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 Sue Hudson Sunday, 21 April 2013 17:26 posted by Sue Hudson

      The two guys representing legalizing drugs were far more knowledgable and dealt with the situation in total reality. Those against were at their best stating personal theories. Being a retired educator of over 40 years, I see no positive outcomes by criminalizing all these young people. Why is it that many people seem to find what others do so much worse than their own personal addictions to what ever it might be? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone! Does that sound familiar to anyone?

    • Comment Link Jim Sunday, 21 April 2013 15:48 posted by Jim

      Wishing the panel would address the fact that the concept behind this debate is marred in the same way it would have been had it occurred during Prohibition as a debate on being for or against all alcohol.

      We eventually said SOME alcohol was unwise and it was outlawed. We need to do the same here....debate marijuana separately from other drugs.

    • Comment Link Stephen Thursday, 11 April 2013 16:57 posted by Stephen

      Let Theodore Dalrymple talk! You can tell he's being shoved away.

    • Comment Link Timothy Clark Wilson Monday, 08 April 2013 10:46 posted by Timothy Clark Wilson

      Proverbs 14:34 ​Righteousness exalts a nation,
      ​​But sin is a reproach to any people.

    • Comment Link ml Thursday, 04 April 2013 20:09 posted by ml

      if we're going to have one legal drug we should have at least two to give people a choice. not everyone can or wants to drink alcohol. marijuana is much more benign. ask anyone with an alcoholic parent. in a nation of choices, give us a choice.
      it was the patent medicines and the pursuit of profits off addictive drugs in the 1800s with the inclusion of cocaine (remember the real coca cola?), opium, alcohol, and even radium, that gave us the FDA

    • Comment Link Frank Sattar Wednesday, 03 April 2013 09:41 posted by Frank Sattar

      My concern in public safety, bad enough the roads are full of drunk drivers. Should the public be concerned with drugged drivers too.

    • Comment Link Jeffrey A. Coleman Sunday, 31 March 2013 15:03 posted by Jeffrey A. Coleman

      Ignored in the debate is the irrefutable phenomenon of how the prohibition of substances which some in society deem undesirable has created a black market that has shown nothing but the most phenomenal growth rate in the circumvention of these bans and has created more incentive to smuggle or produce banned substances.

    • Comment Link Peter F. Sunday, 24 March 2013 12:04 posted by Peter F.

      I agree that marijuana should be legalized for medicinal purposes and therefore regulated and taxed. However, legalizing all drugs will not change social belief along racial bigotry lines nor the bigotry between social classes. Prohibition failed more due to corruption among the ranks of enforcers than because of social beliefs or standards. Legalizing drugs will save money to some degree but at the cost of to many lives of citizens. Any place where drugs have been allowed through the course of time has experienced more violent crimes. Not that addiction creates violent offenders but that the use of narcotics does create people who don't think before they act. Our society is filled with people who don't consider the effects of their choices and actions on others in society and the legalization of illicit drugs will not change that or any other social standard. Unfortunately, morality can not be mandated and legalizing drugs won't effect noticeable change other than more deaths and destruction to our society's morality.

    • Comment Link Michael Wednesday, 13 March 2013 09:35 posted by Michael

      I was rather disappointed with this debate. I felt that both sides were debating different concepts. The side "for" the legalization of drugs focused solely on marijuana. The side "against" focused on meth. It seemed that they were debating past each other, not against. The side against the motion, as many commenters pointed out, didn't discuss the "harmlessness" of marijuana, while the side "for" the motion didn't talk about the more "harmful" drugs like Heroin only to say that "use is statistically insignificant." I think that most people are now willing to concede that the war on weed is pretty much a loss. But to legalize all drugs in the hopes that it will put drug dealers, etc. "out of business" is non-sense. Like they are just going to throw up their hands and say "well, I guess I better get a real job now." They'll find new ways to make money.
      My overall point is this I guess: both sides came prepared for a different debate, and our romanticized view of weed won, without the overall question being debated.

    • Comment Link v7c7ous Tuesday, 26 February 2013 16:57 posted by v7c7ous

      @ Pete
      There are plenty of responsible ways to use many different drugs. Take your own example. Yes, there are many people that just drink a glass of wine with dinner. Buuuut, most of them have more than one. People drink to alter the chemical makeup in their brain and.....change how they feel. There are also plenty of cancer patients smoking blunts because its as close to a natural remedy for EVERYTHING as you can get nowadays. And for all you bible thumpers out there....marijuana IS referenced multiple times in there and everytime it says nothing negative. It is the balm of the human race. It just makes noooo sense having a government say what you can and can't put in your own body. And as far as who sells it? Why would you care because you obviously don't have any intention of doing anything other than "sipping champagne" with dinner.....but not for the buzz right?

    • Comment Link Rachel Sunday, 24 February 2013 11:25 posted by Rachel

      We need the young people in this debate. THE ONES WHO ARE ACTUALLY BEING ARRESTED AND SEEING THE WAR EVERYDAY IN COLLEGE TOWNS! I have seen SWAT teams attack friends apartments to arrest some kids for selling pot…. the SWAT has shields, guns, and helmets….oh no watch out for that dangerous weed.

      young people just see government as a joke and incompetent.

      i dont want the government selling me pot or taxing it, and i don't want them to arrest me for it. it is one of the last absolute capitalist markets in this country. weed is extremely elastic. there are so many sellers, so by arresting one dealer has very little impact on drug use. anyone can sell it, not just "bad" people. and i have never met someone who has become violent from smoking pot….it just is not possible.

    • Comment Link MIchael Friday, 22 February 2013 22:27 posted by MIchael

      Mr. Hutchinson dwelled almost exclusively on Methamphetamine when he responded. This was a deliberate attempt to strike fear into the audience, (he also threw children under the bus in a similar fashion), a time-worn basic tactic of the DEA mindset. He barely addressed any other substances.

      I am convinced that if Nixon had not created the DEA, the 'drug phenomenon' that was present during the '60s would have petered out. Unfortunately, the DEA turned the "Drug War" into a media circus, aided and abetted by a most willing media, and so publicized it, that I am sure that millions tried drugs strictly out of curiosity, and still do so to this day. I contend that the DEA, NIDA, ODNCP, and DOJ have created a self-perpetuating bureaucratic monster that has cost us, the taxpayers upwards of 1.8 Trillion Dollars in the 40 years this abominable instrument of moral control has existed. I do not believe that putting someone in prison, (or criminalizing an individual for drug use, with it's attendant stigmatization, loss of job opportunities, etc), for taking a substance that the DEA says is illegal. The National Institutes of Health should be the correct agency for determining the toxicity of a drug, not the DEA, which up until now, arbitrarily sets the "Schedule" a drug is assigned to. It is this absolute control and ability for the DEA to operate with nearly total impunity that has created such worldwide chaos. I was hoping that the gentlemen for the issue would have brought up the DEAs, (and CIA), meddling in the internal affairs in Bolivia, (pre-Morales), which eventually left the DEA and CIA in virtual control of the entire country. These egregious acts are never reported in the mass media, but they occur on a regular basis. When Evo Morales came to power in Bolivia, he threw out all DEA and CIA operatives because they violated the very sovereignty of his nation. How can a drug that is used by a very small percentage of the population, (5-10 million regular users of Cocaine), merit this kind of illegal activity? I say there is no justification for this kind of heavy-haded thuggish, paramilitary policy. The government of this country has NO RIGHT WHATSOEVER to dictate to us, ITS CITIZENS, what we can and cannot put into our bodies. Metaphysical experiences, via various drugs as used for recreation, should not fall under the perview of the US Government. There will always be a very small segment of the population that will abuse whatever chemical they can and become either physically or mentally dependant. That is basic human nature. Putting them in chains and prison will not solve a thing. The "Drug War" was lost 40 years ago. Time to End The Madness. Time to end the "Drug War".

    • Comment Link Dave Gray Friday, 22 February 2013 22:22 posted by Dave Gray

      I believe that the legalization alternative that makes sense is to eliminate the Scheduling of Drugs - Eliminate the Good Drug / Bad Drug Distinction (although there are clearly those with negative effects).. It is clear that the war on drugs had failed completely to do anything to reduce drug use, reduce drug availability or to eliminate or even reduce drug crime - in fact it has vastly increased violent drug crimes. At the same time we have incarcerated the largest percentage of population of any country in the world. All at a monstrous toll on society and at the cost of a decimation of our fundamental freedoms and erosion of civil rights.

      The alternative of descheduling all drugs would allow all drugs to be obtained ONLY by seeing a doctor for a prescription and then having that prescription filled at a pharmacy.
      State medical boards would need to have vigorous power to investigate and terminate or prosecute the priviledges of doctors who would abuse their priviledges to their benefit and to the detriment of their patients. Penalties would have to remain for illegally distributing prescription drugs (dealing).

      Although you could go to your doctor to get a prescription for drugs which are currently illegal, who is more likely to assist you in getting help for your addiction? Your doctor or your local dealer? Doctors could maintain addicts, and help them get off of their drugs. They would be unlikely to write new prescriptions for dangerous drugs like meth.

      This would not eliminate all drug problems - but it would undercut the illegal drug economy. It would eliminate possession as a crime, while of course we could then pass sensible legislation - legislation which focuses on behavior. So that being under the influence of drugs, or alcohol in public, or driving under the influence, assaulting somebody, etc - would have obvious enhanced penalties.

      It is time we had a different approach. An approach that makes sense, something that stands a chance of working and which will address the worst failings of the War on Drugs (The unconscienciable incarceration rate, the unimaginable violence, the entrenched beurocracy in the DEA that now campaigns to control drug laws, not enforce drug laws).

      Of course, that is just my opinion.

    • Comment Link Johnny Friday, 22 February 2013 18:34 posted by Johnny

      I am not for legalizing drugs. Perhaps marijuana, but nothing more harmful like meth, LSD, MDMA, crack concaine, etc. Because the debaters that is for legalized drugs. Forget that drugs & violence go together. You cannot encounter one without the other. Why? Simple; Money. Money will make one kill another because of their addiction. Or who is to say that the worst of society won't use addiction to manipulate the addicted. Legalized is to be controlled you can argue, but drug addiction is already hard enough to control, not the drug itself. You cannot give harmful drugs the path to spread. Because it will. Don't ask why people legalized alcohol & not drugs. Because people don't get as addicted to alcohol as they do drugs. Granted they do, but not to the point where they would sell their TV sets for a fix.

    • Comment Link Tom Friday, 22 February 2013 17:10 posted by Tom

      While I agree with the consensus of the majority of people who favor legalizing drugs, I believe a good first step is to separate marijuana, from being grouped with all of the other drugs.

      This would make it easier for more Americans to support, while still saving a lot of wasted money spent on this futile war and stop the unnecessary incarceration of non-violent offenders.

    • Comment Link Pete Wednesday, 13 February 2013 12:40 posted by Pete

      Three points in favor of the opposition that I am very surprised they did not make:

      1) Regarding the comparison to alcohol and prohibition...there is a perfectly responsible, moral, and legitimate "use" of alcohol as a beverage (think glass of wine with dinner). "Abuse" occurs when it is consumed in sufficient quantities to alter consciousness and impair judgment. The abuse leads to undesirable effects on the individual (disease, addiction) and society (acts committed under impaired judgment that harm others -- e.g. violence, crime, drunken driving). There is no responsible "use" of drugs. One does not enjoy a shot of heroine or a line of cocaine with dinner. The only purpose of taking a drug is to achieve impaired consciousness and judgment -- they are never "used" in a manner that does not produce that result. In so far as the *only* aim of using drugs is to produce a response that can endanger both the individual and society, it is perfectly reasonable to draw a line of distinction between alcohol and drugs and permit one while outlawing the other.

      2) In the United States, tens of thousands of pharmaceutical compounds used to treat disease are restricted by law such that they can only be dispensed by a licensed pharmacist under orders from a licensed physician. The reason for this is simple -- these medications have the potential to cause harm to an individual if taken incorrectly. Would it not be absurd to maintain this system of regulation that prevents someone from buying blood pressure medicine "over the counter," but allow that same individual to purchase heroin or cocaine or methamphetamine, the *only* effects of which -- in any dose -- are harmful to that individual? Would those who advocate legalizing drugs seek to remove the regulation of pharmaceuticals as well? If not, upon what logic do they make a distinction?

      3) A matter of simple practicality: if all drugs were legalized, who could or would actually sell them? CVS? Walmart? When the first person dies of an overdose of heroin bought legally from a business and then his family sues the business, would any court not find in favor of the plaintiff? (Remember that our courts found in favor of a plaintiff who sued McDonald's for millions because she burned herself on hot coffee.) Would any insurer be willing to insure a business that stocks and sells hard drugs? Exactly how is full legalization going to work as its proponents imagine? It can't, de facto. And so it will not eliminate the criminal market.

    • Comment Link Ray B Friday, 08 February 2013 18:54 posted by Ray B

      In China, recreational use of opium began in the 15th century, but was limited by its rarity and expense. Opium trade became more regular by the 17th century, when it was mixed with tobacco for smoking, and addiction was first recognized. Opium prohibition in China began in 1729, yet was followed by nearly two centuries of increasing opium use. After 1860, opium use continued to increase with widespread domestic production in China, until by 1905 more than 25% of the male population were regular consumers. Recreational or addictive opium use in other nations remained rare into the late 19th century.
      When Mao came to power in 1949 there were an estimated 20 million users in China. Using harsh methods, including executions, the Communists were able to rid China of its drug problem almost over night.
      Those of you who don't agree with drug legalization being added to our plethora of life style choices, don't worry, we're on a path to communism in America anyway. Why not stay a democracy and respect the authority of law for the next generation. Quit thinking of yourself; defer this drug called immediate gratification. Currently, China has tough drug laws. Getting caught dealing or trafficking even small amounts of drugs can bring someone a death sentence.

    • Comment Link Jake Witmer Monday, 28 January 2013 15:44 posted by Jake Witmer

      Paul Butler and Nick Gillespie together are totally and unbelievably heroic. Butler for President, Gillespie for VP on the LP ticket!!!!!

    • Comment Link Jake Witmer Monday, 28 January 2013 15:41 posted by Jake Witmer

      If you're familiar with fallacious arguments, you'll notice that Hutchinson and Dalrymple stand in favor of un-American tyranny, and pure appeals to authority, without properly addressing any of the arguments of the legalizers. Drug prohibition is un-American.

    • Comment Link Steve Krasner Friday, 25 January 2013 18:52 posted by Steve Krasner

      I totally agree the question was way too broad. If the money being spent on this unwinnable war on drugs was instead put into education the money would have been well spent. Also if the government taxed the drugs as they do all other drugs from booze to RX drugs it were sure help the deficit.

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