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Legalize Marijuana?

Aired January 3, 2014 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, Colorado experiments with marijuana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leave the weed smokers alone. Weed has never killed nobody.

ANNOUNCER: As of this week, buying and selling pot is OK in Colorado. Should the rest of the country get in line?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we are setting an example for other states.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Van Jones. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Allen St. Pierre, who's leading the national fight for legalization. And former congressman Patrick Kennedy, who's against it. Should marijuana be legal nationwide? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Newt Gingrich on the right.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: And I'm Van Jones on the left. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got two leaders in the fight for and against legalizing pot. Now, this week, thousands of people in Colorado stood in line to buy legal pot.

Here's where I stand. I hate drug use and drug abuse. I've seen the harm that it's done to good people and families and neighborhoods. But I hate the drug war even more. It wastes money; it ruins lives. And the numbers now show that it unfairly targets people of color and the poor.

This is one case where the solution is actually worse than the disease itself. So at this point I support marijuana decriminalization, but I also want to regulate it, and tax it and discourage its use. I don't want my kids or yours using drugs. I just don't want anybody's kids going to prison if they do.

GINGRICH: Well, to start with, I think we can agree that the war on drugs does not work, and it's ruined a lot of lives. But we also know from the 1890s that a totally unregulated use of drugs leads to devastating results, which is where part of where the Food and Drug Act came from. So I think tonight's discussion will be very important and very interesting.

We have two terrific guests tonight. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, former Democratic congressman and, I must say, personal friend, Patrick Kennedy, who's an advocate for brain research; and Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Let me start, Patrick, with you. You've had personal experience and been open with the country about it. You've had difficulties with this at times. You've also become a real leader in brain research, and have done amazing work at Brown University and elsewhere. From your perspective, all these people standing in line in Colorado are doing something wrong and dangerous. Could you explain to them why you're concerned or why you think they should be concerned with what they're doing?

PATRICK KENNEDY, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: Well, it is helpful to know where I'm coming from. I'm a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. And I'm blessed in being in recovery today. It wasn't always that way. I'd have periods of addiction. I have a chronic illness I have to fight every single day.

I also had the honor, working with you, Mr. Speaker, and the legislature, in pushing for mental health and addiction coverage. And I was proud, like that Hair Club for Men ad that you saw a generation ago, that not only was I the author of mental health parity (ph) and addiction, but I was also a consumer of benefits known as addiction benefits and mental health benefits.

So I also have mental illness, and just -- I want to say that, because it informs my thinking on this.

I'm also now a father of three under 5. And the reason I'm here is for them. And it's not trite when I say that the biggest concern I have in this whole move towards legalization is the impact on our young people. Not only our adolescents, for whom a reduced kind of perception of harm that will come with legalization will bring, and of course, it will be higher use rates amongst young people, as a result.

It's also going to be more accessible because of legalization, even if you're selling to 21 and over. You just know that there's going to be more availability. That's beyond doubt.

I'm also concerned about the, you know, unintended consequences. Like we've seen yesterday, with a toddler 2 years old, eating an edible, as they call them. None of us know what that means, but in Colorado, they're soon going to learn what it means. It means that there are now foodstuffs made with THC content. That is troubling.

And so my view is, we ought to have this debate, and I really appreciate Van and Mr. Speaker, you taking us and having this opportunity to talk about it, because it's one that hasn't happened, frankly. I think Colorado and Washington state got into this without this debate really taking place.

JONES: Well, I mean, what's wrong with what he just said? He just described something that seems bad. Do you disagree with that?

ALLEN ST. PIERRE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NORML: I completely agree, and thank you for being so open about addiction problems. I come from a family that treats addiction specialties. And so I appreciate this, totally.

So we're talking about really, I think, use versus abuse. People who use marijuana, adults in their home notably, they're not a concern to society, I would argue. Now, if you use -- abuse marijuana as a youth, or you drink and drive, you come to work impaired, of course, mores and values in the United States wouldn't allow for such. So I think that, in many respects, there's not many places where Patrick and I disagree, except for...

KENNEDY: Except for the most important issue is whether or not...

ST. PIERRE: Whether it should be legal or not. I mean, because ultimately, the position that Patrick's group, SAM, has adopted, effectively, is at least decriminalization. You should not be arrested and put in jail just because you have a small amount of marijuana. Is that fair to say?

KENNEDY: It's fair to say. I, like Van, think the war on drugs is an abomination, and what it's done to our country and the cost to taxpayers. I like the work you're doing, Mr. Speaker, on right on crime.

The fact is, we have a public health crisis. We incarcerate too many people with addiction and substance use disorders. The challenge now is what are our solutions? And I don't believe that opening up this notion that this is harmless by legalizing is the right message to send.

JONES: Well, I think it's good that you raised that. I mean, that's your view, but here's what's so interesting to me. I want to show you some numbers here. The country is actually moving away from your point of view dramatically.

1993, look at that number. That's the year I graduated from law school. Twenty-five percent of the people said let's legalize the stuff. Now, 58 percent. So what is happening that the country is moving away from your position so dramatically, if what you're saying is true? I mean, do you think the American people are wrong on this?

KENNEDY: I think, Van, there's a disconnect between what the science tells us and the broader understanding in the American public.


JONES: I'm going to tell you right now, as a political guy, people against it are losing. So what -- what's the science?

KENNEDY: All right. OK. I would say the science, every major medical organization, the scientific arm that studies the brain, saying this is not good for the brain.

JONES: That marijuana is not good for the brain.

KENNEDY: Marijuana is not good for the brain. So now we have to argue, Van, is what are the proper policy solutions that are going to reduce incidents? So we have an agreement. If older people want to use it, that's not my worry. My worry is kids. But there are implications.

When you allow older people to have free reign, there are tradeoffs. We have to understand that the public health science shows that, by giving that 22-year-old the right to smoke, there are consequences to that. The consequences are there's going to be greater availability, greater access, and the consequences are there's going to be greater use rates. That is beyond any debate whatsoever.

So if you are OK with that, then let's go forward. But I say that's not a good thing for our country.

JONES: Mr. Speaker, are you OK with that? I'm curious about...

GINGRICH: No, I get what he just said at the end, is it's not good for the country.

Allen, one of the questions I'd ask you, if you go back to the 1890s, Sherlock Holmes actually uses drugs. People widely used drugs. All of a sudden, we reached a moment where people said there were so many folks who were victims that they had a very dramatic change in attitude between about 1913 (ph) and 1920.

Are there any -- I realize you spent your lifetime working on this; I'm putting you on the spot. Are there any circumstances, looking down the road, five or ten years from now, where there could be an outcome in places like Colorado that would lead you to say, you know, maybe this wasn't the right policy? What would the benchmark be of the going so far you would want to rethink it?

ST. PIERRE: Because this is described rightly as an experiment. These two states have been given the ability, under our democracy and under federalism, to do this.

So things I fear? Certainly, if we saw a dramatic, triple increase in youth rates, that they were having access to these potent products, like concentrates, as they're now known. These are hash products, you guys, that are now made to be stronger. The edible products that, in some cases, are marketed and put into candy form. And we have these concerns any way, regarding almost any product that children could have access to.

The other concern to me would be...

KENNEDY: I appreciate that, Allen. You know, frankly, I don't think a lot of the public knows about this candy stuff or the vending machines that we ran into when we had tobacco products.

JONES: Are you in favor of vending machines for these edibles? I'm learning it here on the show, so are you saying that there -- you would be in favor of vending machines putting our marijuana products? ST. PIERRE: Not for recreational use. However, I want to make an over-the-counter stock that I do not own here. This med-box, this company out of Los Angeles, where it's a biometric machine, where you have to use your own thumbprint. It's tagged to your own Social Security number and your own bank account, and believe it or not, you can get marijuana out of it.

KENNEDY: Don't tell the NSA that.

ST. PIERRE: I know. I know about it. So I can envision those being at the front of a lot of nursing homes.

JONES: Well, look...

KENNEDY: What you just hit is interesting. Because you're talking about the commercialization of this product. And that's really my biggest beef. That's the No. 1 problem. If you to ask me, No. 1 problem, Patrick, what do you have, it's the for-profit motivation.

So I appreciate the speaker's a free-market guy. We find ourselves on the opposite sides of a lot of issues, but I would think that this is a free-market issue, when the real results of the for-profit industry, like the tobacco companies, were to hook kids. We saw it with Joe Camel. Frankly, the alcohol industry, which frankly, I have the same feelings towards as I do this budding -- no pun intended -- marijuana industry, is they're targeting kids. You know, flavored alcohol drinks, you know, Joe Camel. So...

GINGRICH: Let me -- I apologize. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

Today we're talking about legalizing marijuana in Colorado. When we come back, I want to ask Allen if we should legalize much more dangerous drugs, like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Stay with us.


GINGRICH: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Allen St. Pierre and Patrick Kennedy.

This week Colorado became the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana. And thousands of people lined up to buy it. But what about methamphetamine? Cocaine? Heroin? We need to understand that legalizing marijuana could be a watershed moment. All inhibitions against drug use are going to collapse and certainly dramatically weaken. We could go back to the 1890s when all sorts of dangerous drugs were legal and the use was widespread and out of control.

And Allen, I just want to ask you, from your perspective -- not your organization's perspective, but from your personal perspective, what would you do with heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine?

ST. PIERRE: I'm a big supporter of what's known as harm reduction, this notion that, if you use or sell or produce these so-called hard drugs, that if you interface with police, you should have an option for treatment. Jail, prison should not be the first... JONES: The so-called hard drugs? What do you mean so-called hard drugs? Meth is not is a so-called hard drug.

ST. PIERRE: In my world of drug consumers, there's a -- for example, people that will take umbrage with the very question being asked that somehow or another there's a division between marijuana and all these other drugs, which I logically make myself and here's one reason culturally. There's "High Times" magazine. There's "Cannabis Culture" magazine. The First Amendment, we've never seen a magazine like heroin magazine or cocaine magazine. I don't think the culture supports those hard drugs being legalized anytime soon, but I don't think people should be arrested and jailed because they use them.

GINGRICH: What about people who -- for example, the Mexican drug cartel, which routinely kills people?

ST. PIERRE: Well, of course, violence always warrants the most severe punishments.

GINGRICH: There's an interesting challenge, almost like Prohibition in the '20s, you're going to say, you're held harmless if you have a small amount, but the person who got it to you, who's also making a huge amounts of right now.

ST. PIERRE: That's why regulation controlled largely puts in -- much to the chagrin of some, that there would be some corporations and others that are involved in this. But I will argue that's better than the 76 years of prohibition that we've had.

KENNEDY: But you know why it would be great, is if like the tobacco industry have to do, for every amount of dollar they spent on advertising, they also had to fund a public health campaign.

ST. PIERRE: Oh, yes. And, by the way, the taxation in Colorado and Washington does fund like anti-marijuana education.

KENNEDY: Yes, but I'm making a distinction between the alcohol tax and the -- you know, that's negligible in terms of covering the true costs of impact of alcohol on our country. Tobacco, same thing.

But it was that requirement that for every -- when they used to go on the air, Marlboro Man and everything, they had to put equal time for public health. And, of course, you remember those old ads where the person couldn't breathe anymore, that they lost their trachea.

When they had to do that, guess what? Show was over, they couldn't advertise anymore.

I have a real problem with this thinking we're going to pay for the problems that marijuana creates simply by this tax.

ST. PIERRE: I think Dennis Ocren (ph) in his book does an excellent job of reviewing Prohibition, that you don't pay on a 1:1 binary way for the use of it. But that's not an argument to keep the failed Prohibition going. There's other legitimate arguments, health reasons, more reason, constitutional reasons, economic reasons why we should end the Prohibition.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Let me throw a reason at you. It's hard to talk about drugs in American without talking about race and the race issue, and the disproportionate impact that the drug war has had on communities of color. I want just show a couple, numbers and a couple of figures here.

Basically African-Americans, white folks use drugs about the same rate, but when you look at the arrest rate, when you look at actually who winds up going to jail, it's astronomically higher for African- Americans.

Doesn't that bother you? I mean --

KENNEDY: It sure does bother me.

JONES: I mean, if you've got to continue to insist as you are, that we rely on criminalization, putting people in prison, how do you deal with these kinds of numbers?

KENNEDY: Well, first of all, that criminal justice system is dysfunctional, insofar as it needs a major correction. And if we think we're going to solve it just on the drugs issue -- I mean, African-Americans, other minorities are sentenced to more time, no matter what the crime is.

So let's make -- just to distinguish between this being an issue that's the panacea for all injustice.

JONES: Let me throw something at you. You're a good liberal. You're on Newt's side on this thing, which is interesting. But you're a good liberal.

KENNEDY: Well, I'm also concerned about the minority community that's now going to be targeted by this marijuana producers, because you look at the alcohol industry in this country -- I tell you what, more, you know, alcohol distributors are in minority neighborhoods by a factor of ten. I can't even begin to tell you what the latest numbers.

You're from the West Coast, you know what L.A. looks like.

JONES: Absolutely.

KENNEDY: Forget about it. There isn't an equal, you know -- and so they have -- it is insidious, is my --

JONES: So you're concerned the for-profit marijuana corporations will start preying on these communities. That's the concern I've got, but on the same time, you're talking about spending $7 billion a year enforcing this stuff, locking stuff up. You're a good liberal. Wouldn't you rather have the $7 billion and the tax money for marijuana to do something else? KENNEDY: Listen, we pay fines all the time for thing that are against the law. We ought to have this against the law, people all to pay fines. If they do something really wrong, they ought to go to jail.

But frankly, the notion that we're going to be selling the stuff at CVS and Walgreens, the Kroger's, and Stop and Shop are going to be selling, it ought to frighten all of us.

ST. PIERRE: Tobacco has been mentioned here aptly. In your or my lifetime, tobacco use has been cut in half. We didn't pee test anybody. We didn't destabilize the border. We didn't have in the case of New York City, a 9:1 ratio of blacks to whites being arrested, where you and I grew up in Massachusetts, 13:1. So --

KENNEDY: It took a long time.

ST. PIERRE: But we can achieve the stated goal without using the brutal criminal justice system.

GINGRICH: You mentioned pee tests. With Colorado legalizing --

ST. PIERRE: The professorial, law professor questions are coming. They're coming.


ST. PIERRE: We're getting them, too.

GINGRICH: The very straight question which is --


GINGRICH: Should companies be allowed to test people before they hire them?

ST. PIERRE: So, the law is going to remain the same. It was not impacted. People will try to litigate, I'm sure, from our side, claiming that -- like an alcohol user, they shouldn't be. But we're getting those questions now from people who have used marijuana legally on Wednesday and Thursday, going back to their jobs in Kansas or Wyoming, tested positive for metabolite, they're not high, they're testing positive for metabolite.

So, this is truly law professor heaven here we're getting into.

JONES: No, no, this is serious stuff. This is not --

GINGRICH: I want to know that the pilot walking, having seen flight --

ST. PIERRE: So drug testing get you there. But most importantly, before people get on those planes, they should be using impairment testing, computer testing which we already have for the --

GINGRICH: So do you support the right for example, trucking company to test truck drivers? ST. PIERRE: Absolutely. It's a social contract when you work for an employer. If they don't want to you use drugs, then you shouldn't.

GINGRICH: But here's second other problem. As you both agreed that place most likely to be using is the poorest neighborhoods which means they get told, you get to buy drugs but by the way you probably won't get a job. It's a very big problem in poor neighborhoods.

ST. PIERRE: So, there's no doubt that testing people, and, by the way, this is happening with tobacco too. We have people being tested for tobacco even though it's perfectly legal. So, we sort of made this bed, we might have to live in it regarding drug testing.

JONES: Well, I mean, I think -- look, I am on your side only because I can see no other way out of this. But I am concerned that we are not doing enough to really make sure that if we do it your way, I haven't heard you talking about the need to stigma size this thing. I haven't heard you talking about the need for us to make sure that we don't have people addicted.

And I'm concerned that there's going to be a victory for people like yourself and people in my community are going to pay price.

ST. PIERRE: Well, giving the opportunity here to talk about it, no doubt that talking about destigmatizing, I'm not keen on advertising. I don't think we should have TV and radio advertising. There might be direct person to person advertising through Internet or through your phone.

So, we're all for those discussions.

JONES: We'll talk about it when we get back.

Next, the final question for both our guests. They're some doozies.

And we also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Should marijuana be legal nationwide? Tweet yes or no using #crossfire. We'll give the result after this break.


JONES: We are back with Allen St. Pierre and Patrick Kennedy.

Now, it's time for the final question.

First you, Patrick. Look, we all know that making drug use illegal doesn't stop people from using drugs. That you know from your own personal life.

We may be in a world soon where all we have is moral suasion without the law. Is there anything that anybody could have told you that would have stopped you from using drugs?

KENNEDY: I became an addict because I started as a teenager and I had the genetic predisposition to become an addict because it ran in my family. I worry that there is something about moral suasion and it's the law, OK?

So, I think we pass -- we do certain things because they protect society at large. And I don't want someone who thinks it's no big deal to light up, driving down the highway. I've got three kids. We were nearly run over going through New York last week.

The fact of the matter is this isn't just about me concerned about people with addiction like myself, becoming addicted. It's also about me being a father worried about my three children and someone else out there on the road.

JONES: What's the best argument to use? For somebody who might be thinking this might be a good road to go down, now that that law has changed. Best argument, to bring science or anything.

KENNEDY: Well, it stunts I.Q. development. I mean, the old marijuana that I started with is nothing like it is today. And thank God, because I'd be working with a few less I.Q. points right now if I was smoking the stuff that's out there today.

JONES: Well said.

GINGRICH: Let me build on Van for a second and ask you to switch to a totally negative position for a second. I find the most frightening of all the hard drugs, methamphetamine. Both because it can be made locally and because it seems to have a stunningly powerful addiction, and then just a devastating effect on the person who becomes addicted.

How would you design a program to minimize the possibility that anybody would ever become a meth addict?

ST. PIERRE: Largely by making sure they have options for drugs that if they're going to seek to alter their state, if we're going to start to acknowledge that we're not going to stop the human beings from trying to alter their states, if they have access to drugs that have minimal consequences. You're absolutely correct. If most drugs, meth is the worst.

JONES: Well, I want to thank you both for being here. A good conversation.

GINGRICH: Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. Should marijuana be legal nationwide? Right now, 84 percent of you say yes, 16 percent say no. We're not doing very well.

JONES: And, by the way, tonight's question generated the biggest response of any "Fireback" question we've ever done. So I want to thank you for that.

The debate will continue online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich. Join us Monday for another edition of CROSSFIRE. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.