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April 13th, 2009
02:04 PM ET

Kiran: The debate over the legalization of drugs

CNN's Kiran Chetry speaks to a former DEA agent and an economist on whether drugs should be legalized.
CNN's Kiran Chetry speaks to a former DEA agent and an economist on whether drugs should be legalized.

Good Monday to you,

Hope you had a wonderful Easter and/or Passover weekend. Looks like our prayers were answered! Captain Richard Phillips rescued by our brave Navy Seals. He is now safe and getting ready to be reunited with his family and loved ones. Read the story

All this week on American Morning we are taking a look at America’s drug addiction and how it's fueling the growing violence at the Mexican border. We're calling it “Drug Nation."

This morning we had a debate over legalizing hard drugs – substances like heroin and cocaine. It's a position advocated by Jeff Miron, an economist from Harvard University. Former DEA agent Bob Stutman had plenty to say about why that would be a huge mistake. Watch the debate

The two men also posted commentaries about their points of view - check them out.

We also invite you to weigh-in on the debate. Vote! Should drugs be legal in the U.S.?

Meantime, it's not just the legalization issue that is hotly debated – it's also about finding better solutions to deal with people addicted to drugs.

Should we keep locking them up, or pay for them to get intense rehabilitation? According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, there were an estimated total of 1,841,182 state and local arrests for drug abuse violations in the United States during 2007.

We spend billons each year trying to fight drugs from all angles, yet millions are still struggling with addiction. Here are some sobering numbers from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Overall costs of substance abuse in the U.S. from 1992-2002 including health and crime-related costs, as well as, losses in productivity – exceed half a trillion dollars annually.

The answers don't come easily… but we are trying to drill deeper into this issue and maybe get some of the best minds on the issue looking toward solutions.

As always, we want to hear what you think about the issue. We are covering it all week. Let us know if there's something we aren't asking that you think is important – Follow us on Twitter @kiranchetrycnn and @amFIX

Looking forward to hearing from you,


Filed under: Controversy • Drugs
soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Paul B.

    There is a misconception going on here…people hear “legalization”, and prohibitionists try to make you think that marijuana would end up on the store shelves next to the candy bars…that’s WRONG! A more accurate term here for changing the laws would be “regulation and control”. Right now, there is no control over the marijuana industry, your neighborhood pot dealer doesn’t check IDs, doesn’t check for quality or contaminants, there are no rules. “Legalization” would involve rules and regulations, import tariffs and taxes collected, and age restrictions for the legal purchase of cannabis: “No one under 21, We Card!” The smuggling of cannabis (it’s real name) would still be unlawful, since the regulations and tax laws were violated. Border controls would still be in place. Drug dogs would still have a job. What you would find is that growers (in the U.S. or abroad) who truly wanted to make it a legitimate business would stop smuggling, sign commercial contracts and start following the rules so they could run their business without fear of arrest or violence. Americans would start buying the cannabis legally in smoke shops, package (liquor) stores, or wherever the new laws provided, drying up the market for the smuggled or “moonshine” marijuana, and thus the cartels would suffer from a lack of demand. Most cannabis consuming Americans believe in the rule of law, but recognize that marijuana prohibition was brought about by misconceptions, deceit, and even perjury by the government in the 1930s. Then, we had a “war on drugs” started by a president who was trying to distract people from the fact that he was overseeing a criminal conspiracy from inside the White House. Is that the banner we want to follow down the street? Not me…

    April 16, 2009 at 1:50 am |
  2. Free 2 be Me

    Pharmacy companies, U.S. corporations (that are very much involved in the drug trade for big $$$) and the Alcohol lobbyist do NOT want marijuana to be legalized because they will lose $$$! The DEA does not support legalizing marijuana because they will lose many jobs!

    Legalize Marijuana + Tax = Green JOBS!

    Prisons are overcrowded > Release only drug related prisoners!

    TIME for the government to admit the DRUG WAR was a mistake!
    U.S. adult citizens want the right to be able to use marijuana.

    Alcohol & Tobacco are WORSE than marijuana.
    Marijuana has many healing properties. (see why pharmacy companies DON’T want marijuana legalized above).

    April 15, 2009 at 9:09 am |
  3. Escher

    Drugs can be a useful mind tool. like Carl Sagan, I study cosmology, the mind, and other subjects related to human knowledge. Because weed is a mental stimulant it does make it easier for me to think deeper into these topics. Most never learn or study HOW to think, how to channel increased mental waters (energy), which is when they become goofy or whatever. but so what? i use it for study, they use it for fun. nothing wrong with either. it's a short existence we are allowed, please don't judge mine. even religion teaches against such judgement.

    April 15, 2009 at 8:22 am |
  4. Mark

    Enough with the delusional portrayal of potsmokers as violent criminals to all those who commented against legalization. What a joke. Sounds more like an alcoholic to me.

    April 15, 2009 at 2:54 am |
  5. Mark

    To all who left comments calling any pot smoker a pothead you deserve to be called an alcoholic if you ever take even a single drink on a somewhat regular basis. All people I know who smoke cannabis are highly sucessful students and great intellegent people most of which are athletic as well. I would say I know one pothead out of my entire graduating class. A pothead is someone who smokes constantly out of boredom and thinks of nothing else but smoking. You can most certainly smoke every day and not be a pothead. Budsmokers and people who are at least somewhat intellegent know what I am trying to say. Legalize it. It being the safest, most honest, least addictive drug humans beings have ever known.

    April 15, 2009 at 2:50 am |
  6. Nancy

    It is really tiring to see all of the potheads trying to justify their habit. Do you really think kids start on the path to addiction by first trying crack or heroin? No. They go to parties with alcohol and weed readily available.
    Once they are high, it is easy to get them to try a new drug.
    Our ineffective anti-drug ads don't help, nor do programs that teach all drugs are equally dangerous. Why? Most students first try drinking, and discover the next day that they are basically okay. They equate the dangers of alcohol to the dangers of all psychoactive drugs. If we lied about alcohol, maybe heroin is okay, too. Not all alcohol users become addicted. Most heroin users do.
    (As a side note-The common fallacy that making a drug legal will somehow keep it from our kids is proven false by the fact that alcohol is legal for adults, yet that status has NOT stopped kids from getting it.)

    With all of the emphasis and money we put into higher education and degrees, why does acting stupid always prevail?

    As far as education goes: DARE's curriculum is centered on alcohol and tobacco. Who teaches kids about crack and heroin?
    As a recently retired educator, I have started a nonprofit to educate kids about hard drugs:
    Unfortunately, most school administrators are not interested in looking for new programs about problems that might alarm the community. Current standards in my state, Ohio, do not even require even basic health education in public schools.

    At what point do we start educating people about issues that really matter? Why are we stuck on stupid?

    April 14, 2009 at 1:25 pm |
  7. Will

    The whole premise that legalization of hard drugs will lead to widespread use of them was shattered by a 2007 Zogby Poll that asked 1,028 likely voters if they would use hard drugs if they were legalization. The results 99% voted no. More studies need to be done to refute the unproven claims of prohibitionists. For more details on the Zogby poll go to:

    And the DEA agent brilliant statement that drugs are illegal because they're bad was stolen from Lee Brown, the Drug Czar under Clinton. The status quo is really out of new ideas to retain this stupid policy we know as the drug war.

    April 14, 2009 at 11:40 am |
  8. kent keith

    Kiran ask Dr Gupta who is a CNN employee but is also a working doctor how much drug companys pay him for using their drugs I'm not knocking him as a Dr but this falls under my comment about ( It's hard for somone to understand somthing when their paycheck is tied to them not understanding it )from what i have seen he is a fine Dr but you know as well as i do you dont bite the hand that feeds you. for the rest of the week try to get pepole that represnt the leagle side the cost to our country and check the numbers i do my share but I don't think we can smoke that much pot .so we have to be getting some help somewhere.

    April 14, 2009 at 11:36 am |
  9. Fred Robinson

    Good Morning Kiran:

    Same to you. Hard drugs are very addictive, and not healthy in any way, shape, of form. Legalization would be a nightmare for a number of reasons. Marijuana is another issue. In the past this soft drug has proved to be a good source of medicine for various ailments. Not an addictive drug, it warrants merit.

    Perhaps Dr. Gupta may weigh in on this debate. Sanjay has not answered my question from Thursday.


    April 14, 2009 at 10:38 am |
  10. Paul

    "Drugs" should definitely never be legalized or even decriminalized.

    Marijuana on the other hand, should be legalized.

    April 14, 2009 at 9:54 am |
  11. kent keith

    Good morning Kiren. the pepole that smoke pot are every day pepole if the numbers are right (I do think they are underestimated)look around you pick 6 pepole at least 3 have smoked in the past . are they bad pepole no . I heard a cop say the other day that pepole that smoke pot are not motivated. that is a bunch of bull they are responable citizens the rate of addiction has stayed at 1.3%for almost 100 years yet we as a nation have decided that responable pepole don't count if Obama had been busted whould he be president the answer whould be NO. I want to leave you with the 2 best quotes I have heard on this subject (It is hard for somone to understand somthing when their paycheck is tied directly to them not understanding it ) and (you will never see a man smoke a joint and go home and beat his wife ) thank you and rember puff puff pass leagelization

    April 14, 2009 at 9:36 am |
  12. michael armstrong sr.

    drugs and bootleggers with all the lessons from americas past history with whiskey and moonshine we have seamingly have learned nothing if you leagalize pot then the bootleggers fade away it dosnt solve the crack cocain problem or the meth problem but it does free up resoarses to chase after the truly dangerous drugs.

    April 14, 2009 at 8:49 am |
  13. Ervin

    Ultimately, legalization and regulation is the only answer – remember, alcohol was "decriminalized" under prohibition (only sellers/producers were prosecuted). As a logical step, separation of Cannabis from hard drugs breaks the link and closes the "gateway". A Scottish "think-tank" report cites evidence from The Netherlands:
    "...studies of San Francisco, where cannabis is illegal, and the Netherlands, where it is decriminalised, showed that the idea is worth considering because it breaks the link with class A drugs. In the Netherlands, only 17 per cent of cannabis sellers were also selling drugs such as crack, cocaine and heroin, while in San Francisco it was more than 50 per cent."
    – UK: Now Experts Say Cannabis Should Be Legal

    April 14, 2009 at 8:30 am |
  14. joseph robert britton

    marijuana has been around since the beginning of time , it was Nixon that made it a illegal substance, and right now it is rated a class one drug ....worse that meth or cocaine (class 2)..we spend over 10 billion on fighting this war and are losing , target the hard drugs and tax marijuana , it will help out our economy,we can alleviate some of our prison population,and open space for those that need to be locked up ,it will cut down on some of the cartells power.. and help us lessen our dependencies to pharmaceutical medicines that are being recalled daily .The naysayers that go home and have a drink should remember how the acceptance of the legalization of alcohol was met with the same remarks and resistance and alcohol is far worse than pot . There are many studies that show the variety of healing properties that this plant has(check the studies from Cambridge and Oxford), wake up people lets not let an old fashion astigmatism keep us from reaping the benefits, of a natural herb

    April 14, 2009 at 8:28 am |
  15. Bobby

    To legalize marijuana the best way, earn extra money via taxes, and end the flow of money from the US to Mexico. All the government has to do is do the same system the drug cartels use, run the farms, monitor the transportation, and distribution of the product. With a government run marijuana distribution the farmers could grow high quality product that would stop people from buying the crap that comes from the other side of the rio grande. The government could also control the potency so that you have a solid product to sell at a resonable price. And if i remember correctly the marijuana law states you can legally sell weed in this country if you have a marijuana tax stamp, but to get one you have to take your marijuana to the government and show them to get it, there for you have already brooken the law and they get ya.

    April 14, 2009 at 7:50 am |
  16. Mike Thoni

    I can't find a reason to continue the current "3 legged stool" WAR on drugs. We lost, period – move on.
    Drugs are cash crops for these nations, and we are sinking BILLIONS into their corrupt governments – to fight the war.
    If there was a real market for the drugs, al the sudden the border control issues become easier, the gun exports are reduced, and the jail population decreases by more than (please insert the statistic).

    It just makes sense on so many levels.

    April 14, 2009 at 7:49 am |
  17. pat

    people use marijuana!
    they aren't going to stop because it illegal, people who don't will not start because it's legal. legalization will not only massively cut down on drug violence near the border, but also generate billions in tax revenue.
    the cartels can NOT sell it cheaper than domestically grown marijuana!!

    April 14, 2009 at 7:46 am |
  18. Mitchel

    Good morning Kiran, and welcome back John,
    I typed my thoughts about this drug issue previously on your website, so I don't want to repeat it. Suffice it to say, that drugs are symptomatic of larger problems within each person. They are seeking love and are hurt, or damages from bad love-whether it be from family or friends or strangers-, and so this is a way to escape pain in their spirit. Drugs are the opposite of true spirituality. We must show our kids how this steals their souls and heart, and makes them numb to all that is spiritual. Because this is the ultimate problem. Great job to your whole staff Kiran.

    April 14, 2009 at 4:41 am |
  19. Mark

    Legalize it. By the way I'm sick of seeing this issue, essentially brought about by the issue of marijuana legality, being spun into some rediculous far off debate over the legalization of all drugs comparing cannabis to heroin and cocaine in rediculous ways. Cannabis should have always been legal. The whole idea of making it a controlled substance came about by first attacing racist reasoning behind controlling it and secondly stamping the name Marijuana onto it which is actually a completely different mexican plant so that those voting would not always know they were actually outlawing one of the most useful plants on Earth. Cannabis was outlawed for business purposes and pushed towards illegality by big business names like William Randolph Hearst. For now I believe the people of this country should be focused on legalizing this plant, and in the future legalizing all psychadelics as their value to human consciousness and existance is in todays world almost never touched on.

    April 13, 2009 at 11:41 pm |
  20. Chuck

    Drugs should be legalized for adults. But it probably won't happen because the "anti-drug" industry is too strong. By that I mean all the judges, lawyers, prisons, drug agents, border guards, counselors, etc...
    The honest ones rely on our anti-drug stance for a livelihood. The crooked ones love the payoffs they receive.

    Asking a DEA agent if drugs should be legalized is as logical as asking a drug dealer if they should be legalized.

    Chuck-Galesburg, IL

    April 13, 2009 at 11:26 pm |
  21. Johnny

    Sure.. make all illegal drugs legal.. then we will have criminals on drugs all over this country, walking around your city, high on dope, breaking into your homes, robbing, stealing, killing.. getting the pic in your head? Lets all let kids be on drugs too while we are at all.. we can be called the United States of Drug Addicts..

    April 13, 2009 at 8:18 pm |
  22. Miguel


    By legalizing all drugs we will:
    – prevent street violence and eliminate most gangs, locally and internationally
    – make billions in tax revenue
    – prevent child drug use
    – prevent low-income children from viewing the drug lifestyle as a career path
    – refocus law enforcement to violent crimes(which will decrease because drug feuds will not exist)
    – And lastly but most importantly, give people the right to do whatever they want with their bodies as long as they do not violate the rights of others.

    Alaska– Marijuana use likely increased because of sheer joy! Initially after legalization(hopefully soon), many Americans will rush to buy marijuana simply because they legally can, by the pound if possible. Give it 5-10 years and the mystic of marijuana will fade away, and all that'll be left is a weed.

    I appreciate a well-rounded rational debate just like anyone else but, as a liberal, I am embarrassed for my conservative counterparts who were represented by DEA agent Bob Stutman. You would never invite an extreme like, a Nazi to a Diversity Summit, or a homophobe to a gay marriage debate. So why invite a DEA agent to a drug debate when it is obvious he'll exaggerate statements to mislead viewers? An anti-drug professor, economist, or doctor would have provided a much more objective and credible counter argument that "the one change we don't need to make is give any drug, to any person, at any age, who, who wants it for any reason." Wow Kiran, I do not have drugs, but after that statement I'm just might be curious enough to experiment a bit.

    April 13, 2009 at 6:58 pm |
  23. Deborah AKA The Vocal Citizen

    The legalization of cannabis and its derivatives is obviously the starting point, once we can encourage our elected officials to look at the facts, rather than the false assumption that they'll be crucified in the polls. Common sense and responsible research clearly indicates prohibition does not work, and we as a country are flushing tax money down the proverbial toilet to prohibit this non-fatal plant while ignoring the extremely beneficial aspects to legalization.

    Regarding harder drugs, I believe the only way to get a handle on our nation's addiction to lethal illicit drugs is to control the market, allowing the FDA to regulate the purity and potency while doctors prescribe the drugs (which creates an accounting of the nation's use). In fact, a good many of our prescription drugs are made with the same substances as heroin, cocaine, crack, and meth. The distinction lies in the combination of such drugs and under which pharmaceutical companies they are manufactured.

    Really, America, let's get some sense of what we're dealing with and finally get some control over it. Otherwise, the drug cartels will continue to applaud and thank us for not interfering in their multi-billion dollar industry.

    April 13, 2009 at 4:38 pm |
  24. Noel Anthony Haughey

    YES!!! Legalize drugs NOW! get rid of this psycho underworld operation destroying our neighborhoods and innoncent people who they prey to destroy. Take the money and guns out of their pockets and tell them to get real jobs and work like the rest of us.

    Let the legal and safe marketplaces predict and control everything that exists on earth. GOD put it here than sell it to anyone who wants it. Let individual choice be the rule with restrictions eliminating any potential harm.

    Anyone who opposes legalizing drugs is probably getting paid off by drug lords to continue this political control, profits and destroy anyone they want sadistically in this dark underworld mess and chaos.

    Legalizing drugs would probably reduce the consumption of all drugs because people would want to protect their egos, pride and reputations in the public eye watching....

    April 13, 2009 at 4:34 pm |
  25. RockyRacoon

    Stuntman is wrong, marijuana use declines with de-criminalization, as was the case in Sweden. Teen use went down to 1.6% marijuana
    and using it was considered boring by teens. ( Pot was hip in the 1970's and everybody was trying it) The more honest, the more factual, the more open information is about druga and their use, the more effective drug prevention programs are. Also, I believe a better advocate fro legalization than the economist from Harvard would be Ethan Nadelmann from the Drug Policy Institute. He has been working in this field for well over 20 years and does have all of the facts covering the entire spectrum of the various drugs and policies guiding their use. For example, marijuana is not a gateway drug, most people who try heroin do not go on to become addicts, ecstacy is not a dangerous drug. Indeed, for every myth regarding illegal drugs and their use that gets recycled every year for decades, there are probably 10 well conducted scientific studies debunking them. In the main drug addicts sans all the prohibitions would in the end present as no more than a public nescience and nothing more. And new treatments such as suboxone are making addiction treatment much more effective than the sing for your supper 12 step faith based programs. Time for an update all round.

    April 13, 2009 at 4:34 pm |
  26. Chris

    This former DEA agent claims that drug usage would increase 5-6 times as much as it is now. So if we have about 50 million people addicted to drugs this former DEA agent claims we'll have somewhere between 250-300 million people addicted to drugs in a country of...300 million. So what he claims is that the very second it's legal to use a drug every single man, woman and child in America will instantly become addicted to that drug.

    You need to legalize and tax them based on their harm to society. People who go and buy heroine should pay a tax equal to that of the harm they're doing to both their own body and society. Right now they're paying terrorists 100% of the profits and the tax payers are all footing the bill when those people get into the hospital. Education should be our number one priority but if an informed adult for whatever reason feels the need to go buy heroine we gain nothing by forcing them into the black market. In fact when people buy goods and services on the black market that's why you have this violence.

    Alcohol is far more addictive and destructive than things like Ketamine, Marijuana, Extacy, Mesceline, and Acid yet these substances are illegal while Alcohol gets taxed based on what it does to our bodies. If informed adults should be allowed to buy alcohol they should be allowed to buy any drug they want, just don't buy it from the terrorist who would love nothing more than to use that money for guns and bombs.

    April 13, 2009 at 4:00 pm |
  27. Hillman

    Dear Kiran

    The former DEA agent used the argument that we should use the funds we now spend on incarcerating drug users to treat substance abuse instead. This makes no sense at all. If we don't decriminalize drugs then the drug users will still have to be arrested and processed through the court system in order to sentence them to rehab. (This is assuming that all the drug addicts out there aren't going to voluntarily show up for it). I foresee an entire new market of prisons now with a nice, new "rehab" moniker over the front door. This is without even mentioning the civil rights view of whether the government is going to go in to the business of "fixing" people whether they want it or not.

    Also, going by my observations of my grandmother's fatal battle with alcoholism, no amount of forced rehab will have any effect on an addict. We used to have interventions and commit her to rehabs all the time – some of them were very nice and expensive resort type facilities too. Nothing ever worked – and this was from her family who cared about her and loved her. How is a court sentence to an impersonal government program going to get better results.

    April 13, 2009 at 3:56 pm |
  28. Chris Robinson

    I dont support the complete legalization of all drugs. Our nations use of Marijuana is not going to go away no matter what methods are used! Isnt it time to take a look at what does work? Maybe real education! The fight isnt just for the taxes of marijuana, it is for the fight of being able to gain useful medicines and other applications from the Hemp and marijuana plants.
    Why are we spending billions of dollars to stop the industry when we could be making billions from it?

    April 13, 2009 at 2:58 pm |
  29. Chris Robinson

    I dont support the complete legalazation of all drugs. Our nations use of Marijuana is not going to go away no matter what methods are used! Isnt it time to take a look at what does work? Maybe real education! The fight isnt just for the taxes of marijuana, it is for the fight of being able to gain useful medicines and other applications from the Hemp and marijuana plants.
    Why are we spending billions of dollars to stop the industry when we could be making billions from it?

    April 13, 2009 at 2:58 pm |