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Lynn Zimmer 1947-2006

Lynn Zimmer, PhD, a respected sociology professor, author, and spokesperson for the drug reform movement, died on July 2, 2006, at the age of 59.1

Lynn Etta Zimmer was born on May 20, 1947, in Rochester, NY. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Cortland in 1977, followed by her master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology from Cornell University in 1980 and 1982, respectively. Her doctoral thesis examined the integration of women guards into the US prison system and resulted in her first book, Women Guarding Men, in 1986.

Dr. Zimmer taught at the State University of New York at Geneseo from 1982 to 1990, and then served on the faculty of Queens College of the City University of New York from 1990 to 2002. Early in her professional career, she began to examine the drug testing industry and US drug policies.

“Lynn did an excellent study of Operation Pressure Point, the NYPD’s drug sweep initiative on the Lower East Side during the mid-1980s,” said James Jacobs, PhD, law professor at New York University and Dr. Zimmer’s doctoral adviser at Cornell (e-mail, August 17, 2006). “I think it was that study that launched her into the work on drugs and drug policy. In that area, she made many major contributions.”

Dr. Zimmer became actively involved in the Princeton Group for the Study of Drug Policy, the Drug Policy Foundation (now the Drug Policy Alliance), and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). She wrote multiple monographs, articles, and book chapters on issues of drug testing, drug policies, and drug reform. She also co-authored the book Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence, in 1997 with John P. Morgan, MD, professor of pharmacology at the City College of New York.

Dr. Jacobs explained that this book became widely successful and has been translated into several foreign languages. “It has been fantastically influential. Marijuana Myths catapulted Lynn into real prominence. She appeared on many TV shows, including some very prominent ones, and on radio and in public appearances. She did a couple of European tours talking about the book and drug policy issues,” he said.

According to Dr. Morgan, Dr. Zimmer’s greatest contribution was her analysis of the “drug abuse establishment” (DAE). “She early on realized that many individuals and organizations owed their political lives, their reputations, their prestige, their status, their income, and their jobs to fighting the war on drugs,” Dr. Morgan explained (e-mail, August 16, 2006). “She described this massive entity (the DAE) in bureaucratic terms and realized that its chief function was to preserve and empower itself. Shortly before her death, she gave a copy of a manuscript regarding the DAE to a student, who had become one of her best friends and who is working hard to prepare it for publication.”

Dirk Nelson, a former licensed clinical social worker and long-time activist in the drug reform movement, attended the Drug Policy Foundation’s 13th International Conference on Drug Policy Reform in 2000, where Dr. Zimmer received the Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship. Nelson was left with strong impressions of her character and eloquence. “People who can speak unapologetically with her grace, insight, and humor on this topic, with her kind of credentials, are often difficult to find,” he said (oral communication, August 18, 2006). “Her contributions to the movement, to end the unreasonable punishing of people for their pharmacological adventures, were invaluable.” Dr. Zimmer also received the Lester Grinspoon Award for Achievement in the Field of Marijuana Law Reform from NORML in 2000.1

Dr. Zimmer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in the late 1990s. “MS took a terrible toll on her,” said Dr. Morgan. “It robbed her of her ability to see and to move about in the world. It did not affect her ability to think and teach and be kind. She was the best person I have ever known.”

Dr. Zimmer is survived by her two sons Joseph and Mark.

— Courtney Cavaliere


1. Nadelmann EA. Lynn Zimmer 1947-2006. Drug Policy News. Drug Policy Alliance Web site. Available at: Accessed August 11, 2006.