10/16/11 Ethan Nadelmann

Debate between Asa Hutchinson the former drug czar and Ethan Nadelmann the director of the Drug Policy Alliance, held at Univ of Arkansas (Pt 2)

Century of Lies
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Ethan Nadelmann
Drug Policy Alliance
Download: Audio icon COL_101611.mp3



Century of Lies / October 16, 2011


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DEAN BECKER: Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. I’m Dean Becker. Today we’re going to look back, just a month, to a debate that was conducted at the University of Arkansas and sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy. The two opponents were Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, and Asa Hutchinson, former congressman, former DEA director.

We carried the first part of this debate a couple weeks back and we pick up here with Ethan Nadelmann.

ETHAN NADELMANN: In the 1970s 11 states decriminalized and academic [inaudible] analyzed if it had any impact on marijuana use and what he found was “No.” He found that marijuana use went up generally across America in 1970s both in the states that decriminalized and in those who did not. And he found that marijuana use went down across America in the 1980s both in those states that decriminalized and those who did not.

Same evidence comes from abroad. There’s a wonderful book called, “Drug War Heresies” by two experts who are not advocates, Peter Reuter and Robert MacCoun. What they looked at, when you look at Europe what you find is that levels of marijuana use have nothing to do with the harshness of the laws. You have countries with harsh laws with high levels and countries with harsh laws with low levels, countries with soft laws with high levels and vice versa.

There’s not that much of a relationship there. What the laws do is result in more people getting hurt by the government. You don’t affect the levels of their marijuana use.

ASA HUTCHINSON: The level of marijuana use in America is really a reaction, to a large extent, by leaders. Mr. Nadelmann has really laughingly, jokingly treated the subject of cocaine use and marijuana use and whenever our teenagers today see marijuana as medical marijuana being authorized then they think marijuana is medicine, it’s OK, it’s OK for me to take it and so that’s the reason in the last couple years, in my judgment, you’ve seen an uptick in marijuana use while other drugs have not gone up.

And it’s leadership…it is what the signals that our leaders send in society and whether we joke about it ..it can go up…teenagers get that message. If we treat it seriously and say, “This is illegal”, yes – that has an impact on decreasing usage in our country. And I think that’s a good thing.

And as one argument against legalization is simply the message that it sends to our young people – not that we’re going to lock you up forever, not that it’s going to destroy your life – but that it is illegal. It is wrong. It is harmful. And the law reinforces the harmfulness of that substance.

STEVEN DUKE: Mr. Hutchinson, I wonder if you go next on this one. In 2012 Washington State, Colorado, and possibly California will be voting to decide whether to keep cannabis illegal or become the first states to legalize, tax and regulate this substance. If they were to succeed, how do you think other states as well as the federal government should react?

ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, first of all, it’s going to be a nightmare enforcing if that happens. You would have states in direct conflict with federal law. Federal law and congress has still made it illegal to possess, use and traffic these substances. If you have a state - California, Colorado – that says it’s legal under state law, that is totally in conflict with…Just because somebody says, “Well, I got this marijuana under state law.” Well, it’s still in violation of federal law.

So how does the federal government respond to that? They can ignore it – is one option. They can change their own policies and go along with California, a very major state. They could, third, seek an injunction in court to prohibit the use in accordance with state law because it violates federal law. Or the other option they could take would be to say, “Alright, that’s your decision but we’re going to withdraw our federal funds for drug rehabilitation, for drug enforcement – our DEA agents are going to come out of the state –

[applause from audience]

There could be a consequence to that. I’ve got a feeling that people in California will not want the federal resources that protect against methamphetamine trafficking, against heroin trafficking, against cocaine trafficking …against other types of trafficking to…those resources to be withdrawn [inaudible] other resources in it. So there’s a number of different reactions. Obviously it’s going to depend upon what our policy makers in Washington will say as to what direction it will go.

I think it would be a dangerous step for our country but that’s the great thing about democracy.

[inaudible from audience]

The people didn’t get to decide this issue. And let me tell you if you win in the public arena – hats off to you for that victory. But, thus far, I don’t know of very many members of congress, very many elected officials who want to move in that direction. But it’s a democracy and the people will decide.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Asa and I can agree freely that it’s going to be a confusing situation. I should also say that I and my organization, Drug Policy Alliance, have played a role in basically legalizing medical marijuana in roughly 2/3 of the states where it’s now legal and we’re deeply involved in California’s initiative and Colorado as well. Trying to drag and move forward and win responsible legislation.

Now, I think first there are two models in this area. One of them, more recently, is medical marijuana. I think it’s important for those of you in Arkansas know, there’s a good chance you’re going to have to vote on medical marijuana ballot initiative in November of 2012.

It’s important for you also to know that if it wins it’s not going to settle the situation like Los Angeles or Montana where things got wildly out of control because both those legislatures failed to regulate it. The laws here are based on Nevada and Arizona’s and they much more strictly regulated, limited the number of medical conditions, doctor’s recommendations, limited number of dispensaries so Arkansas could really emerge as a model in the responsible regulation of medical marijuana in the United States. So I hope you make the ballot and with this.

Now, that said, there’s also a [inaudible] historical model. In the late 1920s and early 1930s as public opposition to alcohol prohibition rose – many people said, “Let’s end the federal prohibition.” But, as we know, many members of congress are often the last to lead. Leadership has to come from the people and then it comes from the states and eventually congress follows.

But what happened in the late 20s and early 30s is one state after another began to repeal their alcohol prohibition laws. The Feds could still bust people but they didn’t have resources and they increasingly lacked the motivation and eventually congress got the message and they repealed federal alcohol prohibition.

That’s the model for reform of medical marijuana and also with marijuana more broadly. The states have to take the leadership. They have to roll it back. They have to push the issue on the Feds and in congress. And, by the way, month or two ago – Ron Paul and Barney Frank (a libertarian and a Democrat) introduced a bill to repeal marijuana prohibition and to my amazement it already has about a dozen sponsors – republicans, democrats – [inaudible]

ASA HUTCHINSON: There are many unintended consequences of to a ballot initiative that will purport to legalize whether it’s medical marijuana or marijuana that’s on the ballot now for the legalization of marijuana.

Revrand Scott Imler who is a co-author of Proposition 215 which is the proposition in California, the ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana, after it turned into a…where you have cannabis…medicinal shops on every corner…when the city of Los Angeles and San Diego and elsewhere…this is what he said, “We created Prop 215 so patients would not have to deal with black market profiteers. But today it is all about the money. Most of the dispensaries operating in California are little more than dope dealers with store fronts.”

That was the result of the initiative that was passed in California. He also said it turned it into a joke. I think a lot of people have medicalized their recreational use. Now, I don’t mean to diminish that. I think if there’s a medical need and the doctor say you need a particular substance whether it is Marinol or marijuana or whatever – if the medical community says that then patients ought to be able to get that.

[audience applause]

But the abusive potential in California is the model of abuse and problems with that initiative.

ETHAN NADELMANN: I’ll tell you, that story about dispensaries generating all that crime…quoting [inaudible] …quoting the San Diego Police Association which is known for producing evidence-free reports….

[audience laughter]

Today the Rand Corporation, consultant to the Pentagon Intelligence Agency, came out with a report and said low and behold [inaudible] when you have a medical marijuana dispensary – you see a reduction in neighborhood crime. That’s the Rand Corporation results today.

[audience applause]

It’s consistent with the findings with [inaudible] and Colorado and other places. When you responsibly regulate this stuff the result is to take this stuff out of the underground, out of the black market and put it into responsible channels.

ASA HUTCHINSON: You say usage increased?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Actually, it was very interesting. In fact for many years and still today – there’s almost no evidence that legalization of marijuana results in increase ….

ASA HUTCHINSON: …you say about increase usage because …

ETHAN NADELMANN: You want to start an interruption thing…I’m from New York – I’m all over that.

But what I want to say about this is that when you substitute responsible regulation for a failed prohibitionist policy – that can lead to the best of all results. That’s what we’re looking for here. I think one of the tragedies with the Clinton administration is that now the Obama administration.

Obama appeared to open up some room for doing things the right way and in recent months…when is the justice department doing?

What they should be doing is encouraging states and localities to responsibly regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. Instead – what are they doing – they getting in the way. They’re trying to keep this thing messy. They’re trying to keep their foot in the ground. Trying to de-legitimize it rather than being advocates for the responsible regulation. That really does need to change.


DEAN BECKER: That was Ethan Nadelmann, director of Drug Policy Alliance and he was debating Asa Hutchinson former congressman at the University of Arkansas sponsored by Students for Responsible Drug Policy.

This is Dean Becker, Century of Lies, on the Drug Truth Network.


STEVEN DUKE: Ethan why don’t you answer this one first. This past summer a prison reform bill was signed in law and reconciled which not only increased the cutoff for a felony marijuana possession charge by 1 ounce to 4 ounces but also lowered the penalties for many illegal substances in the state. This was in response to a few studies which discussed prison overcrowding and the cost of incarceration. It was approved by the Arkansas House of [inaudible]. What is your take on this bill and do you think that our media has taken has taken a slant in the right direction?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Yes and Governor Beebe and the legislation moved in the right direction. Arkansas, the legislature passed and the Governor signed an intelligent legislation that was based upon good, hard evidence about public safety, reducing prison population and saving taxpayer dollars.

My guess is that this is in an area probably where Asa and I agree more than we disagree. One thing I’ll say for Asa is that among Republicans and conservatives he was one of the first to point out the injustice of the federal crack cocaine laws and to advocate for changing those laws. It was a powerful coalition that resulted for reform in that area.

[audience applause]

Asa mentioned the organization, right, our economy’s a part of is really 2/3rds of the people. Something about Republicans and conservatives who basically just want to reduce the criminalization of white collar crime. But there’s a broader group that really cares about reducing the incarceration of poor people and rolling back these harsh drug sentences.

What we’re seeing around the country from Democratic Governors like Cuomo and Brown and Republican governors like Mitch Daniels in Indiana and Governor Deal in Alabama or Governor Christy in New Jersey...Everybody’s struck by both the injustice and the ridiculously specs of locking up more and more Americans. That’s what we’re seeing.

Last year was the first time in the last 30 years that we saw a reduction of total state prison population. We’re headed in the right direction. Now the fact of the matter is budgetary pressures putting that way. We’re not saving [inaudible] increases in crime as a result. The question is can we sustain that once the economy turns around.

Can we understand? Now look, our country – people say we’re the biggest drug users in the world. We’re also the biggest consumers of almost everything in the world.

[audience applause]

But our rates of drug use, illegal drug use are not that different. They’re a little higher than many other countries in Europe and elsewhere. We’re not radically off the charts. And when it comes to non-violent crime we’re also not so different than many European countries. We are higher on gun crimes and some things like that.

But, you know what? We’ve locked up people, mostly our fellow citizens, at 5 and 6 and 7 times the rate of most other civilized nations. We’re pursuing a policy of incarceration, a policy of national incarceration that has not been required to sustain public safety. If anything, when you send people to prison – what are you doing? You’re turning them into better criminals for when they come out.

[inaudible under audience applause]

ASA HUTCHINSON: It’s hard to make generalities. You could almost listen to Ethan and he thinks nobody ought to go to prison. I happen to think that violent criminals belong in prison - people who are a danger to society. I believe Bernie Madoff deserves going to prison.

I think that whenever you have a drug trafficker that is bringing in tons of cocaine or marijuana that’s poisoning our youth – I think they ought to go to jail. But, having said that, I agree totally that Arkansas was right in saying, “We want to make sure we’re studying and assessing and determining whether we’re sending the right ones to prison or not.” And certainly someone who’s a simple possession case or has an addiction problem and are non-violent – let’s look at an alternative penalty to incarceration.

[audience applause]

Whenever you look the Right on Crime initiative that I have supported, it’s conservatives like Bill Bennett to Newt Gingrich to myself who say it’s right for us to (and I’m former head of the DEA) …Texas took that initiative and said, “Instead of spending billions on new prison facilities we’re going to put that money in alternatives to incarceration and rehabilitation efforts.”

After programs that will help reduce crime in Texas. It did reduce crime. It saved the taxpayers money and it is the right thing to do. So that’s the direction we can go as a country. So we’re really in agreement on that. If there’s unfairness in the system – let’s fix it. But while we’re fixing the system let’s don’t demolish what we’re doing right in it and go down the path that we will regret for a long time.

Whenever you look at the direction that we’re going in this country I think that we did, in the past, make some unfair judgments when it comes to drugs. For example, for a while congress said if you had a drug conviction you could not get a Pell grant and go to school. That was wrong. We singled that out and that was wrong.

I have a particular case in which a person was convicted 30 years ago of marijuana and he’s denied entry into our country. I think that’s wrong and I think congress needs to remedy that. So there’s always injustices that we need to fix. But let’s don’t change the right direction that we’re going that will destroy a generation.

[audience applause]

ETHAN NADELMANN: I think he appreciates that I’m a enthusiastic advocate of putting murderers and vicious criminals and the Madoffs of the world behind bars. I think that’s what they deserve. I think there’s a lot of non-violent criminals doing a lot of extortion and theft and hurting a lot of people. I believe in the basic [inaudible] in punishing those people who murder and rape and steal and what have you but I can’t find that prohibition on marijuana in the Bible.

I can’t find it in the [inaudible] code for that matter. I can’t find some of these other things either. So, I’ll tell you, if [inaudible] about how we deal with drugs – I think there’s a principle that applies across the board about all drugs. I would say that I do believe and I hope that many of you agree that nobody should go to prison, nobody should lose their freedom simply for what you put into your body.

[audience applause]

That nobody goes to prison simply for what in here. Get behind the wheel of a car, put your coworkers in danger at the workplace, beat up on your children, do other sorts of predatory crimes – yes, you deserve to be punished and don’t tell me you’re a victim.

But, when it comes to how you regulate this stuff, because I am not comfortable treating methamphetamine and cocaine like alcohol or cigarettes, what I would say is, marijuana – yes- tax, control and regulate it like alcohol.

But for those people who are most addicted, for those people who want to stop and cannot, for those people who are determined to get their drugs whether legal or illegal – I would say allow them to get it from legally licensed, medically administered sources. We’ve seen in Europe and Canada now, 7 or 8 countries that allow heroin addicts to come to a clinic and get pharmaceutical heroin there and results published in all the top medical and scientific journals have been spectacular in terms of reduction of [inaudible] and crime and those problems.

That’s the way we move in the right direction.

[audience applause]

ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, what can I say? Our policy should be if you have an addiction problem and you’re nonviolent, you’re simply a user, I would agree that you should not go to prison. We are in agreement on that point.

[audience applause]

But I do believe that marijuana is a harmful substance and I think that you understand that marijuana is a harmful substance.

[audience jeers]

OK, so we cannot agree on that. We’re not going to go anywhere in our discussion if you can’t accept that proposition. But if you believe that it is a harmful substance as the American Medical Association believes then [inaudible] to debate as to if it’s harmful – should we keep it illegal and if we keep it illegal you’ve got to be able to have investigations and you’ve got to have laws against the traffickers of a substance that is illegal, we’ve determined is wrong for America.

And so, yes, I think the DEA does the right thing in going after a drug traffic organization in California that’s bringing methamphetamine here. I think they’re doing the right thing by putting somebody in jail who’s selling marijuana close to a schoolyard. I think they’re doing the right thing by putting people in jail for trafficking cocaine.

These are harmful substances and you might not punish the user. We might not put them in prison. We might put them in a rehab program but I think the trafficker, we still have to have incarceration for.


DEAN BECKER: You are listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network. That was Asa Hutchinson we just heard from. He’s a former congressman, former DEA director. He’s debating Ethan Nadelmann at the University of Arkansas sponsored by the Students for Sensible Drug Policy.


STEVEN DUKE: Mr. Hutchinson, you can start and answer my last question. In 2001 Portugal decided to combat its drug problem in a quite unique and unconventional way through decriminalizing all drugs. In 2009 a report from the Cato Institute came out calling this experiment a success. What are your thoughts on decriminalization of substances to help lower addiction and drug abuse rates?

ASA HUTCHINSON: First of all, there’s something you can always learn from other countries testing and adopting different policies. Portugal had a problem with drug use and also the allocation of their own enforcement resources so they said, “Instead of putting our enforcement resources against the simple users we’re going to put it against traffic organizations and we’re going to put it in rehab programs.” And the result of that has been that their arrests of traffic organizations went up and the number of people in rehab went up (which is a good thing).

I think you can probably debate about the impact on usage. The Cato Institute that did the study…you got to understand the Cato Institute. What a great organization but they’re Libertarians. One of their big points of advocacy is, “Let’s legalize drugs.” So there’s a little bit of a point of view that they bring to the table.

But if you take a little bit more independent review, the European monitoring group for the European Union looked at Portugal and whenever they decriminalized in 2001, drug use was at 7.8%. It went up to 12% after their decriminalization effort in 2007. That’s a significant increase in drug use.

Whenever you look at marijuana it went from 7.6% to 11% in Portugal. And so I don’t criticize another nation - they got their unique problems. But the point I think you can learn is that marijuana use went up in Portugal when they decriminalized because it was a simple signal that the leaders said to their youth of the nation and maybe to the older citizens as well, “That marijuana use is OK. There’s not going to be any consequences. We’re not even going to consider it illegal so it’s OK.” Drug usage goes up. I don’t think that’s the right direction for America.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Asa’s right. There [inaudible] good studies and they are a Libertarian organization so therefore look at the article by Alex Stevens and Caitlin Hughes in the British Journal Criminology at the end 2010 - two academics looking intensively at the Portugal story.

What they found was that Portugal was a resounding success. That drug use levels did not change all that much – some went up here and some went down there. When you compare the youth levels in Portugal to other countries in southern Europe – they basically track some of those levels as well among overall use. But you know what went down? The problems of addiction went down. Drug [inaudible] and crime went down. [inaudible] Overdose fatalities went down. In other words, all the things that really matter with the harms of drug use went down.

And you know what that Portugal thing is? It’s essentially almost like a Drug Court outside the criminal justice system. If you get arrested and you’re in possession of some drug, any drug, in a small, non-large amount – you get sent to meet with a commission of health experts. They talk to you about what’s going on and “Do you have a problem” and “Are you addicted and if it’s not such a problem and you really shouldn’t do it and get out of here.”

And when they focus on the more serious cases which is when drug addiction and mental illness intersect where nobody’s got a good answer in that area. But they treat it as a health issue. And you know what else? They don’t drug test. They rely on counseling. They deal with drug use for the entire population the way America deals with drug use among the upper-middle class.

The upper-middle class in America, by and large, is not going to jail and prison because they deal with their drug problems and drug use behind closed doors where typically the police are not present. And they can pay for their psychologist and therapists and what have you. It’s the poor people who are getting screwed. Who are being told…

[inaudible under audience applause]

The Portuguese say the same model applies to everybody.

ASA HUTCHINSON: So what signal does that send? I think there’s a fairly good debate, in fact, the police logs of DEA in Detroit you’ve got a poor, economically depressed area where you’ve got your crack houses. You’ve got your whites from the suburban area driving across town to the crack houses and buying their drugs and going back.

Now is it right for the DEA to just prosecute the crack dealers or should they go after that white guy coming from the suburbs who’s a user? Now under the arguments here, the Portugal argument – you leave the white guy in the suburban area alone and you go after the crack house. Well I’m not sure that’s good policy. I think a better policy is put your resources on rehab. Make sure you work in your drug force, you have treatment programs available. You make sure your education...But send a signal that it’s illegal to transport drugs, to deal in drugs and it’s illegal to buy drugs. Otherwise you’ve got a conflict.


DEAN BECKER: Currently, in the U.S., the signal is to send you to prison, is to destroy and fracture your family’s future – it’s to keep this eternal war going – hell – forever. Hope you’ve enjoyed this debate between Ethan Nadelmann, the director of the Drug Policy Alliance, and Asa Hutchinson, the former congressman and former DEA director.

And you know my perspective. This Drug War has no basis in reality. Prohibido istac evilesco!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org