Kevin Zeese

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Kevin Zeese
Kevin zeese 5243251.jpg
Personal details
Born (1955-10-28) October 28, 1955 (age 64)
New York, New York, U.S.
Political partyGreen
ResidenceBaltimore, Maryland
Alma materSUNY Buffalo, (BS)
Georgetown University, (JD)
ProfessionActivist, Attorney

Kevin Zeese (born October 28, 1955) is an American lawyer and political activist who has worked on a wide range of issues beginning with ending the war on drugs and mass incarceration,[1] including helping to organize the 2011 Occupy encampment in Washington, DC at Freedom Plaza. He currently serves as co-director of Popular Resistance.[2]

Zeese graduated from the George Washington University law school in 1980[2] and immediately began a career as a public interest lawyer. He has continued on this path and has been recognized as one of America's leading activists by "Americans Who Tell The Truth" which does portraits and narratives that highlights citizens who address issues of social, environmental, and economic fairness.[3]

While Zeese has worked on a lot of issues and is considered by many as a leader in most of the areas he has worked, Zeese has a different view. After a generous introduction by Jack Balkwill, Zeese corrected him answering the first question of an interview by expressing part of his movement philosophy saying "On everything you list I did not act alone. In movements, no one should take credit because it is always a group effort that leads to success. . . We need to act cooperatively and my work succeeds when more people are participating to make it happen, and I am just one participant."[4]

Early life[edit]

Zeese was born in New York City in 1955. He grew up in Queens, New York where he attended public schools. He received a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He graduated from the George Washington University Law School in 1980.[5]


Advocacy for the end of the War on Drugs[edit]

Zeese in Dundalk, Maryland, 2006

Zeese began his advocacy career as chief counsel for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in 1980 and served as NORML's Executive Director from 1983 to 1986. During his time at NORML he helped stop the spraying of herbicides on marijuana in Mexico and the United States, and he became a leading advocate of the medical use of marijuana.[1]

Zeese co-founded the Drug Policy Foundation (DPF) with Professor Arnold S. Trebach, JD in 1987 which merged with the Lindesmith Center in 2000 and is now the Drug Policy Alliance. Zeese served as Vice President and Counsel to DPF from 1986 to 1994. Drug Policy Foundation was the largest drug policy reform advocacy group until it merged with Drug Policy Alliance, now the largest reform group in U.S. history.[6] Zeese was one of the founders in 1993 of Harm Reduction Coalition, which advocates for a public health approach to drug policy that reduces the harms from drug use and abuse. Harm Reduction Coalition is "driven by a commitment to drug user rights and social inclusion of marginalized communities" and has advocated for and helped put in place policies like needle exchange programs, treatment on request, overdose prevention strategies and low threshold access to methadone treatment among other issues.[7]

In 1994 he co-founded with businessman and philanthropist Robert E. Field and attorney Melvin R. Allen, Ph.D. Common Sense for Drug Policy.[8] Zeese continues to serve as president of Common Sense.[9] The organization ran 152 public service advertisements in Reason, The American Prospect, The National Review, The Nation, The New Republic, and The Progressive from 1999 to 2007.[10] Common Sense has published Drug War Facts since 1998, providing facts and citations covering 47 issue-areas related to drug policy.[11]

Zeese worked with Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's "Mayor's Working Group on Drug Policy Reform" in 1993 which developed model public health drug policies for Baltimore, Maryland.

Kevin Zeese has litigated a variety of drug policy-related issues. Among these are the medical use of marijuana which resulted in Judge Francis L. Young, the chief administrative law judge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), ruling in 1988 that marijuana should be rescheduled to allow its medical use. Young found "It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record."

Zeese has also litigated the use of the military National Guard in domestic drug enforcement, the spraying of herbicides in the United States and abroad on marijuana, drug testing of government workers and the right to privacy as it relates to marijuana in the home. He has been a legal advisor to needle exchange workers prosecuted for their anti-AIDS efforts, buyer's clubs who distribute marijuana to the seriously ill and medical marijuana patients prosecuted for the medical use of marijuana.

Zeese has written for newspapers and journals on a range of drug issues, including an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on the Colombian drug war. He has also appeared on every major television network as a commentator. He served as a consultant to Walter Cronkite for the Discovery Channel special: The Drug Dilemma: War or Peace? He has organized and spoken at nationally recognized legal seminars and drug policy conferences and has testified before Congress on drug related issues.

He is the author of Drug Testing Legal Manual, Drug Testing Legal Manual and Practice Aids (West Publishing). Mr. Zeese served as editor of Drug Law Report for Clark Boardman Callaghan from 1983 to 1998. In addition, he is the author of Drug Prohibition and the Conscience of Nations and the editor of Friedman and Szasz On Liberty and Drugs and has edited numerous books on drug policy and manuals on criminal defense.

Peace, social, economic and environmental justice[edit]

In 2002 he worked with Washington, D.C. area peace groups in opposing the war in Iraq including the Montgomery County Coalition Against War. In 2004 he joined with Ralph Nader's Democracy Rising to make opposition to war a focus of the organization. In 2006 Zeese founded a national antiwar group, Voters for Peace, serving as its director until 2011.[12]

On February 20, 2010, at a meeting in Washington, DC, hosted by Kevin Zeese and George O'Neil, Jr., which included people from the right, left and radical center, progressives and conservatives, as well as liberals and libertarians, the organization Come Home America was formed. This cross-partisan group of advocates for a non-interventionist foreign policy not based on war and militarism provides the public with information on an alternative foreign policy through their website ComeHomeAmerica.US. The group published a book, ComeHomeAmerica.US, that featured essays by leading thinkers from across the political spectrum that opposed war. Kevin Zeese also serves on the advisory board of World Beyond War, a global nonviolent movement to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace.[citation needed]

The Occupation in Washington, DC also emphasized opposition to war and militarism. It began on October 11, 2011, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the US military attack on Afghanistan. Veterans groups were part of the organizers of the Freedom Plaza occupation and on the first night they had a video presentation with the Afghan Youth Volunteers from Afghanistan. The group held protests against drones and militarism. Popular Resistance, which evolved out of the occupation, continues to make ending and militarism an issue the report on and organize around.[citation needed]

In January 2018, Zeese outlined his anti-interventionist position in a column, stating: "The United States cannot be a moral or ethical country until it faces up to the realities of US empire and the destruction it causes around the world. The US undermines governments (including democracies), kills millions of people, causes mass migrations of people fleeing their homes, communities and countries and produces vast environmental damage." He also criticized humanitarian intervention saying that it is "based on the dubious claim that the US has a 'responsibility to protect.'"[13]

Third-party electoral activity[edit]

Zeese speaking in Washington, D.C. in 2006

Since 2003 Zeese has worked on a broad range of issues and third-party and independent electoral campaigns.

Zeese has been active in progressive third-party politics working with Green Party and independent candidates as well as running for office himself. His first involvement was in the campaign for Linda Schade who was running for the Maryland House of Delegates in 2002 where he was an advisor to the campaign. In 2003, Zeese went to California to work on the gubernatorial campaign of Peter Camejo in the election that followed the recall of Governor Gray Davis. Zeese was involved in writing position papers and organizing grass roots support for Camejo.[14]

In 2004, Zeese joined the presidential campaign of Ralph Nader. His initial responsibility was developing a strategy for ballot access. He went on to become press secretary and spokesperson for Nader and in addition worked with Nader in drafting position statements.

Zeese ran for the US Senate for Maryland in 2006 against Democrat Ben Cardin and Republican Michael Steele. After months of campaigning, Zeese received the senate nomination of the Maryland Green Party was also nominated by the Libertarian Party of Maryland in April 2006 and the Populist Party of Maryland in June. This is the only time the Greens and Libertarians nominated the same person for a statewide office. It is also the only time all three parties had nominated the same candidate. However, in early April 2006, the Maryland legislature passed SB 129, which held a candidate can be nominated by only a party with which he is registered. Therefore, Zeese ran on the Maryland Green Party ticket with the Libertarians and Populists endorsing the nomination.

Zeese called his campaign the "Unity Campaign" and ran on a reform platform that advocated the withdrawal of U.S. troops and corporate interests from Iraq,[15] economic justice and end to corporate welfare (which he calls "big business socialism") and electronic voting reform. He also was a vocal critic of the "hawkish" Israel lobby in the United States and Israel's 2006 bombing campaign against Lebanon. He challenged incumbent U.S. congressman Ben Cardin, who has close ties to the lobby, to break his silence on Israeli wrongdoing.[citation needed]

Zeese was the first third-party candidate included in three-way debate; only one debate was publicly televised, the final Senatorial debate on Friday, November 3, 2006. In it he urged the audience to reject the major parties, saying: "Change has not come from status quo parties, it's come from the outside." Zeese finished third in the voting, receiving 27,564 votes for 1.5% of the total vote.

In 2016, Zeese served as an advisor to the Maryland, US Senate Campaign of Margaret Flowers, MD.[citation needed]


  • Drug Testing Legal Manual and Practice AIDS, Clark Boardman Callaghan (1996)
  • Drug Law Strategies and Tactics, with Eve Zeese, Clark Boardman Callaghan (1993)
  • Drug Prohibition and the Conscience of Nations, with Arnold Trebach, The Drug Policy Foundation (1990)


  1. ^ a b "Kevin B. Zeese Biographical Sketch". Archived from the original on 2008-10-29. Retrieved 2016-08-30.
  2. ^ a b "Kevin Zeese, Attorney General". Green Shadow Cabinet. Archived from the original on 2015-11-14.
  3. ^ "Kevin Zeese, Public Interest Lawyer and Organizer". Americans Who Tell The Truth.
  4. ^ "A Message of Hope for the New Year | Dissident Voice". Retrieved 2016-08-30.
  5. ^ Kevin Zeese biography at Archived 2008-10-29 at the Wayback Machine; Kevin Zeese biography at Common Sense for Drug Policy
  6. ^ "History | Drug Policy Alliance". Retrieved 2016-08-31.
  7. ^ "Harm Reduction Coalition -". Retrieved 2016-08-31.
  8. ^ "About Us | Common Sense for Drug Policy". Retrieved 2016-08-31.
  9. ^ "People | Common Sense for Drug Policy". Retrieved 2016-08-31.
  10. ^ "Is Truth a Casualty in the Drug War? The Common Sense for Drug Policy Public Service Ad Campaign". Retrieved 2016-08-31.
  11. ^ "Welcome to Drug War Facts | Drug War Facts". Retrieved 2016-08-31.
  12. ^ "Pledging to Vote for Peace". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Inc., Virtually Everything. "Candidate Profile: U.S. Senate: Kevin Zeese". Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  15. ^ Zeese offers real solutions, not status quo

External links[edit]