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Ethan Nadelmann: The Real Drug Czar

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Despite the movement's recent successes, the end of pot prohibition, Nadelmann says, "is going to be complicated, tough, and we've got to be disciplined." He points out that voters are receptive to new approaches: "People want the tax revenue, and they want the cops to focus on real crime. Those are the two winning ­arguments." But he also knows that changing public opinion isn't ­nearly enough. Medical marijuana enjoys 85 percent support nationwide, yet it has zero champions in the Senate.

As the Obama administration continues to weigh its response in Washington and Colorado, Nadelmann is plotting the next moves. DPA is drafting an initiative in Oregon that could appear before voters as soon as next year, and Nadelmann believes California will test the legalization waters again in 2016. "The only way forward," he says, "is to go state by state until Congress and the White House cry uncle."Nadelmann has cultivated diverse ­allies in Washington – including both former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and ­Republican coalition leader Grover Norquist – while mentoring ambitious politicians in the states. "He provides people in elected office some backbone, and God knows we need it," says Gavin Newsom, California's lieutenant governor, who has stepped out boldly on marijuana legalization in recent weeks. "I'm included in that. It shouldn't have taken me this long."

Nadelmann is concerned that America not simply replace the hazards of the black market with the excesses of a free market. In a candid moment, he ­confesses, "I'm concerned now, because I see at my meetings, more and more of them are coming from the marijuana industry," he says. "Some care about the broader principles. Some are just in it for the money."

Talking about the business side of pot, Nadelmann can sound like he's never left the ivory tower. His work is enabling the legal expansion of a multibillion-dollar American industry. But for Nadelmann, that's almost entirely beside the point. He worries that the common interests of state regulators and pot profiteers could conspire to create Big Marijuana – a concentrated industry with just a few large-scale growers that are easier for state authorities to monitor and regulate. That would be a bad outcome for his agenda, he believes; mass marketing and public health don't mix. Ironically, Nadelmann says, the Obama administration's evident determination to crack down on industrial-scale marijuana could be a saving grace. "Give me my choice – I want the microbrewery or vineyard model," he says. "I'm not fighting for the Marlboro-ization of marijuana."

This story is from the June 20th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.

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