
a debate between Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann 
and former U.S. Attorney and current SDSU law professor Peter Nunez.

As the crowd of 150 grazed the free buffet, it was tough to distinguish the 
event from an insurance salesmen's convention. But between the navy blazers 
there was the balding man with the tiny gray ponytail and the guy in slacks 
and Converse high tops. Other than a few passionate, likely dope-smoking 
college kids, the event didn't much resemble your first legalization debate 
(the one where you - home for your freshman Thanksgiving break - shouted 
"You just don't get my generation!" at your dad. This crowd was calm, 
respectful and open-minded to both sides of the debate.

"Drug addiction is bad," said Nunez in his opening statements. "It's not 
good for anybody and we should try to prevent it....I don't understand -- 
why would we adopt a policy that would increase drug use."

Articulate, bright and possessing an impressive resume, Nunez's argument to 
the crowd was essentially this: drugs kill people, people get killed over 
them and the damage they do costs taxpayers billions upon billions of 
dollars every year. His points were difficult, if not impossible, to 
refute. So Nadelmann didn't try.

Nadelmann conceded that it's possible that there may be more users if drugs 
were legal, but he doubted those users would be teens.

"Who has the best access to drugs? Teens," he told the chuckling audience. 
Who had the best access 10 years ago? Teens. Who had the best access years 
ago? Teens....Teenagers have always had the best access."

The key to Nadelmann's campaign is getting the nation to rethink how it 
views drugs and the drug war. Nadelmann's credentials - he holds 
bachelor's,law and doctorate degrees from Harvard University and a master's 
degree in international relations from the London School of Economics- and 
his clean-cut appearance are major assets in convincing skeptics to open 
their minds to the possibility that a world without drugs isn't feasible.

Nadelmann is funny and likable, but he's also probably the nation's 
authority on alternatives to the drug war - Nunez even teaches Nadelmann's 

"Drugs have always been part of society and always will be part of 
society," he told the crowd. "Our real challenge is not to get rid of drugs 
because that's not possible. Our real challenge is to learn how to live 
with them so they can cause the least possible harm and the greatest 
possible benefit."

Nadelmann and his Drug Policy Alliance advocate total legalization of 
marijuana and the decriminalization of drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Nadelmann points to numerous European countries that have had great success 
decriminalizing hard drugs.

While Nadelmann didn't win over Nunez, his argument impressed the 
applauding audience. It seems that the broad-based legalization movement 
that Nadelmann says is sweeping the country isn't all smoke. Legalization 
advocates have evolved into everyday Americans. Or at least that's what 
Nadelmann wants you to think.

America's view of drugs and the drug war is likely somewhere between 
Nunez's and Nadelmann's. But a having guy like Nadelmann as the 
legalization movement's point man can't hurt its chances of winning over 
more hearts and minds.
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MAP posted-by: Beth