Open to Debate Taping “Is Legalizing Marijuana a Mistake?” at Memphis FreedomFest Friday, July 14

July 14, 2023
Shore Fire Media Press Release

This Friday (1pm) at Memphis FreedomFest, nonpartisan media company Open to Debate is taping a live debate on the motion Is Legalizing Marijuana a Mistake?

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.

Arguing “YES” to the question “Is Legalizing Marijuana a Mistake?” is Paul J. Larkin Jr, Senior Legal Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and Teresa Haley, Senior Policy Advisor at the Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions.

Arguing “NO” is Hon. Toi Hutchinson, a former member of the Illinois Senate, and Cat Packer, Director of Drug Markets and Legal Regulation at Drug Policy Alliance.

The debate will take place this Friday, 1:00-2:00 PM, at Main Stage One – East Hall. It is a live taping for a podcast and public radio show to be broadcast next month. Media are invited to attend, but no video or audio recording is allowed. Any journalist who would like the recording and a transcript afterward can email for access.


* Teresa Haley: Senior Policy Advisor, Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions

Teresa Haley is a senior policy advisor at the Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions, an organization focusing on creating meaningful change through effective drug policy. Haley is also the president of the Springfield, IL branch of the NAACP, where she spearheaded the Springfield Branch NAACP Office and Education Center, and the first female president of the Illinois NAACP State Conference. At the Springfield NAACP branch, she ensured that some of the revenue from marijuana legalization went back to supporting areas most impacted by the War on Drugs. A longtime civil rights activist and public policy advocate focusing on racial justice issues, she has been involved with the NAACP for over 25 years and serves on the staff of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and on the Illinois Governor’s Justice, Equity, and Opportunity Initiative Transition Committee and the Governor’s Commission for Environmental Justice. For her work, she was awarded the first-ever NAACP Activist of the Year Image Award in 2020, the Community Service Award from the Frontier International Club in 2020, Springfield’s First Citizens Award in 2019, the Alumni Humanitarian Award from the University of Illinois, and the Paul Harris Fellow Award – Community Service Award from the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.

* Paul J. Larkin, Jr.: John, Barbara & Victoria Rumpel Senior Legal Research Fellow in the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, Heritage Foundation

Paul J. Larkin, Jr., is the John, Barbara & Victoria Rumpel Senior Legal Research Fellow in the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation. At Heritage, he works on drug policy, criminal justice policy, and regulatory policy. Before joining Heritage, Paul held various positions with the federal government and in the private sector. Larkin served as an Assistant to the Solicitor General at the U.S. Department of Justice, Assistant General Counsel at Verizon Communications when Bill Barr was the General Counsel, and clerked for Judge Robert H. Bork of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Paul has published several articles on different aspects of drug policy, including ”Driving While Stoned in Virginia”, “Reflexive Federalism, and “Opioids, Overdoses, and Cannabis: Is Marijuana an Effective Therapeutic Response to the Opioid Abuse Epidemic?” (with Bertha K. Madras). His honors include the Secretary of Defense Medal for Meritorious Civilian Service, which he received in 1994 for representing the military before the Supreme Court. Paul received his law degree from Stanford Law School, a master’s degree in public policy from George Washington University, and he has a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Washington & Lee University.

* Toi Hutchinson: Former Illinois Senator

Toi Hutchinson served as an Illinois Senator, representing the 40th District, from 2009 to 2019. During her time in the Senate, Hutchinson championed a variety of causes including protecting women and children from violence, modernizing the state’s tax structure, and legalizing cannabis. Prior to leaving the Senate, she served as the 46th president of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Toi is an original co-sponsor of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA), the first most equity-centric law in the nation to legalize adult-use cannabis. The CRTA promotes equity and invests in the communities that suffered through the war on drugs, serving as a model for the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis. In 2019, Hutchinson was appointed by Governor JB Pritzker as the Senior Advisor to the Governor for Cannabis Control. In January 2022, Toi left the administration and became the first woman President and CEO of Marijuana Policy Project, an organization that’s focused solely on ending marijuana prohibition. Toi earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a law degree from Northern Illinois University College of Law.

* Cat Packer: Director of Drug Markets and Legal Regulation, Drug Policy Alliance

Cat Packer is the Director of Drug Markets and Legal Regulation at the Drug Policy Alliance, in addition to the Distinguished Cannabis Policy Practitioner in Residence at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, Vice Chair of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition, Advisor to the Parabola Center and is a contributing author to the “Thomson Reuters Cannabis Law Deskbook.” She envisions drug policy reform as both an opportunity and responsibility to promote harm reduction and advance equity and social justice. Packer is recognized as the US’s first person of color to lead a medical and adult-use cannabis regulatory program. From 2017 to 2022, Cat served as the first Executive Director of Los Angeles’s Department of Cannabis Regulation where she led efforts to advise and implement cannabis business licensing and regulation in “the world’s largest cannabis market.” Under her leadership, the City of Los Angeles licensed over 1,200 cannabis businesses, collected over $320 million in cannabis tax revenue and became one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to establish programming designed to promote equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry. She received a bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s degree in public policy and management, and a Juris Doctor from Ohio State University and was named the 2020 Recipient of the Moritz College of Law Outstanding Recent Alumna Award.


Open to Debate addresses a fundamental problem in America: the extreme polarization of our nation and our politics. We are the nation’s only nonpartisan, debate-driven media organization dedicated to bringing multiple viewpoints together for a constructive, balanced, respectful exchange of ideas. Open to Debate is a platform for intellectually curious and open-minded people to engage with others holding opposing views on complex issues. We know debate works to find common ground: On average, 32% of the Open to Debate audience changes their mind on contentious topics after hearing a debate. That’s the power of debate done right, and at scale, it can change the direction we’re headed in America. Open to Debate is broadcast as a weekly public radio program, carried on NPR stations including WNYC (#1 in the nation). Open to Debate is made available as a podcast, video series, and digital platform, and records episodes with live audiences nationwide. Visit to become a member, access an archive of more than 220 debates, and attend live events.

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