|Posted by CN Staff on December 16, 2003
Jesse Ventura - Should Marijuana Be Legalized?
JESSE VENTURA, HOST: Imagine an alien suddenly dropped into the 21st century America. He goes to a Monday night football game and witnesses thousands of people guzzling a liquid refreshment as fast as vendors can supply it. Observing the spectacle of the game itself, the alien is constantly distracted by fans whose behavior seems to become more and more bizarre. He watches as fights break out between half-naked fans with painted bodies.
By the end of the contest, on the playing field, he notes that most of the people around him seem to have lost their ability to walk and for some reason, their speech has changed. Words are less audible. They seem to be talking in slow motion. Once the game is over, he watches the fans stumbling toward their cars, cursing and threatening other fans.
Clearly, the alien observes, something has caused these fans to have a mind-altering experience. But whatever is going on, it seems to be acceptable behavior for this society, because all the while, many police officers observe the behavior, but remain at a distance and don't interfere.
The next day, the alien attends a lecture on a college campus. After the lecture, he's invited by some students to a party. At the party, students are sitting around drawing smoke from a bottle-like structure with water in it. The smoke is inhaled into their bodies, the conversation is friendly, calm and respectful, and music is playing in the background. But all of a sudden, many police officers arrive with guns, grab the water-filled bottle, put handcuffs on everyone in the room, and take them off to jail. The alien is totally confused.
Welcome to the United States of America, the land of hypocrisy.
VENTURA: It's time to do it.
How simple can it get?
I'm sure I'll get plenty of heat over that, but so what?
You may not always want to hear it, but you will get honesty.
VENTURA: Welcome to JESSE VENTURA'S AMERICA, the show that isn't afraid to tackle tough issues and take, maybe, sometimes unpopular stands.
As you can see, free Tommy. I'll get to that later. First I want to welcome our audience. Our audience is made up from people from all walks of life. They're not pundits. They're real people. They are not politicians, they're common ordinary citizens. Audience, get ready, because we're going to talk about a very emotional issue.
Drugs have been a serious problem for many individuals and for our country as a whole. But are we making any headway? We'll talk with critics of the war on drugs and we'll talk with the representative of the federal Office of Drug Control Policy. And be assured, we'll be asking a few tough questions.
Our first guest is Robert Kampia, probably the most ardent spokesperson for ending the war on marijuana users in America. Rob is executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project based in Washington, D.C. Rob, give us a little background. What is the Marijuana Project, Rob?
ROB KAMPIA, MARIJUANA POLICY PROJECT: We're a national organization. We have dues-paying membership across the country, a staff of 21 people in D.C. who are working to end the federal government's war on marijuana users. And we do that primarily through lobbying state legislatures, running ballot initiatives and lobbying Congress directly.
VENTURA: Rob, do you think there's any chance in hell that they're going to relax their laws on marijuana and make it legal? Do you believe that?
KAMPIA: Absolutely. You know ...
VENTURA: What indications are you being given ...
KAMPIA: We have ...
VENTURA: ... that they are going in that direction?
KAMPIA: Well, on the medical marijuana front, which we, you know, keep separate from the full issue of regulating marijuana, like alcohol, medical marijuana, we win every battle. There's been seven ballot initiatives, all seven have passed. Medical marijuana is now legal in eight states.
VENTURA: But -- can I interject? You're saying you're winning but the feds come in and overrule the states.
VENTURA: And they tell -- they tell the states, no, you can't do this. We're going to imprison doctors. That's not happening?
KAMPIA: No, the feds go in and they shut down wide-scale large medical marijuana distributors. And those are not really legal under state law any way. But they're not touching the core of these laws, which is that it allows patients to grow their own and to use medical marijuana in the privacy of their home. Those laws are standing and they are working well.
VENTURA: You know, Rob, you hear this talk all the time that well, we don't dare legalize marijuana because it is the gateway drug. Everyone starts with marijuana, and then will progress to cocaine and eventually, get on heroin and what we would call the hardcore drugs. Do you find that as factual or fraudulent?
KAMPIA: It's fraudulent. You know, the Institute of Medicine issued a study four years ago, which was actually commissioned by the White House drug czar's office. And they said that there is no gateway from marijuana to the hard drugs. I mean, look at it logically. Most people who use marijuana do not use cocaine. It's not a gateway. To the extent that you want to argue it is a gateway, there is some people who when they go and they buy marijuana from a drug dealer, that drug dealer is also, you know, has LSD, cocaine, heroin, what have you.
KAMPIA: And so, if you want to talk about a gateway, you could say that the drug dealers are the gateway. And if you regulated marijuana and brought it in off the streets, an adult who wanted to go and purchase marijuana would not see cocaine or heroin or what have you. That's the way to eliminate it.
VENTURA: I would come back and say the gateway drug is tobacco. And I say that only from my own personal experience. When we were little kids, the first thing you always did, you found the kid that could write the best. And that kid would write, please give my son so and so two packs of Marlboro and sign it. And you'd walk into the local little grocery store in those days. We all had the little mom and pop groceries on almost every corner anyway, and, you know, the guy in there, if you had a note, OK. You're buying them for your parents. And I'd be out back in the alley passing out the cigarettes and everybody, I don't know, seventh, eighth grade, whatever we were, smoking cigarettes.
So to me, if they want to talk gateway drug, the gateway drug in America is tobacco. That's the first -- And let me say, when you're under what? 18, that's illegal. Excuse me. How many years did it -- did it take for us to admit that children smoking was illegal? I remember it was laughed off for most part at all. Well, he's just smoking. Who cares? Anyway, Rob, what about, you hear about cancer and you hear about the toxic of smoking. Doesn't -- isn't marijuana the same? You're ingesting smoke into your body? Isn't it going to give you cancer the same way tobacco will?
KAMPIA: There's no scientific evidence that shows that smoking marijuana causes cancer.
VENTURA: But they tell -- they tell you there's more carcinogens in it than there is in tobacco. Are they being untruthful to us?
KAMPIA: It's fair to say that there is more tars and -- and other nasty chemicals in marijuana than there is in any one hit that you would take off of a tobacco cigarette. But I wouldn't use the word carcinogens. Let's -- let's be honest here. There's something like 90 million Americans have used marijuana. If marijuana really led to cancer, where are the bodies?
VENTURA: OK, stay with us. We'll take a break, we'll be right back, and we'll take a look at some of the most outrageous criminal activity in the country. You won't want to miss it. Stay tuned.
VENTURA: Welcome back to JESSE VENTURA'S AMERICA. We're talking about the war on drugs, and our next guest is Stan Levenson. Stan is an attorney from Pittsburgh who defended the infamous Tommy Chong when Mr. Chong was charged with selling water pipes as drug paraphernalia. Tommy Chong was arrested this year when the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and Attorney General Ashcroft's office and many local law enforcement agencies got together for Operation "Pipe Dream." Stan, what do you think about all this? I mean you -- you represented Tommy. Give us a background. What happened here? Why is Tommy Chong serving nine months in prison for selling a pipe over the Internet?
STAN LEVENSON, TOMMY CHONG DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I wish I had the answer to that. Unfortunately, Tommy will be probably the only one of the 55 defendants charged with no prior criminal convictions who will see the inside of the jail cell. Everybody else thus far who has no prior criminal convictions has gotten house arrest and work releases, which is what we were asking for for Tommy and thought it would be the appropriate sentence.
VENTURA: Why -- why didn't Tommy get that if he's never been convicted of anything before and this is his first offense, why wouldn't he get what the other defendants got?
LEVENSON: I don't know for sure. But he is certainly the poster boy for marijuana.
LEVENSON: And I think that putting him in jail lent credibility, such as it is, to this -- to this whole silly endeavor.
VENTURA: Now, isn't it true that Tommy plea bargained and accepted a jail term, as I heard, correct me if I am wrong, to save his wife and his child?
LEVENSON: You're partially right.
LEVENSON: Tommy determined from the outset that he was not going to contest the charges. If we could arrange a deal that would assure that neither his son nor his wife were charged.
LEVENSON: We were able to arrange that deal after several months of negotiating with the U.S. Attorney's office. So instead of charging Tommy's wife or son, the corporation was the second defendant. So it was Tommy and the corporation. Tommy did not expect, nor did we, that he was going to get a jail sentence out of this. We were fully expecting that he would get house arrest and the work release.
VENTURA: First of all, counselor, let me ask this. How can this be against the law? You're selling a pipe. He wasn't selling the actual marijuana. I mean, that pipe, yeah, we all know what they're used for, water pipes. We know what they're used for. But there -- you still could be putting (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in it.
LEVENSON: They -- unfortunately, that's an argument that's not accepted by the courts. However ...
LEVENSON: Because our lawmakers have determined that they need to protect us from this evil by having a statute on the books that makes it unlawful to sell this kind of equipment that can be used for smoking marijuana. It is a ridiculous law. It has seen little law enforcement until this operation in Pittsburgh earlier this year. As a criminal defense lawyer for 37 years, I can tell you, this is the first federal case I've ever had and I do a lot of drug work, where this was a charge. I was quite surprised even to see this on the books.
VENTURA: Do you think we're going in a direction today of these laws getting even worse, counselor? Or are we going in a direction to where they're starting to back off now? Tommy Chong out of the mix.
LEVENSON: No, we're going in serious reverse. We've been thrown back about 70 or 80 years by recent enforcement policies and ...
VENTURA: Why -- why do you think that's happening?
LEVENSON: I can't answer that question. I'm sure that Attorney General Ashcroft has a reason for it. It bewilders me what that reason could be. With everything else that's going on in this world, I don't understand why this particular emphasis, especially since the war on drugs has been an unmitigated failure. We keep incarcerating more and more people for longer and longer amounts of time. And all we're doing is building more jails. We're certainly not reducing the use of drugs in this country.
VENTURA: Counselor, we're out of time. We want to thank you very much for your time and please, give Tommy my best, tell him we're all wishing him well and we're behind him on this show 100 percent. Thank you, counselor.
LEVENSON: I will tell him.
VENTURA: Thank you. Stay with us. Because when we come back, a representative of the drug czar's office will join us in our discussion, and I can tell our audience is just itching to weigh in on this one. Stay with us.
VENTURA: Welcome back to JESSE VENTURA'S AMERICA. Joining me now is Tom Riley. Mr. Riley is the director of public affairs for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
TOM RILEY, OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY: Hey, Governor Ventura.
VENTURA: Hi, Tom, how are you?
RILEY: Thanks for having me on the show.
VENTURA: Well, it's my pleasure but you may not say that when you're done.
RILEY: I was -- You've already got me. You're a common sense guy, and you are falling for all that baloney that was spilled out by the first two guests.
VENTURA: Well, first of all, being a common sense guy is exactly what I'm talking about, Tom. My -- let me ask you this.
VENTURA: Would you -- would you have supported the prohibition of alcohol 75 years ago?
RILEY: I'm glad you brought up the alcohol example. I mean, as a governor, you must have known firsthand the cost of alcohol. I hear this argument a lot of times, like alcohol ...
VENTURA: That isn't what I asked you, Tom. I asked you a specific question. Don't give me a spin. I said ...
RILEY: I would not have ...
VENTURA: I said, would you have supported the prohibition of alcohol 75 years ago?
RILEY: I don't think I would have.
RILEY: Because alcohol for better or worse, and a lot of times for worse, it's a close call, is long entrenched and ingrained part of our culture and our society. I mean you go back thousands of years. The first writing is about alcohol, the Bible, everything else. It is really hard to reach in ...
VENTURA: Really? Well, Tom, wait a minute.
RILEY: ... and pull this out of the society.
VENTURA: Let me object something down here.
VENTURA: If you believe that god -- god also made the marijuana plant.
RILEY: I'm talking about society. I'm talking about -- about our culture and our society.
VENTURA: Wait, you just said the Bible.
RILEY: It's hard to pull it out of our society.
VENTURA: All right.
RILEY: It is hard-wired.
VENTURA: Tom, my point is this: my mother lived through prohibition of alcohol. She passed away a couple years ago. She was a very bright woman. A nurse, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), World War II vet in Africa. She looked at me in her latter years and said, you know, this war on drugs is identical to the prohibition of alcohol.
RILEY: All right.
VENTURA: Now, here is a woman that lived and saw both. And she said, all they're doing is creating criminals' wealth, because criminals like Al Capone got wealthy during the prohibition of alcohol and criminals like Pablo Escobar are getting wealthy today because of the prohibition of drugs. How do you answer that?
RILEY: Prohibition is a hard policy. It's a tough policy. But the problem with drugs in this country isn't about one policy or another. It is about drug use. It is about drug addiction. There are seven million Americans right now with a clinically diagnosable addiction to drugs. The costs that has to society are stag