A chat with Ethan Nadelmann, Drug Policy Alliance

This morning I got to chat with Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the national Drug Policy Alliance, who’s in Oregon working on that state’s legalization efforts.

(Ethan Nadelmann)
(Ethan Nadelmann)

As a national expert, Nadelmann said he thinks Washington’s slow approach to legalization has helped efforts in Oregon. It’s better to take a “hyper cautious” approach than to rush in too fast, he said.

“For Washington I think it’s more of a cultural transition,” Nadelmann said. “The Oregon debate is being shaped in some ways by how Washington’s rollout is perceived.”

Going slowly with knowledge that the market will take time to develop should help those in Oregon realize that pot sales can go forward without disaster, he said.

“It also helps that in Colorado, six months in, the sky hasn’t fallen yet,” Nadelmann said.

The next states to legalize sales will probably be Oregon and Alaska, with Washington D.C. legalizing possession, he said.

Another issue that some have brought up is that the marijuana marketplace (which seems to me to be quite similar to the small craft brewing industry we have here in Vancouver) will end up getting taken over by big business and big tobacco at some point.

(Main Street Marijuana)
(Main Street Marijuana)

I asked Nadelmann what he thought.

“I think that’s a longer term threat,” Nadelmann said. “I think now it’s more of a local thing – or a state and local thing.”

He thinks the industry will be able to stay small, with lots of young entrepreneurial companies for “many years to come.”

That could change if marijuana is legalized nationally, though, he said.

“There’s a kind of mutuality of interest in the law enforcement and government side where big business is good,” Nadelmann said. “It’s easier to regulate and control fewer large businesses than it is many small ones. But my hope is the government won’t push for big businesses.”