September 8, 2023

According to an October 2022 Pew survey, “88% of US adults say that marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use.” While marijuana legalization is gaining more and more cultural acceptance, effectively regulating drugs has long flummoxed policy and lawmakers. Some are even starting to have second thoughts, especially when it comes to how to practically enforce legal sales. In fact, voters in Oklahoma – one of the nation’s leading weed markets –overwhelmingly rejected recreational legalization earlier this year, even though voters backed medical marijuana legalization by a double-digit margin in 2018. Those who argue “Yes” for marijuana legalization say legalization creates more problems for our legal system because it requires extra enforcement to crack down on already robust illegal markets to make way for new, regulated, and legal markets. Additionally, competition from illegal weed markets is undercutting legal sales, which means the expected revenue stream from a legalized industry is far lower than expected. Those who argue “No” say legalization can reduce the burden on law enforcement and criminal justice systems, allowing resources to be redirected to more pressing issues. They also highlight marijuana’s medical benefits, such as for pain management and treatment of certain health conditions, which have made a difference in people’s lives.

With this context, it’s time to debate — and reconsider — “Is Legalizing Marijuana A Mistake?”

  • 00:00:02

    John Donvan:

    Hi, everybody, and welcome to Open to Debate. I'm John Donvan. We are before a live audience at Freedom Fest in Memphis where this time we're debating the question is legalizing marijuana a mistake. Let's get right to it. We're gonna be starting with our first round. First round, each debater has an opening statement. And speaking first, he's a senior legal research fellow in the Meese Center for legal and judicial studies at the Heritage Foundation, Paul Larkin Jr. Paul, the floor is yours. Your answer to the question is yes, legalizing marijuana is a mistake. Please tell us why.

  • 00:00:35

    Paul Larkin:

    Thank you very much. [inaudible

  • 00:00:37

    ] may have been divided into three parts, but cannabis takes only two, medical use and recreational use. Each one has to be separately considered, although it is true that each one bleeds over into the other a little. But let's start with medical use cannabis. The bottom line is this: the cannabis plant has numerous cannabinoids that are valuable and that we need further research into to see how, when, where, and why they can be used, but smoking a Doobie is not medicine.

  • 00:01:13

    That's not my opinion. That's the opinion of the late Professor Mark [inaudible

  • 00:01:19

    ], a friend who was an expert in the field of cannabis and supported recreational use legalization. He said, "The cannabinoids have useful medical value, but not smoking the raw agricultural form." It's also the view of Dr. Peter Bach, an oncologist in New York who has said, "Yes, cannabis makes you feel better, but so does Budweiser and nobody thinks Budweiser is a medicine."

  • 00:01:47

    The third reason is for the 80 years, the United States has trusted the Food and Drug Administer to decide what is a drug and whether that drug is safe and effective. And the FDA has never made that call, because there is no guarantee that there are not adulterants.

  • 00:02:06

    So let's put the medical use aside, in part because the medical use was really just an entrée to get into the recreational use. So let me talk about that. The problem with recreational use is that smoking cannabis rather than taking the pill form approved by the FDA, uh, is going to harm the users, as well as third parties. It can harm users if they're minors, because minors have a very labile brain, and that brain is still developing. And we don't know that it's not gonna be adversely affected by cannabis.

  • 00:02:43

    It can harm pregnant women, nursing women, and the children that they bear or bore, because we don't know yet what the effect is gonna be. But the grievous, the most obvious harm is from drug impaired driving. You legalize it, you're gonna have an increase in the number of people they're gonna get behind the wheel of a car, there are gonna be crashes that lead to fatalities or other adverse consequences. Thank you.

  • 00:03:12

    John Donvan:

    Thank you, Paul Larkin. And now we're gonna hear from the President and CEO of the marijuana policy project and a former member of the Illinois Senate, Toi Hutchinson. Toi, the floor is yours. Your answer to the question is legalizing marijuana a mistake is a no. Please tell us why.

  • 00:03:30

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Thank you so much very being here, and thank you for that opening statement. I really think that most of the points that were just raised prove why we need to actually legalize. We won't get to the answers of exactly what that research will show until we have robust research, which cannot happen in an environment where it's still federally illegal. Right now, the National Institute of Health actually does 90% of their research on researching the harms, very little of it on researching the benefits. And that's in the face of thousands of years of use across this globe. That's in the face of understanding that every single human being has an endocannabinoid system that keeps the body in stasis.

  • 00:04:11

    It's in the face of multiple medical associations across various different studies and disciplines, including the Epilepsy Foundation, the National Institute for Health and, or HIV and AIDS medicine, the National American Nurses Association. There's a number of pediatric organizations that talk about pediatric things, like seizures and the very real benefits that come from using cannabinoids to treat almost untreatable symptoms before this. And we all know what happens for people who are actually terminally ill and dying. So whether or not cannabis cures cancer or hardcore issues like that, that we, we are plagued with, it's definitely been shows and, or definitely been shown to have multiple multiple benefited effects. And that's on top of 38 states right now who have a regulatory system in the medical arena, which means they're helping hundreds of thousands of people. That can no longer be ignored.

  • 00:05:06

    On the adult use side, if we understand the impacts of the criminal justice system, and we understand exactly the in- the entry point into the criminal justice system right now above almost any other things, it's, its connection to law enforcement through cannabis use. And the fact is, we are living in this insane conflict of law where it's not going away, marijuana is not leaving anytime soon. It's been here for thousands of years, and it's only really been criminalized for the last 90. And we are learning more and more every single day about the benefits, about trying to reduce harm, and about creating a health safe society for everyone, which is nowhere near what it is we have today.

  • 00:05:49

    If anyone believes that the current system we have today is beneficial or that for some reason for the first time in the history of the world that a ban or prohibition is going to help or stop. These are the reasons why we need to move towards a legalization framework so that we can actually get to some of the answers that most of us are concerned about. It's more important now than it ever has been.

  • 00:06:12

    John Donvan:

    Thank you, Toi. Our next speaker will be answering, again, as, uh, Paul did, yes an answer to the question that legalizing marijuana is a mistake. She's a, uh, senior policy advisor at the Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions, Teresa Haley. Theresa The floor is yours. Please tell us why your answer to that question is yes.

  • 00:06:30

    Teresa Haley:

    Yes, it is harmful. In the state of Illinois when they legalized it just a few years ago. They said it was going to help the community, especially black and brown people. As we know throughout America more people who look like me were incarcerated because of using marijuana and other substance. In Illinois, it has not helped. We still have a problem with unemployment. We still have a problem with mental health issues. I have family members who have used marijuana since it became legal in Illinois. It's caused other issues, schizophrenia, depression, and people wonder why they can't get jobs.

  • 00:07:09

    I just retired from the State of Illinois. We have a drug free, alcohol free policy. It means that if you drive a CDL or you have any other type of specialized license, you cannot use marijuana. If you test positive, you automatically lose your job. In the city in which I live, Springfield, Illinois, they decided the tax revenue that was going to come from marijuana was going to go to those communities who were most impacted in a negative way. That has not happened. Only 3% of the tax money from marijuana sales goes back to the black community or the poor, disadvantaged communities. And out of that 3%, one and a half percent we have to share with the fire and police protection. That's what our city council's decided. Let's see what the legislators are going to decide in your city.

  • 00:08:02

    Let's look at San Francisco. Let's look at Denver, Colorado. Let's look at some of the other major cities who have legalized marijuana and the impact that it's had. Drugs kill people, but marijuana continues to be a dra- a gateway drug. Those who are using marijuana, guess what? They're going to start using something else. In my community, I've had family members who've come home from prison, and now they're smoking weed, but they can't afford to go to the dispensary and get the weed because it's still very expensive. Do you all realize that if you use a vape pen, which is oil, smoking marijuana, it equals seven joints? Can you imagine just sitting in one setting, knowing anyone who smokes puff puff blow seven joints in a row? It's not reality, it doesn't happen.

  • 00:08:52

    So what we have to do is to educate the community about the harm and the impact of using marijuana. It is killing our communities. Again, it is a gateway drug. Thank you.

  • 00:09:04

    John Donvan:

    And rounding out our debater panel, the Director of Drug Markets and Legal Regulation at the Drug Policy Alliance, Cat Packer.

  • 00:09:10

    Cat Packer:

    Uh, good afternoon, folks. We've just started this debate and I am already tired. Uh, I'm tired of the lies that are being spread, uh, on this stage already. It's ridiculous. Uh, I'm the youngest person on this stage. I'm 32 years old and I have to tell you that I started in this space as a reformer, uh, for some of the same reasons that were listed here. I recognize that there are challenges associated with our cannabis policies today. I recognize that marijuana is not harmless. It's not for everyone. It's not for children. Legalization is not meant to be a free for all. And it's not.

  • 00:09:52

    If you look across the United States today, what we have is not exactly legalization. It's a combination of prohibition to criminalization, some legalization, and more importantly, regulation. We have to move beyond this conversation about yes or no on cannabis. Americans have already said yes. Your communities have already said yes. And even in places that haven't legalized already, they're saying yes. Legalization does not uh, and criminalization does not prevent folks from having access to cannabis. The question that we have to ask ourselves is, are we going to continue to be prohibitionist and stick our heads in the sand and say, "We don't have any solutions? We don't have any levers. We don't have any policy options." Or are we going to be proactive and confront the complexities. The challenge is the actual human costs of what we're talking about.

  • 00:10:53

    That's the option that we have with legalization. We don't have any of those option- options with prohibition. Just say no, it didn't work. But if we choose to legalize and regulate the right way, and let me be clear, I think that there is a right and a wrong way to do this. But if we do this the right way, then we can for the first time, confront these issues, try and put forth policies that are fair, that are equitable, that respect an individual's autonomy as an adult, primarily adults 21 and older, to make a decision.

  • 00:11:37

    Uh, we talked about folks in the cannabis closet. That's unhealthy. We shouldn't be stigmatizing folks for consuming cannabis. I'm a cannabis consumer. Uh, I-I don't, we can have this moral debate, but I'm a cannabis consumer. I'm a three time graduate. I graduated from law school. I worked in government. Uh, cannabis has not prevented me from being successful. But what I can tell you is that if I were criminalized, if I were arrested, would that make you safer? Would that make our community safer? No. The mistake has always been prohibition. Legalization is our opportunity to get it right.

  • 00:12:21

    John Donvan:

    This is Open to Debate. More when we return.

  • 00:12:34

    Welcome back to Open to Debate. I'm your host, John Donvan. Let's return to our discussion.

  • 00:12:39

    Now, we'll move into a, a portion of discussion where we talk about these ideas, but I just want to say what I've heard from the two sides. Um, the side that is arguing, yes, that legalization is a mistake is leading with essentially a health argument and impact on society in terms of issues like people driving under the influence, the impact on young minds, that it's dangerous, that it can essentially corrode the fabric of the community and have long, long term negative consequences if there's not some sort of ban or prohibition. On the other side, we're hearing the argument made that you're banning and prohibit something that people are going to be doing anyway. And that while this side does not disagree that not everybody should be using, that there needs to be more clarity in the laws, more creativity in the kinds of solutions that actually work, that blanket criminalization just does no good in the long run.

  • 00:13:31

    So I want to, what I wanted to start with, though, is just to clarify a piece of the argument that I didn't hear any of you make, uh, which is where you come down on the question of whether possession and use by an individual is essentially a private matter, in the same way that a, a decision to, to eat poorly could be a private matter? Or is it a social issue? Or is it a combination of the two? Paul, if you could take, uh, 30 seconds, 40 seconds to answer that. Like to know where you are on that?

  • 00:14:01

    Paul Larkin:

    Sure. The federal government regulates food. The Department of Agriculture regulates food. So what we're trying to do is protect the safety of the, the public. And if you have a substance, whether it's a food or a drug that is potentially going to cause risk, we have always put the burden of proof on the people promoting that substance.

  • 00:14:24

    John Donvan:

    Let me take it to the other side. Toi?

  • 00:14:26

    Toi Hutchinson:

    I think it's interesting. Um, right now, the CDC attributes 140,000 deaths every single year to alcohol and its effects alone. Just that alone. It attributed zero deaths to cannabis. So while we will always be in a space where we have to deal with what is, what are the things that we can make decisions about on our own when we're harming nobody else and then how does that impact the public good. It's in my mind, the very best example that we can have to use for that.

  • 00:14:57

    Teresa Haley:

    See, I would disagree with that, Toi. For the simple reason in my county, in Sangamon County, we've just had two young people who were killed from other people driving under the influence. And it wasn't alcohol, it was marijuana. But what we do is we give people a ticket and we give them a pass. So marijuana and driving under the influence does kill.

  • 00:15:13

    Toi Hutchinson:

    At this, at this point, even a ticket for driving under the influence of alcohol is largely a ticket. There's still criminal penalties that end up happening, and vehicular manslaughter is a horrible and horrendous thing. The issue that I'm saying is that yes, we have a public reason for dealing with what are the public impacts of this, which only happen in a regulatory framework. It only happens when you get to a legalization standpoint.

  • 00:15:35

    I do want to clear up some records, like in your opening statement you said 3%. You're talking about Sangamon County taxes. Across the state of Illinois, one out of every $4 that's sold in a legally regulated place goes to a community reinvestment program. That's 25% not 3%. And when they go to specific, they go to specific-

  • 00:15:52

    Teresa Haley:

    But it's up, it's up the local legislators to decide on how they want to use that money, [inaudible

  • 00:15:56

    ].

  • 00:15:56

    Cat Packer:

    Guess how much money folks collect and goes back into the communities when cannabis is unregulated?

  • 00:16:01

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Absolutely zero.

  • 00:16:02

    Cat Packer:

    Okay, thank you.

  • 00:16:03

    Teresa Haley:

    But it's not helping our community either way.

  • 00:16:05

    Toi Hutchinson:

    According to the [inaudible

  • 00:16:07

    ] receive these funds across
    [inaudible

  • 00:16:10

    ].

  • 00:16:10

    Teresa Haley:

    According to people who, the haves and have nots. It is not helping the have nots.

  • 00:16:10

    Toi Hutchinson:

    That's patently untrue.

  • 00:16:11

    Cat Packer:

    So one of the questions that I have for prohibitionists often is like what is your actual policy solution? We recognize-

  • 00:16:16

    Teresa Haley:

    We don't consider ourselves prohibitionist, we consider ourselves to be educated and I think this is an educated discussion, and we need to educate our communities on the pros and the cons.

  • 00:16:26

    Cat Packer:

    Does education, is education preventing folks from having access to cannabis?

  • 00:16:30

    Teresa Haley:

    Education is informing them that when they go and purchasing it what the side effects maybe, the possible side effects. And that's really what it's all about.

  • 00:16:36

    Cat Packer:

    When they purchase it from where? When they purchase it from where?

  • 00:16:38

    Teresa Haley:

    When they purchase it from a dispensary.

  • 00:16:40

    Cat Packer:

    I mean, and this is what we have to talk about when we're talking about legalization. People can either purchase it on the street, when they have no idea what the potency is, what they have no idea what ex- what extra stuff is mixed in their product. Or you can have products that are tested, that are labeled, that you know where it comes from.

  • 00:16:58

    Teresa Haley:

    But you can have people go buy liquor [inaudible

  • 00:16:58

    ] from a liquor store. They go to the [inaudible

  • 00:16:58

    ].

  • 00:16:58

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Which is also illegal.

  • 00:16:58

    Teresa Haley:

    [inaudible

  • 00:16:58

    ] two block radius.

  • 00:16:58

    John Donvan:

    I'm going to call timeout, be- I'm gonna call a timeout because I haven't heard from Paul in a little bit, so.

  • 00:17:03

    Paul Larkin:

    You- you can soak an entire field of cannabis and it's not going to stop your breathing and that's what they're referring to when they say no one's died from using cannabis because there aren't enough recept- MU receptors in the brain stem for it to turn off the automatic respiratory system. But my colleague is right when she says cannabis can kill because people have gotten behind the wheel of a car who shouldn't and have killed other people. What I haven't heard anybody talk about yet is the tremendous increase in potency we've seen in cannabis since the 1960s.

  • 00:17:38

    John Donvan:

    But I think, I think your opponents are acknowledging that potency is there and saying you need to be talking dosages, you need research, you need standardization and that legalization allows that.

  • 00:17:47

    Paul Larkin:

    And, and research is what I'm in favor of.

  • 00:17:48

    Teresa Haley:

    But Paul, the brother from the neighborhood he didn't care about the dosage. He just wants to know if he can get his weed or not.

  • 00:17:54

    Toi Hutchinson:

    It's a stereotype.

  • 00:17:54

    Teresa Haley:

    That's not true.

  • 00:17:57

    Toi Hutchinson:

    That's an absolute stereotype and oversimplification.

  • 00:17:57

    Teresa Haley:

    No, that's, that's a fact.

  • 00:17:58

    Cat Packer:

    As, as a cannabis consumer, uh, and I've been consuming cannabis for several years now. I can tell you that when I walk into a store, eh, because I agree I think that some of the cannabis on the market the potency is too high. Uh, I'm actually going into stores and looking for lower THC cannabis products. Like I'd prefer to have a cannabis product, uh, where the THC percentage was anywhere between 11 and 17%. Now, there are a range of different potencies but I wouldn't even have the option if we didn't have a regulated market. And so, Paul, if your concern is potency, the way that we get to addressing potency concerns is through legalization regulation. You could actually have states put caps on potency. There are even states that are talking about having potency based taxes. There are all of these different tools that government has for the first time, uh, when you bring things out of the shadows and into the light. And that's what we're talking about here.

  • 00:18:53

    Paul Larkin:

    Yeah, but you see the problem is this. You- you can't treat cannabis like it's an ordinary consumer good, like it's a stereo, okay, or a baseball glove. The 10%-

  • 00:19:02

    Toi Hutchinson:

    No, we treat it like it's like alcohol, which like literally kills people by the hundreds of thousands-

  • 00:19:07

    Paul Larkin:

    Yes, yes.

  • 00:19:09

    Toi Hutchinson:

    -and is legal in all 50 states.

  • 00:19:10

    Paul Larkin:

    And- and-

  • 00:19:10

    Teresa Haley:

    But then you have to look at the pot- potency, as well.

  • 00:19:11

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Nobody's talking about re-criminalizing any of those things. And the reduction in smoking, the reduction in alcohol use and the times for say, these are not the days where it's like the madmen time where you were pregnant and you would, somebody would hand you a cigarette and your little mommy's helper and you could have a martini when you were stressed, because we know more now. It did not, il- eh, we're, alcohol is still legal, tobacco is still legal, but the education and the research that goes with reducing harm and reducing use only happens under that scenario. You cannot control what is in the shadows.

  • 00:19:41

    Paul Larkin:

    But, but we're talking about is legalizing another dangerous drug. Because it's not that we're gonna adopt-

  • 00:19:47

    Toi Hutchinson:

    What we're talking about regulating [inaudible

  • 00:19:50

    ] a plant.

  • 00:19:54

    Paul Larkin:

    We're not gonna adopt cannabis as a substitute for alcohol. It's in addition to.

  • 00:19:54

    Toi Hutchinson:

    No.

  • 00:19:54

    Cat Packer:

    Re-legalizing [inaudible

  • 00:19:54

    ] Re-legalizing.

  • 00:19:55

    Paul Larkin:

    So how many go to the dispensary or go to the street pharmacists and say what potency is this weed that you're selling me?

  • 00:20:01

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Millions.

  • 00:20:02

    Teresa Haley:

    There are several different flavors really and several different types of weed.

  • 00:20:05

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Millions of people. Millions of people. They, a cannabis consumers is actually a quite educated one as opposed, as opposed to the stereotypes that allow us to believe that, you know, nothing, nothing good is ever going to happen to you to. When you tell a whole large segment of society that this is not going to do anything good, they see the opposite.

  • 00:20:24

    When we need to tell them about the things that will kill them, when we need to protect our children from things that cause harm, how often will they believe us then? Which is also what it is we're seeing [inaudible

  • 00:20:34

    ].

  • 00:20:33

    Teresa Haley:

    And also, we make sure that children under 21 it wasn't attracted to him because it didn't look like candy.

  • 00:20:39

    Toi Hutchinson:

    You'd be hard pressed to get any room anywhere to have a whole bunch of people who say that they didn't try alcohol before they were the age of 21.

  • 00:20:46

    Teresa Haley:

    You may get a lot of people but you will get some that will tell you they did not, and I was one of those.

  • 00:20:50

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Yes, and you will get someone who will tell you they've never had cannabis, they never intend to cannabis.

  • 00:20:53

    John Donvan:

    So-

  • 00:20:54

    Teresa Haley:

    I've never had I'd never, because I don't like you know what.

  • 00:20:54

    John Donvan:

    Okay, I-I...

  • 00:20:56

    Toi Hutchinson:

    [inaudible

  • 00:20:56

    ]. And that is perfectly fine.

  • 00:20:57

    John Donvan:

    Time, time out, time out again (laughs). I want to take to the side arguing against legalization. Th- the argument that has not really been a-addressed yet that Cat brought up that a regime that criminalizes use and possession of marijuana has disproportionately hurt black and brown people, that that's just the pattern. I-I want to ask you to take that on first, Theresa, because for the very same reason you're arguing the opposite side of it, but can you address their concern? A-a world where, uh, use is criminalized has a disproportionate impact in just the way things play out in terms of incarceration, arrests, lives ruin for a crime that may not hurt anybody, but the individual is disproportionately hurting minorities as opposed to whites.

  • 00:21:39

    Teresa Haley:

    It is disproportionately, um, hurting minorities. I work with a bunch of children, and our kids come to school and they're shameful, they're embarrassed because they smell like weed because their parents use weed. And now that it's legal, it's okay for them to use it, but they don't think about the impact that it has on their children. And they're embarrassed. They say they can't sleep, they can't function, they can't study. But then they grow up and say it's okay for me to use it because my parents used it.

  • 00:22:06

    John Donvan:

    But I think your opponents are saying for those parents to go to jail would be worse.

  • 00:22:09

    Teresa Haley:

    No. No, those parents need to go to treatment.

  • 00:22:12

    John Donvan:

    Uh-huh.

  • 00:22:12

    Teresa Haley:

    Those parents need to understand the impact that it's having not only on their lives and their health, nut their children.

  • 00:22:18

    Cat Packer:

    I-I think that part of the issue here is that, uh, we treat all cannabis use as if it's problematic. And in reality, the vast majority of cannabis consumers are able to do so responsibly. I'm not a parent. Toi is, so I'll pass things to her to share about her experience as a mother.

  • 00:22:36

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Yeah, I, we, when we first started taking this on, there were a lot of people who talked to us about, it's always what about the children, we need to help the children, save the children. Well, if you want to keep this out of schools, first you have to acknowledge that it's in schools. If you want to keep it out of parks, first you have to acknowledge that it's in the parks. There's nobody that's gonna stand between my kid and, um, the drug trade around the neighborhood unless we got in the middle of this.

  • 00:23:00

    So I had to learn to talk to them, uh, the exact same way we talk about alcohol. I did, about whether or not it was appropriate for them under the age of 21 not as adults, about how you behave when you go out into society, eh, and about the stigma and the stereotypes that will enure to them much stronger than it will to other things. African American people use this at the same rates of every other demographic in this country, but it would have been parental malfeasance for me not to warn my children about what an encounter with law enforcement would be, especially with my sons. The fact that we are, we have this now, we're talking about 42 states, over 50% of the population now lives in some legal jurisdiction.

  • 00:23:41

    If this is the one thing we cannot talk about that I cannot keep my children safe. And, and for, for me, looking at the policy about it, I don't believe that every person who walks into a gambling casino has, is a gambling addict. I don't believe every person who smokes ca-cannabis is going to have a problem with it. So we've got to have a system around by which if public health and safety is the thing that we need to care about, especially for children, then reducing stigma, stereotypes. And, and, um, all that comes with not actually reaching families is lost if you don't have a legalization or regulatory scheme.

  • 00:24:16

    John Donvan:

    Okay, I...

  • 00:24:16

    Toi Hutchinson:

    It's just gone.

  • 00:24:17

    John Donvan:

    I want to talk a little bit about what experience has shown so far. I know, we know that 20, 21 years ago, Portugal decriminalized all narcotics. I want to make clear it's all narcotics. But in the last four or five years, they've begun to regret that and they're beginning to make efforts to roll it back because they're being seen an increase in addiction. They're seeing an increase in overdoses. The longest running experiment we have here is Colorado. Paul, what have we learned from Colorado in terms of, of whether, whether it has worked. Uh, and let's talk about what the goals were. The goals were, again, to, uh, for- for people who were using not to have their lives ruined because of an arrest. The goals were to replace an illicit market with a legal market that would be controlled, and an illicit market brings with it all other kinds of crime and violence.

  • 00:25:06

    Um, and the goals were, uh, essentially to, to bring it out into the open so, to make it alcohol, essentially, parallel to alcohol. How is it all worked out as far as you can tell us in Colorado?

  • 00:25:17

    Paul Larkin:

    Well, Colorado is a state that has its own criminal code. I know as a, a person who focuses on the federal government, the idea that there are a large number of people in federal prison for cannabis crimes is just not remotely true. President Biden pardoned everybody in federal prison last Fall who had been convicted of simple cannabis possession and the Bureau of Prisons admitted they didn't have to release anyone because there wasn't anybody in prison for simple cannabis possession. So let's, let's talk about that. You can plea bargain, a more serious offense down to a lighter one. So it may well be that the number of people who are in Colorado's prisons because of, uh, simple possession offenses, wound up in there because of a plea bargain that got them a shorter sentence. I don't know the exact numbers, but it certainly is something we would want to know.

  • 00:26:13

    But it is also the case that, eh, Colorado has seen a tremendous increase in the number of people who test positive for cannabis who are involved in automobile crashes, particularly ones involving fatalities. Now, I'm not saying that all those people were under the influence at the time. Cannabis can be in your system for quite some time, particularly if you're a regular user. It can be weeks or more before you finally rid yourself of it. But it is just blinking reality to think that a large number of those people who caused those accidents were not under the influence of cannabis.

  • 00:26:46

    John Donvan:

    Is it, but you're, but you're at the same time, you're sort of saying we don't really know. That that's, that that's a very soft statistic.

  • 00:26:52

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Because we don't really now and there's also a significant difference between presence and impairment, especially with cannabis.

  • 00:26:56

    Cat Packer:

    So I think part of what folks have to keep in mind when we're talking about criminal justice reform, uh, legalization presents an opportunity not just to reduce penalties associated with cannabis activity, but these legalization initiatives often are also retroactive, meaning that we're not just, uh, changing penalties moving forward but folks who have past, uh, arrests or convictions for marijuana possession, et cetera, they have an opportunity to get a second chance because states, uh, are increasingly expunging records, pardoning records. Uh, and this is something that President Biden, uh, acknowledged in his announcement.

  • 00:27:33

    One of the things that I find to be ironic is that he, uh, acknowledged in this announcement that it was in part because this is activity that States no longer prohibit. Well, I, I want to share news flash, one to President Biden, but to everyone on this stage, uh, states are no longer prohibiting activity that ranges across the spectrum. States are, are allowing, affirmatively allowing people to cultivate, either for personal use or for commercial activity. There are commercial sales, distribution that are happening. And so Paul, while I, I can, uh, appreciate you acknowledging the simple possession line that gets drawn in the sand, the reality is that there are tens of thousands of people who remain behind bars because maybe the possession that they had was a couple of grams or ounces over whatever that possession threshold is. Or they had, uh, you know, if you have bags on you, it can be assumed that you're engaged in sales. Or you were actually engaged in sales.

  • 00:28:29

    And I think we have to be able to get to a point where if we have a multibillion dollar industry, uh, that is making money, uh, off of cultivation and sales, then we owe it to the rest of our Americans who are behind bars to say, if you were in jail for cultivation or sales then maybe you deserve a second opportunity, as well. Uh, that's really [inaudible

  • 00:28:51

    ].

  • 00:28:51

    Teresa Haley:

    But it really depends on the communities and counties in which they return to, because a lot of the counties in Illinois, once they're released and their records are expunged, they still can't get a job because of their past history. Because people can't lie on the application because people will find out. They say second chance, but what does that second chance look like when they're returning home and they're homeless.

  • 00:29:12

    Cat Packer:

    A- and that's why we expunge records.

  • 00:29:12

    Toi Hutchinson:

    [inaudible

  • 00:29:13

    ] that's why we would expunge. That's why, that's why we got to the point where those, the forgive and the-

  • 00:29:16

    Teresa Haley:

    No. And the other things is if you are a marijuana user and you live in public housing...

  • 00:29:19

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Absolutely.

  • 00:29:20

    Teresa Haley:

    ...through the housing authority administration, and someone comes to your house and they smoke weed and it's reported, you become homeless. The bottom line is you can't put your kids out so you can smoke week. Your children are there. You have to go somewhere else and do it. Educate yourself. Educate your families about the pros and your cons, because your health is your wealth and that's all that you have.

  • 00:29:40

    Toi Hutchinson:

    We do not disagree with that all. Just like I wouldn't bring my children into a bar. Every time I hear points, like the ones you raise, it's not that the underlying thing is something that I cannot understand or see. It just brings me back to what do you do about it? And the only thing that, um, makes sense to me is to take each of those issues and try to create policy solutions to move that issue off the table or to at least mitigate the harms.

  • 00:30:04

    Doing nothing, doing nothing continually, continuing to criminalize people, I-I will never forget the first time I saw someone who had been living with the impacts of past criminalized cannabis use tell me that for the first time at this point who's now approaching 50 that today I'm free, because this went away. We expunged or pardoned over 800,000 records in one state alone. 800,000 records. We cannot say that that doesn't have a, an impact on the community, because, really, your neighborhood, which goes into your neighborhood, and your city, and your county, only do better when everyone is allowed to participate fully in the economic stream that we call this country. We can't do that by relegating whole groups of people, especially with the racial impacts that are well-documented.

  • 00:30:58

    The war on drugs failed miserably. It did not stop use. It did not create safety. It did not reduce harm. What it did was criminalize people, and more people that look like us than anybody else. That is unconscionable and immoral.

  • 00:31:21

    John Donvan:

    More from Open to Debate when we return.

  • 00:31:39

    Welcome back. I'm John Donvan and this is Open to Debate. Let's jump right back into our discussion.

  • 00:31:47

    We're gonna audience questions now, but Paul, I just want to ask in a 30-second response, do you agree that the war on drugs failed miserably?

  • 00:31:52

    Paul Larkin:

    No.

  • 00:31:53

    Toi Hutchinson:

    No? Wow.

  • 00:31:54

    Paul Larkin:

    What, the problem is you always have to look at the comparison of what would have been the case if you hadn't had a particular activity. You have to look at it at the margin. The fact that it hasn't been completely successful in stopping the use of drugs doesn't mean that it failed. It was never an attempt to completely stop, but it was an attempt to reduce the use.

  • 00:32:16

    Cat Packer:

    And it hasn't done that (laughs).

  • 00:32:17

    Toi Hutchinson:

    It hasn't done that either.

  • 00:32:18

    John Donvan:

    Okay, I want to go to audience questions now. And, um, to kick us off, I wanted to ask Nick Gillespie, he's editor at large at Reason magazine and he's a good friend of Open to Debate. He's actually debated with us four times, including a debate in 2012 where we took on the whole question of legalizing drugs. He's even been a guest moderator of some of our debates. Nick, welcome.

  • 00:32:38

    Nick Gillespie:

    Thank you, uh, John. I'll, you know, the people who are in favor of legalizing marijuana have been talking a lot about the costs of prohibition. I was wondering if they could talk a little bit what are the benefits of legalizing marijuana? What's the positive case for it? And I'm also interested if the, uh, anti-legalization side will admit or acknowledge any benefits to having legal cannabis or using cannabis?

  • 00:33:06

    John Donvan:

    Thank you. That's, that's a perfectly modeled question. There you go. Cat?

  • 00:33:10

    Cat Packer:

    So in terms of the benefits of legalization, I think one of the main benefits is the reduced criminalization, people going to jail, families being separated. That's the main benefit here. But part of the reason why we support legalization and de-criminalization is not enough is because de-criminalization doesn't address how folks actually access cannabis. And the reality is that people are accessing cannabis. And we believe that people who cannabis, like other consumers of products, should have products that are tested, that are safe. And when we're regulating, we have the ability to tax it. There's economic benefit from the revenue going back into communities. Jobs are created, businesses, uh, have an opportunity to flourish. And here in the United States, we're trying to take an equity centered approach, which is significant in that we're not just moving forward with legalization in saying that everything goes. We're intentionally trying to acknowledge and address the harms of the war on drugs, uh, and we're making progress in that regard.

  • 00:34:08

    John Donvan:

    So the question to the other side, and I-I, it kind of puts you in awkward position. They're asking you if there's, are any benefits to legalization, which kind of makes, puts you in the position of arguing their side. So we're gonna, we're not gonna count it against you (laughs), your persuasiveness.

  • 00:34:19

    Teresa Haley:

    Well, I, I can answer that question.

  • 00:34:21

    John Donvan:

    Yeah.

  • 00:34:22

    Teresa Haley:

    I have family members who came home because of it, so that was a good thing to have my family members back home. But those same family members were, were unable to get jobs and have to be educated and re-educated and introduced to the community. So we don't have the programs that were set aside to help people to be successful when returning home.

  • 00:34:42

    John Donvan:

    Thank you. If you wouldn't mind telling us at least your first name, we'd appreciate it.

  • 00:34:46

    Jenny:

    I, uh, so I'm Jenny from Philly. Uh, just middle-aged woman with teenage kids. I really appreciated being able to have a con- conversation about, with them about drugs where I could say, "No, this is just for grownups," and that's actually reflected in the legalization. I guess I'd like to hear from the yes team, I feel like couldn't have that kind of conversation if it were just no, no, no, no, no.

  • 00:35:14

    John Donvan:

    I think what you're asking is to the side that's arguing against legalization whether what was once called the just say no policy...

  • 00:35:21

    Jenny:

    Yeah.

  • 00:35:21

    John Donvan:

    ... open, closes the door to having a real conversation?

  • 00:35:24

    Teresa Haley:

    Well, I have daughter and I have granddaughter who just graduated from high school, so I think I can answer that question. I would say saying no to the drugs is still very important, and looking at the aspect on how it's gonna impact them in school. My granddaughter not only did she smoke weed, but she had tattoos. And guess what? The job that she worked she had to cover up her tattoos. She had to take a drug test and if she tested positive. We need to educate our children about how long marijuana stays in your system. And it's a minimum of 30 days.

  • 00:35:53

    Toi Hutchinson:

    One of the things that I, um, wanted to point out to, and thank you for that, um, Jenny for Philly. I always say I'm Toi from Illinois, the, because it rhymes and it sticks. But what this offers parents is to have real, accurate, and science-based conversations, data-based conversations with their kids. You have access to more information. You have access to more reasons for why you can also tell them why you should not, when you should not, how you should not. How it is significantly more dangerous to do this outside of a regulate- a regulated market, and open a space for where your children keep talking to you, because now they trust that you are a safe person to talk to.

  • 00:36:32

    If the response is, "How dare you? I cannot believe you would do this. E-eh, you are kicked out of the house if I find out that you're doing any of these things." What we know is that teens are very good at hiding.

  • 00:36:44

    John Donvan:

    Paul, do you have a response to the question, as well, especially in light of what Toi said?

  • 00:36:48

    Paul Larkin:

    I'm not sure why you wouldn't be able to make the same arguments to your kids why shouldn't do something if it's legal or if it's not legal. I did. I had these conversations with my kids back before '96. And it, I told them you may not like the idea that it's illegal, but that's just the reality you have to deal with. It's gon- you're gonna wind up being hurt because of involvement in the criminal justice system. You can wind up being hurt because involvement in civil society. So if what you're trying to do is talk them out of it you can make the same argument. If you're trying to talk them into it, then, you know, I can't help you.

  • 00:37:29

    Toi Hutchinson:

    No. The, the fact that it exists across the country and they see it everywhere. This is in every movie, every television, it's on commercials. There are jokes about it. They're all over place. So parents are competing with all kinds of outside forces, plus social media, plus phones, plus all those things for the ability to actually train our children in the way we want to go. The fact that it is out in the open and out in the light is one of the most powerful tools as you have as a parent to discuss this with your children.

  • 00:37:55

    John Donvan:

    Toi, Toi, Toi, I'm gonna jump in just because in the interest of time I'd like to see if we can get in more questions.

  • 00:38:00

    Speaker 8:

    Thank you. Is there a way right now to test whether a driver is on marijuana or not when they, let's say, get in a accident?

  • 00:38:08

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Testing is evolving in that way. And I say that to say that one of the things that has be taken into consideration is that presence is not the same as impairment. So you can have marijuana in your system for up to 30 days, you're not impaired by it anymore. If you smoked a joint on the weekend, it's still in your system. There is a free market principle to this, too, though. Because the fact that government is now making so that we've got to figure out ways to figure whether someone's immediately impaired in that moment.

  • 00:38:35

    So right now, law enforcement is trained to look at all the other things that cause you to be impaired. They're, they're looking at how you're looking, how you're responding to tests. The, the sobriety test on the side, on the road side thing is very, very important to determine, um, whether or not a driver is actually impaired. And blood testing is coming up. And there are a number of different things that are on there. I think the first company that comes up with a way to tell whether or not you just consumed it is gonna be a bozillionaire, and maybe they're in here. I don't, I don't know.

  • 00:39:02

    John Donvan:

    Okay, uh...

  • 00:39:03

    Toi Hutchinson:

    But it's going to happen.

  • 00:39:04

    Paul Larkin:

    Maybe somebody in this room will do it (laughs).

  • 00:39:07

    John Donvan:

    I, I wanna, I wanna move on to another question. Please, thanks.

  • 00:39:08

    Sara:

    Hi, guys. Thanks for so much for this conversation. Um, my name is Sara.

  • 00:39:10

    Paul Larkin:

    It's a debate.

  • 00:39:11

    Sara:

    Debate, yes. We'll certainly acknowledged that. Um (laughs)...

  • 00:39:14

    John Donvan:

    We insist on that.

  • 00:39:16

    Sara:

    Um, I handle criminal justice policy for a group called the R Street Institute. And I have a question to follow up on, um, Toi's opening statement, which is the reality is we have a dual legality issue between a Schedule 1 substance at the federal level and 38 or more states that have some legal form of cannabis. I'm wondering if both sides can speak to what the practical policy solution is there, whether you oppose legalization, what do you actually do about that dichotomy and how do you address it.

  • 00:39:41

    John Donvan:

    Let me go to Paul first, because he hasn't had a-

  • 00:39:42

    Paul Larkin:

    Yeah.

  • 00:39:42

    John Donvan:

    -turn in a bit. Thanks.

  • 00:39:43

    Paul Larkin:

    Yeah, the, the current situation is quite chaotic, and the only one that can resolve it is Congress. Congress doesn't want to do it. Congress wants to hope that this cup will pass from them. But sadly, they're gonna have, because you can't continue to go on in the s- in the status that we have today. But the only way to resolve it is at the federal level, because the states can't tell the federal government what to do, but the federal government can make it a crime regardless of what the states want. So they have to decided whether they want to, uh, revise federal law. And we, they need to do.

  • 00:40:20

    John Donvan:

    Cat, you have thoughts on that?

  • 00:40:20

    Cat Packer:

    Yeah, I don't, uh, I don't disagree with that. I do think that Congress has a opportunity and responsibility to address reform. I think that we need to think holistically about what the respective roles are between the state and federal government. I think that this is an area of law where the states have taken the lead and continue to take the lead. I don't think I've seen anything from the federal government that evidences to me that they are prepared, uh, to act in a meaningful way. So I think right now what we need the federal government to be doing is listening to states, uh, and learning from their experiences, and hopefully, that will move, uh, Congress forward on this issue.

  • 00:40:56

    Uh, but I don't think that we're, uh, in a place where this particular status is sustainable. I do think that we need, uh, reform. Uh, I don't think that we're necessarily gonna get through, uh, the Biden administration's review of how cannabis is, is scheduled. But I still expect leadership from the Biden administration and Congress. And even short of the scheduling, there are a whole host of actions that the administration can take, uh, to lessen the harms of our current policy today.

  • 00:41:26

    John Donvan:

    We have, I think, time for maybe one more question. And, and I would love it if you had a question that's addressed to Teresa, because we haven't heard from her in a while.

  • 00:41:32

    Jeff:

    Oh, sure. So, uh, I'm Jeff Lawrence, the Reason Foundation. Um, I'm always curious how conservatives, uh, can reconcile general advocacy for limited government with also an advocacy for a government that is so large and intrusive that it can police whether every American has a few grams of marijuana in their pocket?

  • 00:41:50

    Teresa Haley:

    I don't, I don't know the answer to that question. And I would say that it's up to each individual to decide the response.

  • 00:41:58

    Paul Larkin:

    The question is not whether you have a few grams, the question is whether this is a particular substance that can be harmful if it is allowed to be entered into the stream of commerce, like normal products. You know, the federal government doesn't go after people, you know, with just a joint. Uh, the federal government-

  • 00:42:13

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Yes, they do.

  • 00:42:14

    Paul Larkin:

    -goes after people who are, uh, dealing in, in large-

  • 00:42:17

    Teresa Haley:

    Yes, they did. That's how we ended up in jail.

  • 00:42:18

    Paul Larkin:

    -in large scale quantities.

  • 00:42:19

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Not if you're black or brown. You can have very small amounts. In matter of fact, you don't even have to have a small amount. You just have to smell like it.

  • 00:42:24

    John Donvan:

    That wraps the discussion. Now, we go to closing statements. Uh, Cat, you are up first. One, to remind everybody, you're answering the question as no, legaling marijuana is not a mistake. One more time to tell us why.

  • 00:42:35

    Cat Packer:

    Yeah, so thank you all for your time today. Uh, I hope it's made clear that legalization of marijuana isn't a mistake. That it's truly the prohibition, uh, that's been a failure. Again, I'm not here to tell you that legalizing marijuana is a panacea or that it's gonna solve problems. Uh, legalization doesn't solve problems, leaders solve problems. And what we need right now is leadership in the form of legalization and regulation. Uh, and we have an opportunity to do so the right way.

  • 00:43:06

    Uh, I don't disagree with many of the different complexities and challenges and costs, uh, that the folks who said it is a mistake have. But I absolutely disagree with their strategy. We cannot continue to act as if we're going to solve problems by ignoring them. Prohibitionists have always trafficked in misinformation and fear. And I'm here to tell you that you do not have to be fearful. You do not have to be ignorant. We can be educated. We can make progress. Uh, but we're not gonna be able to do that by continuing to say now.

  • 00:43:45

    John Donvan:

    Teresa, your last chance to make your case for it, why your answer to the question is yes. You're saying legalizing marijuana is a mistake.

  • 00:43:52

    Teresa Haley:

    Legalizing marijuana is a mistake. Look around the country, look around the world, addictions are everywhere. Why would we want to add one more addiction here in the United States of America. Yes, we are the land of the free, but we also are the land of living. And we are killing one another by legalizing marijuana. Look at our children. Yes, we tell our children that it's not good and they shouldn't be using it, but as soon as you tell them they shouldn't be doing something, they're gonna do it. How many of you drank before you were 21? You went to a party, someone gave you a sip of wine, someone gave you a sip of beer, and you thought it was the coolest thing. There is nothing cool about marijuana with young people.

  • 00:44:33

    I'm talking to a lot of seniors today who had headaches, who have e- back aches, who have knee pains, who have arthritis, who have other health conditions. They are now using marijuana, closet marijuanas, but they're not sharing that informations with their physicians, and they're having counter reactions, other health problems because of it. The one thing that we're saying is that we need to make sure that we're educating everyone. When you see something say something. So our goal in Illinois was to plant the seed, say no to weed, especially the children.

  • 00:45:06

    Educate your children. Let them know if they test positive. If they're involved in sports, if they're going to scholarship on a academic scholarship and they're drug testing, they're more likely to lose that scholarship. Now is it worth it? Their life is worth saving. So say no. Talk to you children. Talk to your community. Thank you.

  • 00:45:25

    John Donvan:

    Thank you, Teresa. Toi, um, again, you've been arguing all along that, uh, legalization is not a mistake. Your last chance to tell us why.

  • 00:45:32

    Toi Hutchinson:

    Thank you, everybody, for being here. I've really enjoyed this. Uh, I'm one of those people who believes that robust debate is incredibly important, especially for things that are complicate and hard and not easy for any of us to have any simple solutions. Just say no is a simple thing to say to something that was very, very complex, and clearly it did not work. Right now, when I look across this country and I see, I remember my own, my own grandmother who had lung cancer. And nobody would tell us that doing anything to ease his end of life was something that was bad, or horrible, or harmful for him, because it, it worked wonders for him and it gave us more time.

  • 00:46:10

    I've seen people start businesses. I've seen people really try hard to pull their whole families together, to create new economic opportunities for their families when they've been locked up and locked out of something purposefully for decades. And I know about the health benefits. I also know about the fact that when you reduce stigma and people talk about it, what I want is for people to be honest. When you go to the doctor, say what it is you're doing.

  • 00:46:35

    We live in a drug infested society. For anybody to believe that cannabis is the thing that's killing our country. No, that would be guns. That would be the criminal industrial complex. That would be hardcore drugs that actually will take you out of here. And to say that cannabis is the same thing as those is doing a disservice to every single person in this country.

  • 00:46:56

    So we have to tell the truth. We have to use science. We have to use data. And we have to understand the fact that saying nothing, doing nothing exacerbates the system that doesn't keep any of us safe. It's now time to make a change.

  • 00:47:09

    John Donvan:

    Thank you, Toi. And now to bring it home, we're gonna hear it one more time from Paul. Paul, just to remind everybody you're saying legalization is a mistake. Last time for your reasons.

  • 00:47:18

    Paul Larkin:

    I wanna give you three takeaways. And among those takeaways are not gonna be just say no. I think if you listen to a transcript, you would see I never use that unduly, simplistic approach. Uh, I also wouldn't say that children don't know about cannabis. Of course, they know about cannabis. They know about alcohol, they know about cannabis, all those sorts of things.

  • 00:47:40

    But I want to say three things and I'll give you three words for them, risk, trust and sacrifice. We are adding to the risk that people feel in society when they start using drugs that they wouldn't use if they were illegal. You should trust the judgment of medical professionals and scientific professionals, unless, of course, they've been polluted by politics. But we can trust the judgment of the Food and Drug Administration, because it has never said anything about the political part of this issue.

  • 00:48:16

    And finally sacrifice. What we're saying is society should require people to make a sacrifice on behalf of the small number, I'll admit that, maybe 10 to 20, a little bit more, percent, who are gonna have very adverse consequences from cannabis use. We're asking people to make that sacrifice, because it's for the benefit of our families and our neighbors. Thank you.

  • 00:48:44

    John Donvan:

    Thank you, Paul. So everybody, that concludes the debate. Um, and the last thing I want to say, we owe a special debt of gratitude to a member of our Board of Trustees, Jerry Orstrum, who is an enthusiastic supporter of Freedom Fest and he made this debate possible. The people I really want to thank right now are our four debaters, Paul, and Toi, and Teresa, and Cat for the way you conducted this thing for us. You embodied and epitomized the thing that we try to have happen is to show people that people can in good faith disagree with one another and do so respectfully and civilly. Thank you so much for the way that you all did this. It was spectacular.

  • 00:49:22

    For all of you listening, I want to thank you for tuning into this episode of Open to Debate. As a non-profit, our work to combat extreme polarization through civil and respectful debate is generously funded by listeners like you and by the Rosenkranz Foundation, and by supporters of Open to Debate. Open to Debate is also made possible by a generous grant from the Laura and Gary Lauder Venture Philanthropy Fund.

  • 00:49:43

    Robert Rosenkranz is our Chairman. Clea Conner is CEO. Lia Matthow is our Chief Content Officer. Julia Melfi is our Senior Producer. Marlette Sandoval is our Editorial Producer. Gabriella Mayer is our Editorial and Research Manager. Gabrielle Iannucelli is our Social Media and Digital Platform Coordinator. Andrew Lipson is Head of Production. Max Fulton is our Production Coordinator. Damien Whitimore is our Engineer. Raven Baker is our Events and Operations Manager. Rachel Kemp is our Chief of Staff. Our theme music is by Alex Clement. And I'm your host John Donvan. We'll see you next time.

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