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Should Marijuana Be Legalized?

Aired April 20, 2001 - 19:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: Tonight: Activists gather in Washington to fight for the legalization of marijuana. Should pot be legal, and why has one prominent office holder joined the fight for legalization?

From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE: Republican Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico; and Robert Maginnis, Family Research Council vice president.

JAKE TAPPER, CO-HOST: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Jake Tapper from and CNN's new Saturday night show "TAKE 5," sitting on the left.

Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Al Gore, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Bill Bradley -- these are but a few of the 70 million Americans who have smoked marijuana in their lifetimes. And yet, the so-called war on drugs persists, at a cost of $7.5 billion annually just to fight pot. Is it worth it? Dare we even have this debate?

Here on CROSSFIRE, we do dare, as the annual conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORMAL, continues in Washington -- Tucker.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Governor Johnson, legalizers such as yourself, or de-criminalizers, like to beat up on Prohibition. But the fact is, the little-known fact that Prohibition, like the current drug war, saved lives.

I just want to read you two statistics. These were compiled by Professor Mark Moore of Harvard. During prohibition when alcohol was not legally sold, death rates from cirrhosis of the liver dropped 60 percent among men. Admission to mental hospitals for alcohol-related causes dropped 50 percent. Of course, when Prohibition was repealed, alcohol consumption went up astronomically. Isn't the bottom line here that the drug here, whatever its problems, saves lives?

GOV. GARY JOHNSON (R), NEW MEXICO: No. I think you can make the absolute opposite argument. And actually, my understanding of Prohibition was is that you had alcohol use on the real decline, and this was an attempt to nail in the coffin, Prohibition, and it failed. I mean, people overturned this.

And again, alcohol use is cyclical. It's up or down. And so no, I think you can make a real case that 8,000 people lose their lives every year from their use of cocaine and heroin. I think you can make a real case that you might do away with those deaths because you would control, you'd regulate a product, and so, theoretically, you do away with overdose deaths.

No, I think you could actually save lives if it weren't for the policies that we have in place.

CARLSON: That's an argument so clever, I'm not sure I understand it. But let's get back to the essential question...

JOHNSON: Well, try and understand...

CARLSON: The essential question...

JOHNSON: No, wait, wait...

CARLSON: Hold on, let me just ask you this...

JOHNSON: All right.

CARLSON: You seem to be arguing that if drugs were legal, or controlled, or at least...


CARLSON: ... de-criminalize, that somehow people would do less of them, but isn't it obvious that when they're illegal, people do less, because they're harder to get?

JOHNSON: No, when alcohol was illegal, people died from their use of alcohol. People went blind from their use of alcohol. Whether that was bathtub gin, or wood alcohol, people died drinking alcohol. You don't see -- people still die from drinking alcohol, but you really got to work at it. My point is...

CARLSON: So we need better dope, is what you're saying?

JOHNSON: Well, my point is no. An aspirin-sized dose of heroin today may give three heroin addicts a heroin high. The same aspirin- sized dose tomorrow, because the supply has been disrupted it's a different quality-quantity, may kill those same three heroin addicts. So it's Prohibition, really, that's the killer here.

TAPPER: Colonel Maginnis...

JOHNSON: Is that -- I mean, do you at least understand the argument?

CARLSON: I understand the words. I'm not sure they add up to an argument. But will...


TAPPER: Colonel Maginnis, before we -- before I start to ask you a couple questions, I want to clear up a bit of news and rumor that I hear that you have been interviewed by the Bush administration perhaps to even be the next drug czar. Is there any truth at all to this?

ROBERT MAGINNIS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: I can neither confirm nor deny that.

TAPPER: Like a good military man. OK, well, raised on air here on CNN. The National Academy of Sciences this month came forward with a report that said that America spends two times as much money to combat illegal drugs as the United States spent fighting the Persian Gulf War, yet there's no evidence, none, that it's working or cost- effective. Convince me that this war on drugs is not just a millennial Vietnam.

MAGINNIS: Well, Jake, since 1980, we have cut drug use, current drug use, in half. We've cut the number of cocaine users from four million to about 1.3 million. In fact, the numbers are pretty good in terms -- even in the last couple of years, the number of adolescents, 12 to 17, using marijuana, has gone down to 9 percent. So I think in the past, we've made some good progress, and there is far more progress to be made, though.

TAPPER: Governor Johnson wants to jump in, of course.

JOHNSON: Well, and I -- these are facts that the drug administration is putting forward, but if you do the math -- I mean, they are saying there are 14 million people in this country doing drugs, that that's...

MAGINNIS: 14.9 million.

JOHNSON: Yeah. We are arresting 1.6 million people a year. I reject the fact that we are arresting, like, one out of eight drug users in this country. I just simply reject it! We can do the math. And if you do the math, if you start with 25 million or 26 million, and cut it in half, that's basically how many people we've arrested over the last 10 years. Come on! It doesn't work! Do the math.

TAPPER: He's saying that the people that have stopped using drugs, the way that they've stopped them is by throwing them into jail?

JOHNSON: Well, if you just did -- if you just counted arrests alone, you would be talking about 10 million people over the last 10 years. I don't buy it! I don't buy it!

MAGINNIS: Only a small percentage actually end up serving time. You have three-quarters of the people that are serving drug offenders in federal pens are there because of trafficking. About the same number in state penitentiaries. So we're talking mostly trafficking, and those that are caught in possession of large quantities, for instance, of marijuana. We are talking hundreds of pounds, not a few ounces. So, you know, let's stick with the facts, and those facts are pretty reliable.

CARLSON: Governor Johnson, I think the thing that makes a lot of people nervous about legalizers such as yourself is that they may be irresponsible, that they don't care about the consequences of these theories that they are so in favor of...


CARLSON: Hold on, I have exhibit A...


CARLSON: I want you to respond to this, Governor Johnson. I have a quote from you...


CARLSON: ... this is a quote -- we pulled this out of "Playboy." This is what you said to a group of high school students in your state of New Mexico, and I'm quoting now: "You hear you are going to lose your mind and go crazy and even die if you smoke marijuana. You know what? I smoked marijuana. And when I smoked it, none of those things happened. In fact, it was kind of cool."

Now, drunk driving is kind of cool too in a way, but would you get up and tell high school kids that they ought to drunk drive?

JOHNSON: No, and that's the distinction that you need to make here. If you drink and you get in a car, you crossed over the line between acceptable behavior -- and by the way, at one point that was not acceptable behavior, that was against the law! But you drink and you get in a car, you cross over the line. You're going to do harm to somebody.

Those same rules need to apply to marijuana, or any other drug. Meaning, smoking marijuana in the confines of your own home doing no harm, arguably, to anybody other than yourself. Do you belong in prison? No.

CARLSON: But if you don't want kids to do drugs, then why are you telling them it's cool? I mean, those are mixed messages, aren't they?

JOHNSON: 54 percent of the graduate class of the year 2000 did illegal drugs. Tell me how we can...


CARLSON: I'm sure that it was higher in this class that you addressed and told them it was cool!

JOHNSON: I'm talking about the mixed message that we send, and that mixed message that we send is, hey, this is what I was told when I was growing up. I don't know about you, but I was told, hey, you smoke marijuana, you're going to go crazy, you're going to want to commit crime, you're going to want to do heroin.

Now, when I actually smoked marijuana, you know what? None of those things happened. And so to me, it was kind of a lie! I'm not alone. I'm one of 80 million Americans, Tucker, and apparently, you want to lock us all up! Please! (CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Speaking of mixed messages, I have to say, Colonel Maginnis, the biggest problem I see with illegality of marijuana is, there is absolutely no consistency. Alcohol caused millions of times more death, destruction, the amount of damage to the United States. Tobacco, one in five deaths in the U.S. is attributable to tobacco. Why should marijuana, which is arguably less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, but just doesn't have RJR Nabisco and, you know, behind it, why should marijuana suffer as opposed to these two?

MAGINNIS: Well, marijuana is illegal. I'm not going defend alcohol and tobacco. We spend a lot of social costs on them every year.

Recent study out of HHS on cannabis use, addiction basically, over 100,000 Americans are treated for addiction. One of the things it says in this report is very compelling: 30 percent of all adolescent auto accidents are associated with marijuana, 13 percent of all suicides among adolescents and 20 percent of all adolescent homicides. Now, we are talking correlations, but this is problematic. And it's interesting that 54...

TAPPER: You're saying marijuana causes suicides?

MAGINNIS: I'm not saying it causes, I'm saying it's related to it, and that's what the government is saying. Now also, 54 percent, Tucker -- or Jake, I'm sorry -- of all Americans referred to cannabis treatment last year were through the judicial system. In other words, they were forced in there because of an addiction to cannabis. Now it's not like cocaine and heroin, but it is an addictive substance. We do have plenty of evidence of that, and we need to be concerned about it. Lets not legalize another bad product like alcohol or tobacco.

TAPPER: Now, I anticipated that was going to be your response, but still you haven't explained the inconsistency. We have two drugs that give millions of dollars to political parties, Republicans, Democrats, two perfectly legal drugs. I'm sure that...


MAGINNIS: Legalizing one more it is not going make it any better.

TAPPER: Within the next week all four of us will at least see if not drink one alcoholic beverage. Why is that legal and marijuana isn't? I mean that's really the great hypocrisy. You tell kids that marijuana is bad, but alcohol is OK. And in fact you have President Bush who used to be a social drinker. You have Bill Clinton having smoked marijuana. These messages are out there, and to pretend that you can just say, well, marijuana's bad, and alcohol's not, and that's it, well that's patronizing to kids. They don't accept that.

MAGINNIS: Jake, in most states like New Mexico, it's illegal for an adolescent or someone under 21 to legally drink alcohol, and it's illegal for them in high school to get a hold of tobacco. Some how they do, in spite of all these great laws. Now, if you go ahead and throw the barn door open on a lot of these drugs that are far more addictive than some of the ones we are talking about that are now legal, we are going to find ourselves in a great deal more trouble.

And in fact it was mentioned earlier about the Netherlands. You know I've been to the Netherlands, I've talked to the pot distributors as well as the users. The use rate among adolescents has gone up significantly since 1986 when they changed the laws. Very permissive society, but everywhere they've ventured down this path we find far more problems.

CARLSON: Governor Johnson, you want to respond to that?

JOHNSON: Well, again, use, use is the wrong criteria, all right. And for a second, look, if we read in the paper tomorrow that alcohol use was up in this country three percent over the last year, would any of us really care? No. We really wouldn't because we understand that alcohol use is cyclical. It's up and it's down, but what we care about, is we care about is D.W.I. up or down? Is the health consequence of drinking up or down, domestic violence, violence associated with alcohol use, is that up or down. Those are the things we care about. But when it drug use...

CARLSON: But what about the more subtle effects that are hard to imagine like ignoring your kids, not getting to work on time and all that?

JOHNSON: When it comes to drugs we shouldn't be so concerned with use. And by the way, Holland has 60 percent the drug use as that of the United States, and that's amongst adults and kids and that's for marijuana and hard drugs. It's a fact. They have less use, but what we should be concentrating on, is we should be concentrating on is violent crime up or down? Domestic violent crime, property crime up or down, HIV, death associated, overdose death?.

TAPPER: Not possession, but you're just saying...

JOHNSON: We ought to be concerned with reducing the harm that is associated with these drugs, and not so much use.

MAGINNIS: Yes, well, we should be concerned about that however when we incarcerate people whether in New Mexico or elsewhere we find a high incidence of drugs in their system whether or not they're alcohol or illicit drugs. And that fact we have to continue to deal with, but by making more drugs available as some people would all we are going to is feed that social problem which is already at a high level.


JOHNSON: How can you make drugs anymore available than what they're already available? You can't, you know, again, this is crazy. Arresting 1.6 million people a year 800,000 of those arrests are for marijuana, half those marijuana arrests are Hispanic, so they're terribly discriminatory. CARLSON: Governor Johnson you ask the key question: How do we make more drugs more available? And that's one of the many questions we'll bat around when we return on CROSSFIRE. We will be right back.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The debate over drugs has shifted. We all agree they're harmful, but we are still arguing about what to do about it. Is the lock 'em up drug war still worth pursuing, or is it time to decriminalize, regulate and offer better treatment for addiction?

Tonight, passionate voices from both sides of the debate: Republican Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico, and Colonel Robert Maginnis, vice president of the Family Research Council. Jake Tapper of CNN's TAKE FIVE is sitting in on the left tonight for Bill Press -- Jake.

TAPPER: Colonel Maginnis, let me tell you -- let me give you some illustrated examples -- living in Washington, D.C. -- of how seriously young people under the age of 40 take the criminalization of marijuana.

I have been at parties in Washington D.C. where the following two individuals, I have seen them first hand, smoke marijuana cigarettes: One, a Republican Southern Congressional candidate, conservative, except on that issue, except when it came to himself -- I'm sure he was running out on the campaign trail and talking about how tough the penalty should be, and two, a former employee of Barry McCaffrey's drug office.

People know -- people under the age of 40 know that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco, and when drug czars claim that it is it falls on deaf ears. Do you not see that as a truism?

MAGINNIS: Well, I see what a truism, you know, that we have some hypocrites in the Drug Czar's office as well as on Capitol Hill if they're in fact going out suggesting that these are not bad substances. There's plenty of evidence, and it's very deep, on the chronic problems associated with, you know, what happens to the brain, the lung, the liver, etcetera.

You know, what we need to take into account here are these terrible mixed messages. Last year was the sixth year in a row in which adolescents in this country said that drugs were the most pressing problem facing them. And in fact one out of four American families say that drugs are impacting their family in a serious way.

These are public policy issues that we are debating tonight, Jake, but they need to be dealt with in a serious manner and I certainly hope that the Bush Administration takes this message to heart and really begins to become aggressive.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the Bush Administration for a second, because President Bush completely evaded this question on the campaign trail, amazingly got away with it because of his rather docile press corps, but he never answered the question. Has he ever done illegal drugs? Shouldn't this be a question that politicians who are enforcing laws or are maybe interviewing individuals such as yourself to be the drug czar? Shouldn't people be forced to answer this question just to be honest about whether or not these drugs really just ruin lives willy-nilly?

MAGINNIS: Well, certainly they should talk about the ruinous nature of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

TAPPER: But personal nature?

MAGINNIS: Well, I don't know that it's necessarily germane, especially if it's many years ago. If it's recent drug use, and you're you'll of a sudden out in the forefront saying, "Bad drugs," but in the background as you describe, Jake, they're using it, I think that's terrible hypocrisy and it ought to be exposed. But having experienced drugs as some have and have and going forward and saying this is a bad experience I had when I was 15, and I'm not going to do it again, or if they send a bad message that it didn't bother me, in fact, you know, I thought it was cool to do, as Bill Clinton did in college, I think that that adds credibility to the argument that we ought to change drug policy, and that's a bad message for our kids.

CARLSON: Governor Johnson, I've heard you make the case many times that government ought to be regulating drug distribution. And I'm just wondering as a Libertarian, why would you want the government in on the drug trade? Especially when that would mix the efficiency of the D.M.V. with the squalor of drug addiction and it wouldn't do anything for anybody, as a Libertarian.

JOHNSON: If I were the dictator, and of course, I'm not the dictator...

TAPPER: Not yet.

CARLSON: Oh, go ahead, binge.


JOHNSON: ... if I were the dictator and I had to set up distribution for marijuana tomorrow it would be along the same lines as alcohol. And certainly I think you could piggyback a license on top of an alcohol distribution. Now, again, kids, I think, will tell you, alcohol is harder to come by than weed. And why? Well, alcohol is a controlled substance.

Certainly they will tell you that legal prescription drugs are impossible to come by without a prescription, and again, what we are talking about here is control, regulation, taxation...

CARLSON: What we're talking about is a huge new bureaucracy for the federal government to get involved in -- dope distribution.

JOHNSON: Is liquor, is alcohol a huge government bureaucracy? No, it's not.


CARLSON: Let's get to a specific example. Great Britain a number of years ago decided, look, we have all these heroin addicts, why don't we get into this and manage it. But in fact, you see in places like Scotland which has this, the number of heroin addicts has not dropped. Heroine addicts now can just get free heroin. Something I think you've come out in favor of.

JOHNSON: Tucker, I talked to the chief of police from Zurich, Switzerland. This was about four months ago in Albuquerque. What he said is, hey, in Zurich we came out with a heroin maintenance program. Free heroin, free heroine for a heroin addict. As a heroin addict you had to go get a prescription to get the heroin. You have to go to a clinic to ingest the heroin. This is the chief of police of Zurich talking. He said the idea was, was that they were going to reduce property crime, violent crime, HIV, hepatitis C, overdose, fewer nonviolent criminals behind bars.

He said as law enforcement I could not have been more opposed to what they were going to do in Zurich. I mean, this was 180 degrees different than what we had been doing. I along with all my friends who were also law enforcement. He said I am here to tell you today that this has surpassed anybody's wildest dreams with regard to how much better Zurich is. This is the chief of police of Zurich.

Now, Colonel if you're going say the chief of police of Zurich was lying, tell me, please, please. Was he pulling my leg? Was he not the chief of police of Zurich?

MAGINNIS: I'm sure he was, and I know who you're talking about. I've gone Switzerland every year at least once over the last six years and visited those very heroin clinics. I've talked to the government officials, the doctors, and the addicts themselves. You know, unfortunately we have found a group of addicts, about a thousand, that they've kept on heroin. Their health has not radically increased, their employment certainly hasn't changed. They're being subsidized, and you know, actually the drug use in that culture, they're looking at legalization of a whole bunch of drugs now, is just thrown to the wind. They are going increase drug use and then -- in Switzerland. Those are the facts.

JOHNSON: Why would they do that if it didn't work?

CARLSON: Jake and I are going to have to go to Switzerland and do our own fact-finding mission to find out what's happening in Zurich. We will be back in just a moment with our closing comments, get to the bottom of booze, cigarettes, and alcohol when we return.


CARLSON: Now, Jake, you made the same argument that Gary Johnson makes: this hypocrisy argument -- we tolerate cigarettes and booze, why can't we tolerate pot? It strikes me, that's an interesting argument, but it's not an argument for legalization. It's an argument about pot and cigarettes and alcohol. TAPPER: You know what argument we didn't get a chance to talk about because of such a heated debate between the two gentlemen that I wish we had is the racial disparities between how punishments for these crimes, for drug crimes, are meted out. Blacks and Hispanics are 20 percent of marijuana smokers in this country, and 58 percent of the offenders under federal law. Wow. In prison -- thrown in prison, 58 percent, three times.

CARLSON: Happily we don't judge laws that way. We decide on what laws we ought to have, and then we don't work backward from the effect.

TAPPER: No, but there are applied disproportionately in the minority communities.

CARLSON: Well, that's a question for police departments, not legislatures.

TAPPER: From the left -- at least the left of Tucker -- I'm Jake Tapper. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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