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Should We Legalize Drugs?

Posted: November 20, 2012

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Listen to the Broadcast Version of the Debate

Colorado and Washington recently voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Supporters say that will generate tax revenue and free up law enforcement resources. So would the United States be better off legalizing all recreational drugs? A panel of experts debates for Intelligence Squared U.S.

Theodore Dalrymple (left) and Asa Hutchinson argue against legalizing drugs in an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate.

Theodore Dalrymple (left) and Asa Hutchinson argue against legalizing drugs in an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate.

Paul Butler (left) and Nick Gillespie celebrate their victory in an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate. They argued in favor of legalizing drugs.

Paul Butler (left) and Nick Gillespie celebrate their victory in an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate. They argued in favor of legalizing drugs.

In Colorado and Washington, voters recently approved measures to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Supporters say legalization will generate tax revenue, move the trade into the open, and free up law enforcement resources.

Given those arguments, would the United States be better off legalizing all recreational drugs? A panel of experts — including former Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson — tackled that question in the latest installment of Intelligence Squared U.S. They faced off two against two in an Oxford-style debate on the motion: "Legalize Drugs."

Supporters of legalization have long argued that drug enforcement unfairly targets minorities and that, as with Prohibition, the continued demand for illegal drugs leads to greater crimes.

But opponents say restricting access to drugs helps to keep use low and tamp down the problems that come with abuse and addiction.

Before the debate, the audience voted 45 percent in favor of the motion "Legalize Drugs," with 23 percent opposed and 32 percent undecided. After hearing from both sides, those who supported the motion still won out: 58 percent to 30 percent.

Those debating were:

FOR THE MOTION

Paul Butler is a criminal law scholar and professor at Georgetown University Law Center. He served as a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department, where his specialty was public corruption. Butler also served as a special assistant U.S. attorney, prosecuting drug and gun cases. Butler provides legal commentary for CNN, NPR and the Fox News Network. He has been featured on 60 Minutes and profiled in The Washington Post. He has written for The Post, The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of Let's Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice (2009).

Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of Reason.com and ReasonTV, the online platforms of Reason, the libertarian magazine of "free minds and free markets." Gillespie's work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and numerous other publications. Gillespie is also a frequent commentator on radio and television networks such as NPR, CNN, Fox News Channel and PBS.

AGAINST THE MOTION

Asa Hutchinson, former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, is currently CEO of Hutchinson Group, a homeland security consulting firm, and practices law in northwestern Arkansas. Hutchinson was the first undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security, responsible for border and transportation security. He served as a U.S. representative from Arkansas from 1997-2001. Following his re-election to a third term, Hutchinson was appointed by President George W. Bush to lead the DEA. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's William H. Bowen School of Law, teaching national security law.

Theodore Dalrymple is a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, who most recently practiced in a British inner city hospital and prison. He is the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and a contributor to the London Spectator, The New Criterion and other leading magazines and newspapers. In 2011, Dalrymple received the Freedom Prize from the Flemish think tank Libera!.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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