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Lyuxiao Liu
Professor Landrus
ENGL 101
8 Nov. 2015
Why We Need to End the War on Drugs: Rhetorical Analysis
Criminalizing drugs has always been a controversial issue around the
world. This controversy has led to countless tragedies among people
throughout these years. In the United States, 23 of 50 states and DC have
legalized marijuana as a medical option. This seems to be a turning point of
the issue, however there are still people who are opposed to it. This issue is
not only about marijuana, but also other drugs that have been criminalized
by many countries. Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and executive director of
the Drug Policy Alliances, is determined to end the war on drugs. This nonprofit organizations principal goal is to decriminalize responsible drug use,
promote harm reduction and treat in response to drug misuse and facilitate
open dialogue about drugs between youths, parents, and educators. In
Nadelmanns speech in TED Talks, Why we need to end the war on drugs,
he utilizes strong rhetorical strategies to draw his audiences attention on the
problems related to criminalization of drugs and declare himself on the
dedication to build such an organization to end this drug war. Nadelmann
utilizes emotional appeals, logical appeals, kairos, and establishes his
organizations credibility in order to effectively convince his audiences that
this drug war has virtually nothing to do with science or health or relative

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risks of drugs, and almost everything to do with who uses and who is
perceived to use particular drugs(Ethan Nadelmann).
Nadelmann begins his speech with a question: What has the War on
Drugs done to the world?(Ethan Nadelmann) Using a question draws greater
attention from his audience than just using a statement sentence. Then he
uses examples in Mexico, Central America, where police and military were
drawn into a war with the global black market. He believes this war has led
to violation of basic rights, which arouse panic among those ordinary
citizens. He has to point out that meanwhile, more people using more drugs
than ever(Ethan Nadelmann). He utilizes strong logos appeal here starting
from a simple question to indicate a drug war that hasnt changed anything
but made things even worse than before. Although he doesnt give the
answer directly to the question, the audience could still understand why he is
here to speak in front of the world, declaring himself on ending this drug war.
The statement of Its my countrys history with alcohol prohibition and
Al Capone, times 50(Ethan Nadelmann) is a comparison between drug war
and alcohol prohibition, which strongly shows that the drug war is more
serious than alcohol prohibition. It also leads to his next point why it
interests him that American have been the driving force behind this global
drug war(Ethan Nadelmann). He persuades his audience to think about why
policy makers around the world do what they have been doing about the
drug war. He uses two questions beginning with why to contextualized the
lists of facts that so many countries criminalizes drugs that they even never

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heard of, the U.N. drug treaties emphasizes criminalization over health and
most of the money for dealing with drug abuse goes not to those helping
organizations but those that punish. He describes all these facts are actually
results of what the good old U.S. of A(Ethan Nadelmann) has done. He
indirectly explains the real manipulator behind this war is America.
Then he again asks a question about why Americans did this. He first points
out that some people in Latin America claim it is an excuse for U.S. to
advance their realpolitik interests. However, by saying by and large, thats
not it and No, the fact is(Ethan Nadelmann) in a determined tone, he
reveals that America cannot control the situation when it comes to drugs just
like how they failed to prohibit alcohol. He also convinces his audience to try
to think about the global drug war as a international projection of an internal
but not a rational policy.
Nadelmann then brings up that it is Russians but not Americans who
are leading this drug war. By using I am proud to say as an American that
we now lead the world in reforming marijuana policies(Ethan Nadelmann),
he excitedly points out that the legalization of medical marijuana in half of
U.S. states enables millions of people to purchase marijuana legally to treat
their illness. In a ironic way, he says that over half my fellow citizens now
say its time to legally regulate and tax marijuana more or less like
alcohol(Ethan Nadelmann), meaning this is one of the reasons that leads to
what he does right now to end the drug war. Then he tells his audience
another reason, that is, his growing background made him do so. This seems

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more convincing and comfortable after having been talking seriously about
an issue. He establishes his credibility with the audience by using his own
Then he describes multiple actions, which he does to figure out the
truth about the international drug control. However, he was shocked to find
that everyone who engages think that the answer lays in the area they knew
the least. He applies strong pathetic appeal here to throw out several
dialogues between himself and officers around the world, leading his way to
start reading everything about the history, the science, the politics, etc. Only
to be shocked by the disparity in the end. This emotion of anger and
eagerness to change the situation arouses the same feeling in his audience.
He then logically concludes that there is probably never been a drugfree society (Ethan Nadelmann) because psychoactive drugs virtually
function in every society. He declares our true challenge is to learn how to
live with drugs so they cause the least possible harm and in some cases the
greatest possible benefit(Ethan Nadelmann). This is a key point of his
speech, indicating his goal during ending this drug war.
He presses on with what he has learned along the way, that the
reason some drugs are legal and others not has almost nothing to do with
science or health or the relative risk of drugs, and almost everything to do
with who uses and who is perceived to use particular drugs(Ethan
Nadelmann). To explain this, he takes 19th century and the time when lots of
Chinese came to the U.S. as examples, further indicating that those

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prohibition laws were actually prompted by racist fears. By saying and what
was true in my country, is true in so many others as well(Ethan
Nadelmann), he utilizes strong ethos here to convince his audience. He also
uses an exaggeration of the older white men and the poor young black men
upon this disparity to have a resonance with his audience, who must have
seen or experienced a similar situation.
Nadelmann again tells his own experience about why he became a
human rights activist. He says that what drives me is my shame at living in
an otherwise great nation that has less than five percent of the worlds
population but almost 25 percent of the worlds incarcerated
population(Ethan Nadelmann). He uses strong pathos here saying that its
the people he meets along the way that made him become an activist who
struggles for human rights.
Then back to the question, he asks himself as well as his audience So
is legalization the answer?(Ethan Nadelmann) Apparently it depends,
Nadelmann only points out that legally regulating and taxing most of the
drugs that are now criminalized would largely reduce crimes, violence, fraud
and black markets. This is also good for improving public safety and allowing
taxpayer resources to be developed to more useful purposes, as he
mentioned. Nadelmann believes that knock out one source and another
inevitably emerges(Ethan Nadelmann). He declares his disagreement with
what people tend to think that the ultimate form of regulation is prohibition.
On the contrary, he thinks that prohibition represents the resignation of

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regulation with criminals filling the empty space. This leads to another key
point of his speech, that is what we really need to do is to bring the
underground drug markets as much as possible aboveground and regulate
them as intelligently as we can to minimize both the harms of drugs and the
harms of prohibitionist policies(Ethan Nadelmann). He applies logical appeal
here by talking about the urgency of regularly legalizing drugs.
By pointing out that benefits of doing so are enormous and the risks
are minimal, Nadelmann raised a question will more people use
marijuana?(Ethan Nadelmann) From his perspective, he thinks there maybe
more people using marijuana, but its not going to be young people. He
declares this in a determined tone in order not to pass on information that is
detrimental for teenagers. On the other hand, he argues that it should be
legalized for older people to help with their arthritis or diabetes, which shows
good pathos here.
Not only does he emphasize marijuana but also other drugs.
Nadelmann takes a series of countries who have more humanized services
concerning health issues related to drug abuse as example, indirectly
conveying a message to his audience that America is not alone to end this
drug war. Ironically he uses example of Coca-Cola to prove cocaine is no
more addictive than Coca-Cola is today.
Nadelmann persuades his audience to think conversely about
cigarettes, saying nothing can both hook you and kill you like
cigarettes(Ethan Nadelmann). He tactfully reflects the results of drug war by

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asking could we reduce smoking even more by making it totally
illegal?(Ethan Nadelmann) Although he gives an uncertain answer, we could
still feel his determination.
Then he declares that we are facing two main challenges today. One is
the policy challenge of designing and implementing alternatives to
ineffective prohibitionist policies, even as we need to get better at regulating
and living with the drugs that are now legal(Ethan Nadelmann). The second
tougher challenge is about us. He applies strong logos here to explain that
its ourselves who wants to keep the things they are. He says its our fears
and our lack of knowledge and imagination that stands in the way of real
reform(Ethan Nadelmann). Eventually by pointing out that parents biggest
worry is their children, Nadelmann throws out the fact that it seems like this
drug war is justified as a child protection act, which any young people
wouldnt agree with it.
In an urgent tone, Nadelmann says twice that dont do drugs to
teenagers, which shows great care for them. Then he declares his drug
education motto safety first to all of his young audience that what he
wants is teenagers to lead a healthy life no matter the drugs has been
legalized or not. We could see his great concern for the children.
In the last paragraph, he shows his dedication in building such an
organization. He also establishes that his audience is actually every one of
us. What he tries to convince us is to believe that this drug war has got to

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Overall, Nadelmann utilizes strong rhetorical strategies to convince his
audience that this drug war eventually will end. He uses logos to provide
persuasive evidence for his claim in order to support his viewpoint. Using
pathos, Nadelmann creates a shared emotional experience between himself
and his audience on the effects of this issueimagining the sadness of losing
a friend due to the decriminalization of drugs compels his audience. Whats
more, Nadelmann applies ethos to build up trust in his audience. Most
important, he establishes kairos throughout his speech, explaining the
urgency and the importance of this issue. Through his talk, we can feel his
great sense of responsibility and determination in ending this drug war. He
moves between angry, determined and questioning tones to persuade us to
believe that what he is doing now. As such, Nadelmann motivates us to
educate ourselves more through unbiased reading. This speech has
significant impact on the societal and individual awareness about the
negative effects of government regulation of drugs.

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Work Cited
Nadelmann, Ethan. Why we need to end the war on drugs. TED Talks. TED
Talks. Oct.
2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.