Law & Politics, News, Opinion

In Focus: Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader, a consumer advocate, lawyer, author, and past presidential candidate has been one of the hardest working consumer advocates for nearly 50 years. Nader has been responsible for at least eight major federal consumer protection laws, such as the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. He was responsible for launching several federal regulatory agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). His influence is behind the recall of millions of defective motor vehicles as well as guaranteed access to government through the Freedom of Information Act of 1974.

Ralph Nader
Photo: Center for Study of Responsive Law

Nader is a five-time presidential candidate: he was a write-in candidate in the 1992 New Hampshire Democratic Primary, the Green Party nominee in 1996 and 2000, and an independent candidate in 2004 and 2008.

He has also been an advocate for hemp for years and is optimistic about the current state of the cannabis legalization movement. “Change all starts with public opinion,” he told DOPE. “And public opinion on cannabis has dramatically changed. Abraham Lincoln once said [that] with public sentiment you can do anything. Without it, you can’t do much.”

We caught up with him for an exclusive interview in November, right after his keynote speech at the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.

DOPE: You have worked for years as an advocate for hemp, but many people will draw a line between hemp and legalizing recreational cannabis. Why are you coming out in favor of legalized cannabis now?

Ralph Nader: Because every time we argued for hemp, they would say marijuana. So, you liberate marijuana, you liberate hemp.

DOPE: In your speech today you seemed to be saying that the cannabis industry has the opportunity to fix a lot of what is wrong with this country in terms of drug reform and sentencing reform. Can you elaborate on that?

Nader: There are sentences for possession and sale of hard drugs that are longer than homicide sentences. These non-violent offenders are filling the prisons. These sentences are corrupting law enforcement, wasting billions of dollars, generating all kinds of street violence, fueling these gang drug wars. Producing depressed and destroyed individuals who come out of jail crushed with a record where they can’t, even though they served the time, get a job. They can’t get credit. It’s a nightmare of self-immolation as a society. The marijuana breakthrough is the first big door-opening to a rational recognition that drug use and drug addiction is a health problem. It’s not a criminal problem. We don’t send tobacco users or alcohol users to jail. We wouldn’t send people who use DEA-subscribed drugs to jail. The only way you are going to treat it as a health problem is to legalize it. Otherwise, it remains in the shadows, underground.

DOPE: You also said that there was an energy at this show coming from not just business developers but from advocates that should be working in other industries but aren’t. Will this sort of energy from this new industry be instrumental in inspiring the work in other areas of social justice or reform?

Nader: I certainly hope so. New reformers, before they run out of gas and become part of the establishment in American history, do help other things. Like the labor movement helped the consumer movement early on, and you can see it. Like where the civil rights movement helped the black farmers, for example, who were being dispossessed. It is astonishing that there are literally hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths in this country. I just named a few like occupational disease, hospice malpractice, and air pollution. You couldn’t fill half a hall with six months of preparation with people interested in working on these issues. It just doesn’t make sense, does it? It totally doesn’t make sense.

DOPE: Here we are in Nevada, a state that has found ways to tax and regulate the gambling and prostitution industries. Isn’t this a good place for that sort of thing to happen to cannabis—to build a model for taxing and regulation?

Nader: Nevada has the experience with taking taboo, unlawful activity and legalizing and regulating it, that’s true, but it’s not rocket science. There are patterns of proper regulation, and there is loophole-ridden special interest regulation that is pregnant with unworkability in the future.

DOPE: Some state senators are cautiously coming out for medical cannabis but stopping at legalizing recreational cannabis. They may feel that it’s political suicide to go any further. What is your take on that?

Nader: Wait a couple of years and it will be more politically disadvantageous if they don’t do it.

DOPE: Why has Hillary Clinton not come out and endorsed legalizing cannabis?

Nader: She always has a finger to the wind; she is waiting for more states. She is waiting for more people who are her peers to come out for it and then she will jump on the bandwagon. And by the way, Bernie Sanders is already taking the first step. He called it absurd, equating marijuana with heroin as a Schedule I prescribed substance, and he wants marijuana taken off of the DEA list. So that is the first step. I am sure he is going to come out before April with a more comprehensive position on legalizing marijuana.

DOPE: If I was an entrepreneur, a start-up guy in this business, what would I want to hear from Ralph Nader that would get me jazzed to continue doing what I am doing?

Nader: Make sure that you contribute to the best business practices. That you blow the whistle on the rascals in your industry who may want to contaminate the product, or deceive the patients or the consumers, and be an example to everyone else.

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