Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It was 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs." $2.5 trillion dollars later, drug use is half of what it was 30 years ago, and thousands of offenders are successfully diverted to treatment instead of jail. And yet, 22 million Americans-9% of the population-still uses illegal drugs, and with the highest incarceration rate in the world, we continue to fill our prisons with drug offenders. Decimated families and communities are left in the wake. Is it time to legalize drugs or is this a war that we're winning?

  • paul-butler-for webFOR

    Paul Butler
    Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center


  • Nick-Gillespie-web


    Nick Gillespie

    Editor in Chief of and

  • Asa-Hutchinson-web


    Asa Hutchinson

    Former Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration

  • Theodore Dalrymple web


    Theodore Dalrymple

    Dietrich Weismann Fellow, Manhattan Institute

    • Moderator Image


      John Donvan

      Author & Correspondent for ABC News

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paul-butler-for web

For The Motion

Paul Butler

Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center

Paul Butler is a leading criminal law scholar and current Law Professor at Georgetown University Law Center.  He served as a Federal Prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, where his specialty was public corruption. While at the Department of Justice, Professor Butler also served as a special assistant U.S. attorney, prosecuting drug and gun cases. Butler provides legal commentary for CNN, NPR, and the Fox News Network. He has been featured on 60 Minutes and profiled in the Washington Post. He has written for the Post, the Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times and is the author of Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice (2009).

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For The Motion

Nick Gillespie

Editor in Chief of and

Nick Gillespie is editor in chief of and ReasonTV, the online platforms of Reason, the libertarian magazine of "Free Minds and Free Markets." Gillespie's work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, Slate, Salon,, Marketplace, and numerous other publications. As one of America’s “foremost libertarians,” Gillespie is also a frequent commentator on radio and television networks such as National Public Radio, CNBC, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox Business, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and PBS.

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Against The Motion

Asa Hutchinson

Former Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration

Asa Hutchinson is CEO of Hutchinson Group, a homeland security consulting firm, and practices law in Northwest Arkansas.  Hutchinson was the first Under Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.  In that capacity, he was responsible for border and transportation security.  He is a three time Member of Congress from Arkansas serving from 1997-2001. Following his third term reelection, Hutchinson was appointed by President George W. Bush as Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowmen School of Law teaching National Security Law.

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Theodore Dalrymple web

Against The Motion

Theodore Dalrymple

Dietrich Weismann Fellow, Manhattan Institute

Theodore Dalrymple is a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, who most recently practiced in a British inner city hospital and prison. He is the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and a contributor to the London Spectator, The New Criterion, and other leading magazines and newspapers. In 2011, Dalrymple received the Freedom Prize from the Flemish think tank Libera!.

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Declared Winner: For The Motion

Online Voting

Voting Breakdown:

56% voted the same way in BOTH pre- and post-debate votes (35% voted FOR twice, 14% voted AGAINST twice, 7% voted UNDECIDED twice). 44% changed their mind (6% voted FOR then changed to AGAINST, 4% voted FOR then changed to UNDECIDED, 6% voted AGAINST then changed to FOR, 2% voted AGAINST then changed to UNDECIDED, 16% voted UNDECIDED then changed to FOR, 10% voted UNDECIDED then changed to AGAINST) | Breakdown Graphic

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    • Comment Link Anonymous Saturday, 20 February 2016 23:10 posted by Anonymous

      You know your a bad ass when you show up to a debate where everyone is wearing a suit and tie WEARING A MOTHER FUCKING LEATHER JACKET!!!! This guy literally blew my mind... By far the best public speaker up there...Nick Gillespie for president!

    • Comment Link AdamS Tuesday, 01 December 2015 12:49 posted by AdamS

      I think it's important to precisely distinguish between legalization (i.e. on January 1st, it's all legal without regulation) and amnesty-based decriminalization. Even Hutchinson, in his "against" segment, addressed the need for alternatives to incarceration and installing drug courts. This approach has been working quite well in Portugal and in Gloucester, MA...saving lives and intervening without punitive legal ramifications. Neither one of those locations has "legalized" anything; they are able to deal with possession in an individual and specific manner, and handle addiction by considering the life of the human first. Additionally, there is definitely a need to separate the debates of marijuana, medical or otherwise, from all of the other drugs that actually run the risk of addiction and severe medical harm. Including marijuana, which is or soon will be legal in all of the US, dilutes the focus on harmful and illicit drug abuse.

    • Comment Link Lily Monday, 30 November 2015 20:22 posted by Lily

      They should legalize it because it doesn't hurt anyone, if they are going to take something away from the people it should be alcohol, thousands die a year from drinking but yet no one dies from smoking in order to OD on kush is to smoke 1,500 lb of weed in under 15 minutes. LEGALIZE IT.

    • Comment Link Jay Tuesday, 08 September 2015 18:42 posted by Jay

      Yes there would be less crime rates everywhere and no more black markets and regulation. Also people can be addicted to chocolate, a certain food or drink or anything else. Should we someday make that illegal too?? Yes Nick is right and yes also Richard Nixon was a part of making them illegal. Most are non violent people just wanting to relax and do whatever they want to their own body and the government shouldn't be able to control that. Were supposed to be a free country but yet we have all these corrupt politicians and leaders who just want to keep putting money in there pocket any way they can and who knows if some of them have not done any kind of drug in their lifetime like Bill Clinton and a few others admitted their use. Somewhat. Anyways just think all the money should be spent on rapist, child molesters and killers and to improve our land and technology and border control. Anyways thatsn my opinion. Take care

    • Comment Link Barb Monday, 29 June 2015 13:52 posted by Barb

      We will win the war on drugs as soon as there is no demand! Consumers are the biggest problem not the government, the drug traffickers or law enforcement. We are our worse enemy. The poor choices humans make is the reason we are fighting this war. People who want to legalize it don't understand how crazy things will get because people are already abusing legal drugs that are prescribed by a doctor... What we need is to make people not consume drugs because those choices of becoming a subsequent addict is what will destroy life as we know it in the end.

      Hope no one gets mugged by crack-head looking to steal in order to continue his/her habit.

    • Comment Link Indica Bob Sunday, 22 February 2015 13:06 posted by Indica Bob

      Legalizing drugs removes the black market from our streets. Regulating and legalizing drugs removes very harmful and deadly impurities from the drugs. We have far more deadly drugs being prescribed and sold over the county daily. We hold 25% of the worlds prison population. Just by looking at the Pharmaceutical companies I can see our countries beliefs on drugs. I believe the war on drugs has increased crime rates and I am not a personal believer in them. I understand we have a lot of drug criminals in our prison system and would cause a serious crash in the private investors of our prison system. Maybe someday they can do a test run on legalization to see what it does to the crime rates but I think we are already at full force on crime with the amount of drugs that are readily available to the people of our country.

    • Comment Link Mike Tuesday, 18 November 2014 00:24 posted by Mike

      Prof. Butler, Thurgood Marshall was the first black Supreme Court justice - not Clarence Thomas. I really hope that was simply a misstatement, because I would expect most - well, make that all - law professors to know that.

    • Comment Link george gontay Friday, 07 November 2014 13:21 posted by george gontay

      i think we should stop drugs now today because its getting out of control

    • Comment Link Mark Tuesday, 14 October 2014 23:42 posted by Mark

      About 4,000 people drive drunk each day in the US. About 1,000 of those people get caught. (I think those are the NHTSA numbers).

      How many people will drive with one or two vicodin in them? Or when they just took a xanax to control an anxiety attack?

    • Comment Link Paul Newcomb Tuesday, 13 May 2014 15:10 posted by Paul Newcomb

      Throughout the entire debate, the opposition did not address the question of whether or not alcohol should be illegal. I think this is probably the most fundamental point to draw attention to when debating people that think marijuana should continue to be illegal. It is demonstrably true that alcohol has a MUCH more harmful affect upon our society, yet they will insist that marijuana should be illegal and alcohol should be legal, rather than the other way around. It's hypocritical and illogical, and until that point is addressed, they have no argument to stand upon.

    • Comment Link zampaz Friday, 01 November 2013 04:13 posted by zampaz

      Legalize, regulate and tax drugs similar to the way we do alcohol.
      Set "drugs" aside for a moment. I'd like to be able to purchase maintenance medication I've used most of my life from a pharmacy without having to buy a license to do so from a physician every six months to a year.

    • Comment Link Samantha F. Hughes Thursday, 12 September 2013 11:24 posted by Samantha F. Hughes

      Bad government. instead of helping and giving people stop smoking tips they will legalize it.. o come on..!

    • Comment Link Ellen Wednesday, 21 August 2013 08:11 posted by Ellen

      Legalize all drugs across the board. The drug war makes criminals out of people, who normally wouldn't be considered criminals. Most of the people arrested on drug charges, are non violent. Legalization would go a long way, towards alleviating the negative consequences we see from drug use.

      For example: overdoses. If drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, ect were legalized- you would have professionally trained chemist producing the stuff- instead of someone who doesn't know what the hell they're doing. You'd be assured of consistent quality and dosage, and people could tailor their use accordingly.

      Crime would also be reduced, because violent gangs and cartels wouldn't have any motive to keep selling drugs- there wouldn't be enough potential for profit under legalization. Cigarette prices can vary widely depending on the state. But when's the last time you heard of a black market in cigarettes? When's the last time you heard of some violent cigarette cartel killing people? You don't hear of those things... because even with the difference in prices... there's not enough profit potential for a black market. The same would go for drugs, just like alcohol.

    • Comment Link Nick Sunday, 28 July 2013 00:16 posted by Nick

      All drugs good and bad should be legal. Sure, people shouldn't do things like meth, heroin, or cocaine/crack. But as long as they aren't selling it, it should be that persons right to screw themselves up. At least legalize Marijuana and psychedelics though. But it will never happen, because big pharmacy, big oil, big banking, big logging,and cops/private prisons lobby the corrupt politicians to keep it illegal to preserve their own profits. Marijuana became illegal because William randolph hearst owned timber land he used to manufacture paper. Hemp was named the billion dollar crop around the same time. Hemp endangered his money. Lemont Dupont owned Dupont chemical. His artificial patents were also challenged by hemp. Hearst used his own newspapers to print stories that demonized the "killer Mexican weed" and this influenced reefer madness, which scared the public into accepting the made up problem (that by the way is the definition of racketeering) so roosevelts secretary of treasury andrew mellon owned massive investements/stock in both hearsts and duponts interests. He then created the bureau of narcotics and andrew put his nephew Harry anslinger in charge. He convinced Congress to outlaw weed through fear of "negros raping white women". Leading up to now... Mushroom, lsd, peyote, dmt, etc are all made illegal in the 60's simply because the counterculture hippies used it to open their minds and question the status quo. Governments, no matter how Democratic they claim to be, are always oppressive, and psychedelics caused a higher understanding of things and to question the true intentions of the egotistical leaders in their corrupt offices. Who in turn, are controlled by industry interests. The whole thing is sick. People really need to wake the hell up and realize that the situation we were taught about drugs had ulterior motives. Do you really think the government or there shadowy conspiratorial corporate overlords, who care of nothing but money, could give a shit about us?! When will you understand money super sizes everything? Meanwhile the quite frankly controlled media wants gun control but doesn't bring up how every single school shooter was on an antidepressant which says right on the back label "may cause suicidal or homicidal tendencies" why? Because Bill Maher and anyone at cnn or Fox is sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies.

    • Comment Link Sebastian Thursday, 27 June 2013 18:28 posted by Sebastian

      Mr. Moorehouse makes an excellent point. The medical, social and financial impact of the currently legal drugs (alcohol and tobacco) on our society is staggering. Do we really want to introduce another? And do we really want to do it in such a manner that there is no way to regulate the level of intoxication on our highways and workplaces (think of hospitals, daycare centers, etc)? The argument that alcohol is worse than marijuana (arguably it may well be, depending on what you're measuring) isn't the relevant point. The point should be the cost to society versus the benefit. There was a time, within most of our memories, when the treatments for cancer and other terrible diseases were crude and had horrible side effects, and were administered by a medical profession that did not give much thought to quality of life and palliative care issues. That has changed considerably and care can be administered compassionately, and side effects managed well without having to smoke (that delivery method is just medically wrong in so many ways) a dosage indeterminate medicine.

    • Comment Link Escola Thursday, 27 June 2013 18:13 posted by Escola

      Medical marijuana is not used for a cure, but for relief and it has been proven to provide major relief for several conditions. I personally don't see the difference between marijuana and alcohol in terms of how people act when they are on it and what the consequences can be. It should be legal, medical or otherwise, but *at least* medical. Was this answer helpful?

    • Comment Link rh anderson Saturday, 08 June 2013 00:15 posted by rh anderson

      so many seem to believe marijuana is the DEVIL! the REAL devil, folks; is ALCOHOL!! -i don't remember EVER having my head in a toilet bowl from smoking the 'satanic' weed. -and to all those saying smoking causes cancer, let us not forget that the 'evil' weed can be EATEN as well! -great debate!! too bad so many in this country are so 'smart' they are STUPID!!

      i'm 61 years old can claim 40+ years of cannabis intoxication 'research' and have exhibited as well as experienced some of the STUPIDEST behavior 'on' alcohol!! -not so, being (stoned or) around "stoners", who have never annoyed me anywhere near as much as a 'blind', stupid, aggressive drunk! -lets' take some responsibility for ourselves folks, and understand our limitations!! (not to mention personal freedoms!!) -me don't deal wit no politics, me deal wit de truth!! -bob marley

    • Comment Link Rich Wednesday, 29 May 2013 19:58 posted by Rich

      I have to laugh at your voting.32% dont know?Why would anyone vote dont know?Its ridiculous.
      Look,I like a smoke myself and I dont think its good for peoples health and I dont think it should be legal.If anyone actually thinks that weed is not harmfull then they are dangerously deluded.
      The police in the uk are fair in that if you are descrete,they will leave you alone but most users want to shout about their habit from the rooftops about how great it is.Losers.I think it should be class A as its not the hash we used to have years ago.Its mindwarping genetically modified rubbish.
      The people who want to legalize it in the public eye really are martyrs aren't they?Im sure they will be management material if it does go legal as they will make a pot of cash.Which is what its all about really isnt it?Money.One arguement thats given is the Amsterdam example?Do me a favour.Ive been there and its a sleazy pit of despair and I hope the same thing doesn't happen in the UK.
      Legalizing drugs will only make criminals legal drug dealing entrepeneurs.If you dont want to be labelled a criminal,then dont smoke it.
      What really puts me off the whole scene is that if you follow the supply right to the source,then some shady government agency is behind it for their black projects.
      Now go home and have a smoke for me but dont try to legalize it in my name please!

    • Comment Link Dave Bailey Monday, 27 May 2013 23:09 posted by Dave Bailey

      Disappointing debate - neither side got to the practical core of the debate. I went in and still generally for the motion but I want the following question vetted: How would a legalization work in reality? Are all drugs to be legal with no limits? Including exotic synthetic in the future that are maliciously targeted to additive by design or by enemies.

      On another note, when will a subject be debated without a racial component being interjected which benefits from the contemporary shield of political correctness. While certainly it played a role in the past, the high rates of arrest for minorities (defined here as blacks and hispanics not other minorities groups such as jews or asians) are due to the related high crime areas and associations in which these arrests are taking place. Also, the highest percent of victims of the drug associated crimes are dis-proportionally black and hispanic. Therefore, if you are Against based on your assumption that drugs are directly related to crime, and you think the illegality reduces this association (an assumption I don t share), you are benefit the targeted minority by increasing arrests in the those areas for the sake of the relatively larger number of minority victims. But instead, white guilt and Political correctness stifles real conversation again.

    • Comment Link Dana Monday, 29 April 2013 04:27 posted by Dana

      1. The pro side stated people quit smoking cigarettes because of health reasons. However, we know that 30% of all cancer in the US is related to smoking cigarettes. As a health care professional in the oncology setting, I can't tell you how many times I have cared for people who have lung cancer related to smoking; yet while receiving treatment, they continue to smoke.
      2. Regarding the arguments for cannabis legalization. From a medical stand point, it does help decrease pain for some people and it can help decrease nausea symptoms. It has not been found to improve appetite. What is often not talked about is the very real risk of aspergillus fungal lung infection when smoked. When people have a low white blood cell count, it is almost always fatal. Cannabis can also cause people to be over agreeable and have difficulty maintaining conversations with loved ones that they will remember.
      My stance is to legalize it as a tightly controlled substance, like oxycodone, for use when prescribed by a provider. If we open a pandora's box of legalization, we might have a terrible time closing it. Like with cigarettes; I wish they had never been legal. One in five deaths are related to tobacco and our country spends billions on health issues directly related to smoking cigarettes: cancer, coronary artery disease, heart disease, COPD, etc.

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