The Great Marijuana Debate: Nadelmann Lands Total Knockout


On March 3, 2016, Ethan Nadelmann, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, and David Evans, Executive Director of the Drug Free Schools Coalition, went head to head in The Great Marijuana Debate, co-sponsored by MJIC Media and, at the California Cannabis Business Expo in San Francisco.

Ethan Nadelmann represented the “pro” legalization side and David Evans represented the “con” side. David Friedman, CEO of MJIC Media, teed up the debate.

“In order for people to make informed decisions, you need to really know both sides of an issue and that’s what ProCon does that nobody else does,” Friedman said. “While I disagree with David Evans, I respect his ability and desire to step up here into the lion’s den.”

Kambiz Akhavan, Managing Editor of, moderated the event and broke it into three sections: opening position statements; question and answer with the moderator, the debaters and then the audience; and closing remarks.

“Marijuana prohibition and the war on marijuana, the war on people who use marijuana, has been a ghastly horrific policy in America and around the world for many, many, decades,” Nadelmann said. “We are advocating to roll back the drug war wherever possible and to roll out public health, human rights and sensible policies to deal with the problems of addiction and abuse rather than criminalizing the people and the populations who use these drugs, whether responsibly or otherwise—that’s what this is about, that’s what this is about!”

While Nadelmann stood for the pursuit of harm reduction and implementing a plan of action, Evans stood against marijuana as if he were a gatekeeper hired to parrot propaganda to those attempting to cross into the land of legalization.

“I know you’re all going to claim, ‘No, gee, we don’t want kids to use marijuana.’ What a load of bull shit that is. Ok, just like the tobacco industry, you’re going to market to young people, you’re already doing it,” Evans said. “There’s no sense in me talking to you anyway because I don’t feel you have any conscious at all.”

Evans’ tone, reminiscent of Jonathan Edward’s colonial-era sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” turned off the audience, as evidenced by a few individuals who were compelled to make public outbursts of opposition to Evans’ arguments.

Considering the event was held at the California Cannabis Business Expo, Nadelmann was the audience favorite; however, analyzing this debate with Artistotle’s three modes of persuasion—ethos, pathos, logos—Nadelmann is still the winner based upon the credibility of his character, the pairing of emotional appeals with supporting data and reasoned discourse backed by evidence. While Evans also engaged the modes of persuasion and has a credible professional background, his argument was based upon fear mongering and confirmation bias; plus, insults directed at the audience negated any headway he may have hoped to make.

“Civil discourse can happen,” said Jay Rakow, CEO of, in an interview with MJINews at the debate’s end. “Think about both sides of an issue and feel challenged.”

Harkening back to David Friedman’s introduction for The Great Marijuana Debate, Friedman said, “As an investor in this industry, you need to be aware of the opposition.” Attendees of this debate are likely more aware now than ever before that the opposition is challenging this industry with vitriol, but the ability to understand the opposition’s argument is the key to discrediting it and moving forward with an industry that seeks legitimacy founded upon sound logic, an ability Nadelmann embodies expertly.

Caroline Cahill was the Managing Editor of MJINews from June 2014 through February 2018. She earned her BA in Communications from College of Charleston and her MFA in Creative Writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. You can follow her on Twitter @CtheresaC.

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