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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Race Against Flood Disaster; Obama Making A Turn to the Right?; The Debate Over Legalizing Marijuana
Aired March 27, 2009 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TAVIS SMILEY, GUEST HOST: Tonight, breaking news -- floodwaters and a sense of doom are rising.
Can Fargo be saved?
Then, a chilling new warning about America's enemies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that Al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from a safe haven in Pakistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMILEY: The president takes action and has some asking this -- is he taking a turn to the right?
Plus, will Obama make history and push to make marijuana use legal?
Not if opponents can help it. Marijuana -- the debate with Montel Williams, Stephen Baldwin and others next on LARRY KING LIVE.
I'm Tavis Smiley sitting in for Larry tonight.
First up, breaking news on the flooding that threatens all of Fargo, North Dakota.
CNN's Ted Rowlands has the latest.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Tavis, good evening to you.
You see the Red River behind us. It is continuing to rise, but at a much slower pace than it had been earlier this week. It has settled down, in part, the officials say, because of the extremely cold temperatures here. Basically, none of the recent snow has melted, leaving a little bit of relief.
However, it has not crested. And the big question is how high will it get. The number, the target, 43. If it's under 43, local officials are very confident that the dikes in place here will hold. Anything over 43 inches -- or feet -- could spell big problems for Fargo and the surrounding areas. Basically, tonight what is happening is the National Guard, along with some active military folks, are going around and checking the dikes at two hour intervals. It's a windy river that goes through the town. And basically what they're doing is making sure there are no compromises in the system here. Any sign of it, they'll get people out who are in harm's way and they'll get to working on it.
But the good news is the sandbag -- the incredible effort that we see have seen played out over the last few days -- the sandbagging effort has netted so many sandbags, that they've halted that for now. They have enough. And now it is just a waiting game to see how high this river will go. A lot of people are not going to get much sleep here in Fargo over the next few days, waiting and seeing how high this thing goes.
SMILEY: We've been hearing all day, Ted, about these evacuations.
Can you give me an update on who's been evacuated so far and whether or not all the persons who's are in harm's way, as we speak, at least, all right out of harm's way?
ROWLANDS: Absolutely. There are certain pockets that have come under a mandatory evacuation. And most of those people have left. They've taken their belongings and have left. Some of them have decided to stay behind. A lot of times one member of the family will stay behind and basically sump pump any water that's coming into a house.
But there are plans in place to get everybody out in a matter of -- a quick matter of time if need be, if there's a break in the system here.
At this point, though, there hasn't been any major breaches. There was one earlier today. It didn't cause a lot of problems. And the feeling is if the water level can stay underneath that 43-foot level, they'll be fine. They're real confident in the integrity of the system here -- the dike system. But it's a matter of crossing their fingers and hoping that level doesn't get any -- anywhere over, because if it does, there could be huge problems, a lot of property lost and it could potentially put lives in danger.
SMILEY: One last quick question, Ted.
What's your sense, at least, on what the mood is there?
I'm trying to figure out whether or not people are feeling more of a sense of fear given what's about to happen, do you believe, or whether or not they're resigned to the fact that the worst is going to happen and they're -- they already know they're just going to get through it one way or the other?
ROWLANDS: No. You know, it's incredible the people here. On one end, they're volunteering and the attitude that they have is just amazing to watch, their worth ethic, etc.
But you talk to them, there is a sense of anxiety -- of not knowing. And then imagine having your house -- and a lot of these folks have lived here all their lives -- possibly in harm's way, but not knowing for sure.
So like I said earlier, I don't know that anybody is going to sleep very well tonight or over the next few nights because of that unknowing.
However, boy, they sure do come together, these folks. And they're proven -- proven it thus far. And no matter what happens, one thing is for sure, this community will work together to help people that may be in harm's way.
SMILEY: We've been watching Ted Rowlands all day cover this story for CNN. Ted, thanks for your insight tonight.
SMILEY: I appreciate having you there to start the program.
We're now joined by North Dakota Governor John Hoeven.
Governor, nice to have you on the program.
GOV. JOHN HOEVEN (R), NORTH DAKOTA: Good evening.
Let me start by asking you what is, in fact, the plan if and when this river crests, sir?
HOEVEN: Well, for starters, Tavis, I think your reporter had it right. North Dakotans have come together in a big, big way -- not only local officials, state officials -- and with help from the federal officials. But our own volunteers are doing a magnificent job building this flood protection. And we want to say thank you to them.
And there's a sense of perseverance and resolve and determination. And the people here in Fargo and Cass County and North Dakota and our friends in Minnesota are doing a fantastic job. And we appreciate it tremendously.
We also have -- in addition to building the flood protection, we also have contingency plans in place to move people. And, in fact, we already have moved people -- some of our vulnerable population, for example, the nursing homes, hospitals, the housing authority -- you know, a number of areas where we have moved people out -- and in some of the neighborhoods.
But at the same time, we have our Guardsmen in here monitoring dikes. Something over 1,700 Guardsmen are out there now, manning the dikes and working with our citizens to make sure that we're doing all we can to protect the community battle this flood.
SMILEY: What's the worst case scenario, Governor?
And, more importantly, are you prepared, whatever you think that worst case scenario is? HOEVEN: Well, right now, the elevation, as I say, is about 40.8 feet. The National Weather Service has revised the crest forecast up a number of times. They're now saying it could be in excess of 42 feet. We're watching that very, very closely. Our flood protection is built to about 43 feet.
The other thing, of course, is sustaining the flood protection over time. This isn't a one day crest. This goes on for a number of days. And that's why we're working very hard not only to build the flood protection, but monitor it carefully and make sure that we continue to maintain it.
But at the same time, we have buses and other equipment staged just west of town. We have a staging area for people, which is the Red River Valley Fairgrounds. So that we are moving people out that want to be moved out. There are some neighborhoods that have been evacuated. And we'll continue to make sure that we have all those things taken care of, as well.
But I don't want to take away from the tremendous effort of our people in this flood fight. They are -- they're remarkable.
SMILEY: One more quick question before I let you go. We've -- we've been hearing, of course, that the U.S. government has sent -- the Pentagon, specifically, has sent helicopters and troops your way to help with whatever might happen -- we pray God not -- there in North Dakota.
I guess the question is whether or not you've talked to the president and whether or not you feel that, at this point, that whatever help you need from the federal government, you already have those assurances?
HOEVEN: I spoke with the president this morning. And I've spoken with the secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, who served, of course, as governor of Arizona. I've known her for years. And they have sent resources out here. And we appreciate it very much.
SMILEY: Governor, nice to have you on the program.
We're praying for the best for you and your residents there in the state.
Thanks for coming on.
We appreciate your time.
HOEVEN: Thank you.
SMILEY: I now want to go to a Fargo resident, John Elsbernd, with us now. His home was destroyed in the 1997 flood. Now the house that replaced it is threatened.
Mr. Elsbernd, tell me, first of all, where you are now and what your sense is of what might happen to your property as we talk tonight. JOHN ELSBERND, HOME THREATENED BY FLOOD: Well, we're anxious, like most are, with the flood predictions we're hearing. But our neighborhood is holding up strong. I think we've rebuilt stronger than -- than we had before. And, you know, as the governor had said, you know, it's the people. It's all about the people. This community is tremendous. We've had volunteers every time we've asked for them. And it's -- it's an unbelievable testament to the human spirit.
SMILEY: Let me ask you right quick how you personally compare what you endured in '97, emotionally, with what you're feeling tonight, on the eve of this potential flood?
ELSBERND: Well, obviously, there's -- there's anxiety. Myself, my wife -- probably my wife more so than me, only because all of the -- all of our neighbors are out in the neighborhood fighting the flood -- throwing sandbags. You know, we capped our dikes off yesterday.
So from this point until -- until the river goes down below probably 35 feet, we'll be a little anxious. And we run into little burps and issues once in a while that, you know, you've got to get a bunch of people together and go take care of a leak in a dike or whatever it happens to be at the time so...
SMILEY: Well, our prayers and best wishes...
SMILEY: I think I -- I didn't mean to step on your...
ELSBERND: ...and we really appreciate that.
SMILEY: No. I was about to say our prayers and best wishes are with you...
ELSBERND: Oh, no problem.
SMILEY: ...and all of the persons there in North Dakota.
Glad to have you on the program.
Garry Shandling, Arianna Huffington and David Frum are next.
There's a lot of stuff to talk about in the news.
Don't go away.
SMILEY: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE.
We're talking politics now, recapping the week that was.
Joining us, writer, producer, comedian, just all around good guy, Garry Shandling.
Founder of The Huffington Post -- speaking of nice people -- Arianna Huffington.
And David Frum, editor of NewMajority.com, a new Web site billing itself as building a conservatism that can win again. I'll ask David a little bit later whether or not that's possible.
There was yet another sweeping plan of action today from President Obama, this one involving what he calls a comprehensive strategy for countering Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal -- to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same -- we will defeat you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMILEY: Garry, good strategy, bad strategy?
GARRY SHANDLING, COMEDIAN, WRITER, PRODUCER, ACTOR: I have a couple notes.
SMILEY: I figured you might.
SHANDLING: I mean, it seems like it's everything he said during the campaign. He said if I have to go into Pakistan to get Osama bin Laden or get those Taliban out of Pakistan, I'm going to go there. And I find this one phrase hilarious, that was used today, which is they thought the government -- the Afghan government -- could probably control, ultimately, what they called the local Taliban, which seems -- it's the tourist Taliban that are causing the trouble, the ones that are always the trouble, the tourists that are coming in from Pakistan with the louder clothes and the bigger weapons and causing trouble?
And he's always said he's got to go in there. There was a Republican saying earlier today whoa, why are we sending troops into Afghanistan when the trouble is in Pakistan.
I think that's pretty obvious.
SMILEY: It's not surprising. Yes.
Arianna, as you well know -- we all know for that matter, and Garry points this out, when President Obama was campaigning as Candidate Obama, there were a lot of people whose hopes and expectations were riding on the fact that when he got in, he would have a different strategy.
Where Afghanistan is concerned, already announced weeks ago, 17,000 additional troops. Now we know 4,000 more troops.
What about those persons voted for him thinking that his strategy might be a bit different?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Well, as you know, Tavis the strategy that has failed has been the Bush strategy that basically allowed Afghanistan to deteriorate. Now, I think what Obama is pursuing is going to be another failed strategy, because the safe havens of Al Qaeda, as intelligence estimates have told us again and again, are in Pakistan -- on the borders of Pakistan with Afghanistan.
And going after the Taliban is not going to help us go after Al Qaeda, which is where our real national security goal should be Pakistan.
SMILEY: David, I've got about 45 seconds here. We'll come back to you in just a second after the break.
But your initial thoughts on the strategy announced by President Obama?
DAVID FRUM, EDITOR, NEWMAJORITY.COM: Well, he's walking away from the strategy that he announced during the campaign. He's de- emphasizing making Afghanistan a success. He's becoming more pessimistic about that. And although he's sending more troop there, they're not nearly enough to achieve that bigger goal. He's reducing the goal.
And the question is can you achieve any goal if you don't achieve the big goal?
SHANDLING: I think it's hilarious that we're seven years later finally getting back to the original point, as though we had forgotten...
SHANDLING: ...which is oh, that's right, they came from Pakistan. And we went into -- I mean from Afghanistan and we went into Afghanistan to clean out those bases. And for this many years, we've been distracted by Iraq. Hello. So I mean he's got to take care of Afghanistan.
SMILEY: Well, that's all right.
SMILEY: We'll talk about more with Garry and Arianna and David on this and other issues.
We're back in 60 seconds, so not long.
We'll be right back.
SMILEY: We're back.
Will Afghanistan be Obama's Vietnam?
That's the question on Larry's blog tonight. Your opinions always welcome at CNN.com/larryking. And while you're blogging and letting us know what you feel about that question, we continue with our conversation here.
David, I short-changed you before the break so I'll come to you first.
What about -- what about the question on Larry's blog tonight, whether or not Afghanistan would, in fact, be Obama's Vietnam?
Is that too provocative?
FRUM: No, I -- I think that's a really good worry, actually, because what happened in Vietnam was that successive presidents put in just enough investment not to fail. They -- it wasn't valuable enough, important enough to the United States to put in the massive resources that would have been necessary to succeed. Everybody tried not to fail. And they then just postponed the problem until eventually it did fail.
Garry mentioned before the break, the United States has been there for a long time. The United States has been very hesitant to make a big investment in Afghanistan because it's just so hard.
I was there in September and October of this year for an extended visit. And the people you talk to there all say this is the hardest thing the international community has ever done.
This is a country with an illiteracy rate of over 80 percent. For women, the illiteracy rate is over 90 percent. The generals in the army can't read. There's massive corruption. There's huge drug trafficking. And even -- and when you talk to people and say, well, what would success look like, they say, well, success means we look like Tajikistan. That would be a good outcome.
And so I think President Obama will be reluctant to -- understandably -- to put the investment in to make it a success.
But what is it if you don't get a success?
It's a failure.
SMILEY: We've got to break again here right quick.
Much more to talk about with Garry, Arianna and David.
Stay with us.
LARRY KING LIVE continues in just a moment.
SMILEY: We're back on LARRY KING LIVE.
I'm Tavis Smiley sitting in for Larry tonight.
Arianna, before the break, we were talking about Larry's blog question tonight -- whether or not Afghanistan will be President Obama's Vietnam.
Too much hyperbole or a serious conversation ought to be had around that question?
HUFFINGTON: No. I think it's a legitimate question. And that's why it's imperative that we are very clear about what our goal is there. Our goal cannot continue to be trying to remake Afghanistan. We cannot do that with military force. And it's absolutely imperative, also, to make it clear that our presence there -- and now the escalation of our military forces there -- has radicalized the region even more, has made us really facing deeper dangers as a result.
Our goal has to be, what can be done with Al Qaeda and remembering that the key here is Pakistan and not Afghanistan.
And can we negotiate with certain elements of the Taliban, the way we did in Iraq with certain terrorist elements we thought we would never negotiate with so that we can actually help rebuild civil society in Afghanistan?
These goals were not clear in what the president said.
The only promising thing is that he said there will be benchmarks and clear metrics.
SMILEY: Before I move to money matters, Garry, how much leeway are you prepared to give the president on this issue of Afghanistan?
How much leeway do you think the American public are prepared to give the president on Afghanistan?
SHANDLING: Well, we haven't been willing to give him 100 days yet. So I'm no military authority, nor have I heard anyone talk specifically other than this we seem to be able to control the local Taliban, as I say.
So whatever this other element is, it seems that what they're focused on taking -- taking care of. And I think he's -- he's probably playing tough the way he said during the campaign. He said -- I remember the question he was asked. And he said I'm going to go in there and get them if they're not going to go and get them. That's it.
SMILEY: So we haven't given -- he doesn't have 100 days yet, to your point. And we'll see how much leeway the American public gives him on this.
Let's shift and talk about money matters.
He still hasn't had 100 days yet. Assess him on that.
SHANDLING: I don't think anybody has an answer to this money problem.
SHANDLING: I don't -- I don't know where to begin on this. I mean, you know, you know how I feel, that we have an addictive culture. It's gotten out of control. The whole financial system is old school. That's going to take some time. And anybody who thinks, hey, there's got to be a quick fix, is going to panic.
And those are the people who are panicking. Then you watch CNN, you see the stories from Mexico and you realize everyone is doing drugs.
SHANDLING: Where is -- where is anyone confused?
I mean there is no -- there's no answer to this -- this financial circumstance right now. That is the answer. So people should not be confused. There's -- they're going to have to try some things. I haven't heard anybody with an answer. I saw that 19-page report today held up by the Republican Party saying this is our budget.
SMILEY: Oh, yes.
With all due respect, to Garry Shandling, Arianna, I don't think that the America public is going to buy -- going to buy Garry's comment that there is no answer right now.
I think I saw in your blog the other day that you think Geithner is the wrong guy right now?
HUFFINGTON: Yes. I think there are many, many answers. And -- and the problem at the moment that the president and his economic team are giving the wrong answers when it comes to the bank bailout and the right answers when it comes to the stimulus bill and the budget.
And I'm afraid that because of the wrong answers when it comes to the bank bailout, which basically means going back, trying to keep throwing tens of billions of dollars -- hundreds of billions of dollars to institutions that have failed, may mean that it's going to be harder for the president to pass his budget, which is essential for our recovery.
And the most troubling thing, Tavis, has been that we are hearing now that they want to change basic accounting rules like mark to market, which means that the banks will be able to assess the paper they're holding at whatever price they want, which is back to all the kind of gimmicks -- all the kind of opaque accounting rules that got us to the point where we are now.
SMILEY: David, I've got to break here.
When we come back, I want to ask you, though, what, in fact, is the Republican plan. Garry mentioned a moment ago that 19-page report that was held up. But it seems to me that this is a moment for the Republicans to step up if they don't like what he's doing, the president, that is, and say we have a better way.
And we'll ask David Frum that and continue our roundtable on the issues and the news this week with Garry and Arianna and David on LARRY KING LIVE.
Stay with us.
SMILEY: We're back on LARRY KING LIVE.
David Frum, I was asking you before the break whether or not this isn't a golden moment -- a wonderful opportunity for the Republican Party, if they had a leader, if they had a plan, wouldn't now likely be the operative time -- a propitious moment to step up and say that?
FRUM: I wouldn't describe it as golden moment. But I would describe it as an iron moment. That is, it's no fun for anybody, but it's a moment of binding necessity for Republicans.
They -- Republicans rightly oppose the president's plans, especially the stimulus plan. The bank plan is a necessary evil. The stimulus plan is an unnecessary and counter-productive evil. But Republicans have to have answers to the questions of what they would do instead.
And the plans so far have been way too before the break, we . They should be banging away at two points. One, on stimulus, the -- we're at the limit of what monetary policy can do, cutting interest rates. Fiscal stimulus, spending money is needed but we shouldn't be spending money on these wasteful programs that take three years to go into effect. And we should have had a payroll tax holiday in effect last month. And that's what Republicans would have done -- suspend collection of the payroll tax for a year.
On the bank bailout, I think Republicans should be pressing an idea advanced first by Larry Lindsey, the former economic adviser to President Bush, former governor of the Federal Reserve, that this would cost less than the actual bailout we're going to do, that there should be a federally offered refinance to every homeowner in America -- the good ones, as well as the bad ones, the ones who are paying, as well as the ones who are not -- a 30-year fixed mortgage, 4.5 percent for anyone who wants one, on condition that you make that loan something you can't walk away from -- not something you refinance, that you accept that you're going to be paying -- you or the next owner of the house will pay it for the next 30 years. And that's how we are going to discharge these debts.
That would give an immediate relief to homeowners, but it would reassure the markets that America's debts are going to be paid...
SMILEY: President Obama...
FRUM: ...simple, clear, powerful ideas.
SMILEY: President Obama yesterday, speak of the president, also, as we all know by now, held an online town hall meeting yesterday. He noted the Internet community had a high interest in having him answer a question on legalizing marijuana to help the economy. So he addressed it.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When can we expect the jobs that have been outsourced to other countries to come back and be made available to the unemployed workers here in the United States?
OBAMA: Not all of these jobs are going to come back. And it probably wouldn't be good for our economy for a bunch of these jobs to come back, because, frankly, there's no --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMILEY: That was during the town hall meeting, Gary, when he talked about marijuana question. We didn't get to that in that particular clip. I want to ask you about it, because we're going to debate this later in the show with Stephen Baldwin and Montel Williams, your stance though on whether or not the time is right to have a conversation about legalizing?
SMILEY: I'm going to explain that later. What about the conversation?
SHANDLING: Isn't it a conversation that we don't want to legalize -- that the president -- don't legalize marijuana in order to stimulate -- it's not an economy stimulator?
SMILEY: It's not.
SHANDLING: I'll oppose it on the economic level, first, which is, as far as I know, it's going to make the economy more sluggish, sit on the couch and eat Doritos. It's pretty common sense. I think some of this stuff is more common sense. I'm still not hearing answers. I watch CNN a lot. I like to watch people talk about all these issues that I'm sitting here now talking about, except I'm not pretending to have the answers. I can't believe how freely people are willing to --
SMILEY: That's the point you made earlier, though, that we don't know what the answer is, and that's OK. As long as we're trying to figure out -- SHANDLING: So everyone's trying to jump on this and we're trying to make it a story. And I know we're in trouble and I was watching that flood, thinking, my god, it's close to biblical prophesy. It feels like things are pretty dark, taking a bad turn. And I'm thinking, what does it say in the Bible. How far does the stock market have to go down before -- before Jesus comes back and says, I warned you!
SMILEY: I've got 30 seconds, Arianna. Let me ask -- I've been anxious to ask you this question specifically, whether or not a president can be over-exposed. President Obama, whether it's Leno, whether it's CNN, whether it's "Face the Nation," whether it's this town hall meeting online -- can a president be over-exposed?
HUFFINGTON: Tavis, I think this is a non-issue. No, I don't think he can be over-exposed. I think he should go on any television show, do online chats, give press conference, all that is good. But I do want to answer that question about our failed drug war, because it is a very important criminal justice question. It's not a question about our economy.
And with what's happening in Mexico, with what's happening on our border there, this is clearly a moment, as senator Jim Webb said, to rethink our failed drug war, which has been a war on minorities. And I was hoping that the president would actually dare to take this on, because it has become the third rail of American politics.
SMILEY: Let me thank Arianna Huffington, David Frum, and Gary Shandling for a spirited conversation tonight about the issues of the week.
Is the debate over medical marijuana almost over or just getting started? On this show, just getting started. More on it in a moment on LARRY KING LIVE after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Federal agents with guns raided Lynch's business and home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seconds later, Charles heard banging at his front door.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said, search warrant! Open up! Search warrant!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Deputies carried boxes of evidence out of the dispensary around 2:30 this afternoon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Federal authorities seized 30 pounds of marijuana.
(END VIDEO CLIP) SMILEY: Marijuana was in the news this week, big-time. And Charlie Lynch was in the thick of it. He's emerged as a key figure in the national debate over medical marijuana. Charlie was convicted on federal charges in connection with his operation of a medical marijuana dispensary. His sentencing this week was postponed. Charlie Lynch and his attorneys, Reuven Cohen and John Littrell, are with us tonight to tell us about what happened, or what didn't happen this week, why it was postponed, and what it all means.
Glad to have you gentleman here. Charlie, let me start with you. What were you expecting to happen this week that obviously got postponed.
CHARLIE LYNCH, CONVICTED FOR DISPENSING MARIJUANA: I thought I was going to be sentenced to jail time, probably in the area of five years or more. And when the judge decided he wanted more information about the new policy, everybody's really surprised by his decision to find out more information about the new policy.
SMILEY: Ruben, from a legal standpoint, what happened this week?
REUVEN COHEN, LYNCH'S ATTORNEY: What happened was that Judge Wu asked for the local prosecutors to go back to main justice in D.C. and get some sort of clarification on what Attorney General Holder has been saying over the course of the past three, four weeks. It's a matter of some debate. What we've been hearing from the attorney general is that somehow now, in order to be prosecuted under the Holder administration -- the Obama administration, you need to have both violated federal and state law, which is a sea change, a landmark change from what has really been the status quo under the Bush administration.
SMILEY: Of a zero tolerance policy.
COHEN: Of a zero tolerance policy. At our trial, the federal government, after millions of dollars, was able to prove that Charlie was dispensing marijuana from his marijuana dispensary. He had done that in complete compliance with state law. He had the mayor on his side. He had the local police department often coming in for coffee, the city attorneys.
What the government does in all of these cases, or used to do, and now I think won't do anymore, is move to keep people like Charlie and lawyers like us from talking about compliance with state law. They used to try really hard. And they tried quite hard in our case to keep us from bringing that to the forefront, because no jury really wants to convict someone like Charlie Lynch for doing what is legal here in California.
SMILEY: But what does this mean, though, John, for the conversation that we have been having in America for some time now about medical marijuana? This change from the Obama administration -- from the Bush administration, rather, to the Obama administration, which, again, your colleague seems to suggest may change how they prosecute or don't prosecute these cases. What does this postponement mean for medical marijuana and the conversation about it in this country?
JOHN LITTRELL, LYNCH'S ATTORNEY: Well, we're going to find out, in terms of what it means for Charlie Lynch. But I think this is a change that everyone has seen coming for a long time. I think that politicians are coming to their senses. I think that, with this administration, we're going to start to see some practical approaches to medical marijuana. I think what that's ultimately going to mean is legalizing it, making it available to patients who need it. I think that the administration is not going to be interested anymore in directing resources to prosecuting people like Charlie Lynch, when we have real, harmful drugs and the violence associated with that order.
SMILEY: Charlie, obviously the case got postponed this week. Give me your sense now of how you feel about medical marijuana, your role in it. Do you feel apologetic? Would you still do it if you could? Give me a sense of how you feel?
LYNCH: I kind of feel like the federal government has been waging a civil war against the people of the state of California. And I'm hoping that the Obama administration is going to end that civil war and stop the prosecution, stop the raids, pull our brothers and sisters out of prison, and also not send me as a prisoner of this war to jail.
SMILEY: If you end up not having to go to jail, and you, through whatever means -- this case, rather, gets kicked out, you ready to go back into business again? You look forward to doing that again? Have you learned something from this that you don't want to do this anymore?
LYNCH: I felt like I was abiding by the California state laws. And if I was able to reopen the dispensary with the blessing of the city, like I had before, and I knew the federal government was not going to interfere with our constitutional and god-given rights, I would definitely seriously consider opening a dispensary again. But I've got this other challenge ahead of me, you know, a jail thing still.
SMILEY: That's an understatement. I'm glad to have you on. Charlie, Reuven and John, thanks for coming on the program.
I should mention, before we go to break, this program, LARRY KING LIVE, reached out to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Mr. Holder, for a comment on Mr. Lynch's situation. A spokesperson declined, citing Justice Department's policy of not commenting on pending cases.
We've got more here. We'll check back on the situation in Fargo in 60 seconds. And then, don't forget, Stephen Baldwin and Montel Williams go at it about marijuana use. Don't go away.
SMILEY: The debate over medical marijuana is an emotional one. With us tonight, representing the pro-side of this conversation, Montel Williams, host of "Montel Across America," debuting April 6th on Air America. He has, as many of us know, MS, and has very strong feelings about those in pain being allowed to access and use the drug. He wrote the book "Living Well Emotionally."
Stephen Baldwin, on the other side, so to speak, is an actor, talk radio host, and author. He opposes the legalization of marijuana. Montel, Stephen, glad to have you both on the program.
SMILEY: Montel, let me start with you. Very simply and very directly, why?
MONTEL WILLIAMS, TALK SHOW HOST: You know, I want to make sure that we get this characterized exactly right. I have never been a proponent of legalizing marijuana. I have been a proponent of making sure that a doctor who is trained and a specialist who understands how to prescribe medication, if that doctor chooses to prescribe medication for his patient, and that patient happens to be me, and he can put me on a morphine drip and he also says, I also recommend this medication, then he should be able to do so. And the state should allow him to prescribe this, and I should be able to get it.
But here's what's so odd about this, we talk about this topic, we don't ever talk about it from a place of truth. We always start with a lot of rumors and falsehoods. But the truth is, on May 10th of this year, the federal government celebrated the 30th anniversary of a program, Tavis, that was started under the first Bush administration, where the United States government has been dispensing marijuana every single month for 30 years to 25 people across the United States. Unfortunately, in the last five to six years, it's now down to five people because the other people have passed away.
Our government grows it. It certifies it. It puts a USDA stamp on it. And every single month, our government sends that medication out to five people across the United States. You can check this yourself. As a matter of fact, it was called the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program. It started 30 years ago May 10th. Every single month, through a program at the University of Mississippi, we the federal government and your taxpayer dollars goes to a program to grow marijuana and dispense it.
Our country dispenses marijuana to patients who are ill. But, unfortunately, that program got cut off to just now five people. I ask you this question and I ask this of Stephen: I'm not trying to legalize marijuana, I'm just trying to say, here's a government that's supposed to do no harm, a government that's supposed to be compassionate to all its citizens; what right does this government have to say that we're going to give medication to five people and let them be pain free, and for all the rest of you, you go to hell, we're not going to help you, the program's closed? That's not appropriate in America today. SMILEY: I got a break in 30 seconds. I don't want to cut you off. I'll come right to you and let you respond to the question that Montel Williams poses. We'll take a break. I don't want to cut you off. We'll take a break and come back and I'll come right to you and let you respond to the question that Montel Williams' poses. Montel, thanks or doing my job on LARRY KING LIVE. We'll take a break and hear Stephen Baldwin's response in just a moment.
SMILEY: It's the marijuana debate, featuring Montel Williams and Stephen Baldwin. We heard Montel's point of view before the break. Mr. Baldwin, the floor or the microphone is yours, sir.
STEPHEN BALDWIN, ACTOR: Thank you very much, Tavis. It's great to be here. First of all, this isn't even a debate between Montel and I. We got crazy love for one another. I have a lot of respect for him as well.
I can't speak for the government, Montel, but I do want to say this: it's obvious, America wants its marijuana. This is a fascinating topic now. But my question is, how do we control it? Obviously, there's a movement that's coming. It's beyond just the legalization of it medically, Montel. And that's the problem that I have.
Let me finish -- please, like Jack Cafferty said earlier on this network, he's sober 20 years and he doesn't want his kids to do what he did, which is what all kids do, drink and smoke a joint. You have to understand, alcohol in this country can only profit the government in taxation, a maximum annually of 25 billion a year. But the negative cause and effect is over 150 billion. How are we going to prevent that if this ball starts rolling.
WILLIAMS: Stephen, I will agree with you on all those premises. I've got to tell you something, your tax dollars have paid for 30 years for the United States government to dispense this drug through pharmacies around the country. They're already doing it. It's not like we have to invent something new. It's been done and controlled. No one's stolen one can in 30 years.
BALDWIN: I don't know about all that.
WILLIAMS: Also, 13 states in this country right now -- the state of California has medicinal marijuana centers across the state, where they have -- they give them licenses and they license people to do it. Here's part of the problem, Tavis, I've got to tell you. All you have to do is ask some smart people. And I believe I'm one of them. I will go down and show you how we can open up dispensaries, how the government can control this and contain it, because, look, I don't want it in the hands of my children either. Stephen, you just said it yourself.
Look, if my daughter and your daughter are laying on gurney in a hospital right now and they're both ill, they're both hurting. And the federal government walks in and says Montel, here, your child can take this to feel better, I'm sorry, Stephen, the heck with your daughter, you would revolt. America should revolt now.
SMILEY: Montel, it seems to me -- I'm not arguing a point, I'm just asking a question. It seems to me that if you take the government out of it -- and so many of us believe the government is too involved in our lives, in too many respects and aspects in the first place -- why control it request when government can just legalize it. Or put it another way, why not just decriminalize it?
WILLIAMS: Here's the thing, there are people smarter minds than me that know the answer how we continue it even if we make it a commercial industry. I'm not against that. If that's what's going to help a doctor give me medication, I'm sorry, I've got to beg for things that make my life better. The bottom line is, right this minute, we have a two-tiered system for 30 years.
It's not like this was yesterday. Ladies and gentlemen, you need to listen up and do the research yourself. For 30 years, our government sends out marijuana. Is this not an egregious offense, the same government that locks up a child or someone with a joint in their pocket, is actually a drug dealer. They are dispensing it every single month.
SMILEY: What about that distinction between legalizing and decriminalizing? What about the latter?
BALDWIN: I disagree with the latter as well. You're talking to a guy 20 years sober, Tavis, off of drugs and alcohol. I know the affects of marijuana firsthand. I can tell you right now, if this starts to become something that is more readily available to our youth, the ramifications and repercussions of that in the next 30 years will be beyond our comprehension.
SMILEY: Do you buy the argument that marijuana leads to harder stuff?
BALDWIN: That's a fact.
BALDWIN: Last time I was on the show with Ron Paul, you wouldn't believe the e-mails I got, people are going to kill me, shoot me, all kinds of stuff. America wants it's marijuana, man, I get it. But I am just worried -- I am more concerned for the future and the youth of America. And this drug, which is a very dangerous drug -- it's not a casual thing. It's very dangerous -- is negatively effecting our youth.
MONTEL: Steve, let me just say, 30 seconds, right now, London, Canada, there's a product that's on the marketplace in London right now. It's called Sabotex (ph). It's made from marijuana. We have outlawed even the research around marijuana in America, unless the federal government themselves does it.
Here's the problem, right now, why don't we have an honest discussion about this? If we need to take the government out of it, do so. We could approach the pharmaceutical industry. There's money being made overseas with products that are derivatives of marijuana. What I'm trying to say to you, please, don't throw out the baby with the bath water. There are some of us who need the medication and we should have a right to it.
BALDWIN: Maybe you and I should get together and create some kind of conference about this.
WILLIAMS: I am ready. Not only am I ready for a conference, I can show you how to do it.
SMILEY: I'll show up and moderate it, how about that.
BALDWIN: Do it.
WILLIAMS: Love it, Tavis. Thank you.
SMILEY: Steven, nice to have you on. Stephen Baldwin. Montel Williams, nice to have you on as well.
WILLIAMS: Good to see you, Stephen, my friend.
BALDWIN: God bless.
SMILEY: Larry King back in his chair, as he should be, on Monday night. Larry, thanks for letting me sit in tonight. CNN continues it's coverage of the drug violence in Mexico. Time now for Anderson Cooper, on the border tonight with "AC 360" on the war next door.