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Interview with Kevin Sabet, Ethan Nadelman

Aired May 27, 2003 - 20:41   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The maple leaf on the Canadian flag is not going to be changed to a marijuana leaf any time soon. Canada's government is looking at a major change in it's drug laws. A proposed marijuana law would decriminalized pot, eliminating criminal records for possession of small amounts of the drug. Now the U.S. is against it, staying being lead to tighter border controls and a lot of problems at the border. So, is it a good or bad move on Canada's part.
Debating the issue Kevin Sabet in Miami. He is with the White House office of national drug control policy. And here in New York Ethan Nadelman executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. Gentlemen, thanks for being with us.

Kevin, start with you, the U.S. thinking this legislation is a bad idea, why?

KEVIN SABET, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF NATL. DRUG CONTROL POLICY: We're worried because we have to remember that this isn't our parents' marijuana any more, so to speak. This is a highly addictive drug that sends more kids to treatment than all other drugs combined. We're worried about the production and trafficking across U.S. borders of this dangerous drug. And also the fact that today's marijuana is a lot more potent than the marijuana we're used to with THC levels sometimes up to 30 percent with the Canada brand. So it's very worrisome.

COOPER: Ethan is it worrisome?

ETHAN NADELMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE: It seems what Canada is doing is what the rest of the western industrialized world is doing. I mean, Switzerland and Netherlands, Germany and Denmark and England and Spain and Belgium, and now Australia, New Zealand. Everybody's moving the direction of trying to decriminalize marijuana, trying to get control over this. The one country that's out of step is the United States.

COOPER: But whether or not they're out of step, there are points being raised that it's bad for -- it's bad policy, that it's a gateway drug, that this kind of marijuana is stronger than ever before?

NADELMAN: It's not as if parents in Europe, Australia care about their kids any less than American parents do. None of want our kids going out and getting high. But what we know is that the war on marijuana, the drug war is totally failed to make drugs less avaliable.

Meanwhile, 700,000 marijuana arrests each year, millions of kids getting criminal records being deprived of access to student loans, and jobs and things like this. That doesn't help anybody.

COOPER: Kevin, go ahead.

SABET: I think we need to remember millions of people are not getting criminal records in this country for marijuana.

NADELMAN: I mean, Kevin, that's nonsense. I mean, 10 million Americans are arrested in the last 20 years.

SABET: The average amount marijuana for people in our jail is for 90 pounds.

NADELMAN: No that's also not true, maybe federal prison cases, but 100,000 people are behind bars tonight.

SABET: What's important to remember -- I think what's more important to remember is the misery that a drug addiction brings including marijuana addiction.

NADELMAN: Don't talk about the misery of jail, and prison as well.


SABET: About 62 percent of those addicted to drugs have a primary marijuana dependency. I would invite Mr. Nadelman to, you know, leave your downtown Manhattan office for a little bit and go visit the drug treatment centers that we've seen. Talk to the addicts and people that have this disease of addiction, and you'll see that for many of them, I would think 90 out of 100 them we visited, marijuana was the first drug that they tried. And we're going to treatment centers like Hay Market in Chicago.


COOPER: All right, let me move this along a little bit. Basically the Canadian legislation would stiffen penalties against people who are growing the stuff in large quantities.

Do you think that's a good idea?

NADELMAN: I don't think that's a good idea. I think that when you start stiffen the penalties, take it from seven years to 14 years, you're basicly going to push it out of hands of mom and pop organizations and into the hands of organized criminals. You're also going to see the shift by drug dealers into more dangerous drugs like methamphetamine. That's what happened in the West Coast in Hawaii, when they cracked down on marijuana in the late 80's, early 90's, it shifted towards methamphetamine. In 1980s when they cracked down on manner marijuana coming out of Colombia and Jamaica, same thing, prompt add shift towards cocaine. Most of those people in drug treatment... (CROSSTALK)

NADELMAN: Let's face it, over 50 percent.


NADELMAN: Kevin, one second. Over 50 percent of Americans between 20 and 55 have tried marijuana. Some people develop a problem with it. The vast majority do not. So that's a little silly to talk about.

COOPER: Kevin you get the final word. The final thought.

SABET: I think one of the things we have to remember is this is a much -- more harmful drug than we said. That in the 10, 15 years of research that showing that it is. We have the "Journal of American Medical Association" showing that in a study of twins, that marijuana using in twins were five times more likely to go under crack cocaine than their counterparts. We have the British -- this is just not the American science either, we have the British Lung Foundation saying 20 tobacco cigarettes equal to 4 marijuana cigarettes. More drugs is not good for any community. I think that Mr. Nadelman has to remember his agenda to legalize drugs is not something that's welcomed by the American people.

COOPER: We are going to have to leave it there. Gentleman, Ethan Nadelman, Kevin Sabet, appreciate you joining us, both.


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