Recent elections in the states of Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana, catalyzing the national debate regarding drug policy and reform. Will other states follow? How will the federal government respond? And what are the risks and benefits of moving in this direction? Underwritten by Booz Allen Hamilton
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THE ASPEN INSTITUTE
ASPEN IDEAS FESTIVAL 2013
MATTER OF DEBATE: SHOULD POT BE LEGAL?
1000 N, Third Street
Monday, July 1, 2011
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE
SENIOR PARTNER, AH LAW GROUP
EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC
SPEAKER: Well, good morning. Welcome to our fourth matter
of debate. We have one in the Jerome Ballroom at noon as well. This is
a series where rather than hoping that some panelist disagree, we actually
plan for them to disagree. So it makes it a little bit more exciting, brings
back memories of the old Saturday Night Live. So it should be kind of fun.
Today's discussion is should pot be legal? And that should be
a really interesting discussion. It's probably a pretty good place to have it,
in Colorado, one of the two states who has actually passed legislation
making marijuana legal.
I also find it particularly ironic that it's happening in Aspen,
since I tried to smoke a cigar walking down the streets of Aspen, I was
told I couldn't do it. So it's a good discussion.
Leading us in this discussion is James Bennet. James is the editor
in chief of the Atlantic Monthly, becoming the magazine's 14th editor-inchief in 2006. Prior to joining the Atlantic, he was the Jerusalem bureau
chief for the New York. Prior to his work in Jerusalem, he also served as a
Times White House correspondent. Please join me in welcoming our
moderator, James Bennet.
MR. BENNET: Thank you. I had anticipated, Bill, you were
going to introduce our other two panelists as well. We have Asa
Hutchinson, former Congressman and former official, actually, conducting
the drug war on behalf of the U.S., to put it in the most broad possible
term. And Ethan has been fighting the fight against drug legalization -- I
mean for -- in favor of drug legislation. Now, for how many years have
you been in this --
MR. NADELMANN: A long time.
MR. BENNET: -- battle? Has made a career of this. These
two men have faced off on this subject before, but are -- we are very happy to have both of them with us today.
I wanted to start off by giving a little bit of context for this
debate -- if you'll excuse the expression -- with a little potted history of
marijuana law in North America. And then I'm going to ask you all, if you
don't mind, since these guys are putting themselves on the line today, to
give us a show of hands for how many are in favor of legislation and how
many are against. We'll come to it in a minute. You can prepare. You
don't have to do it yet. And then I'm going to take another vote at the
First marijuana law was passed by the Virginia assembly in the
very first year of its founding actually, 1619. It actually compelled every
farmer to grow marijuana because hemp was seen as strategically
important. It was used to make sails and rigging and caulking for
wooden boats. Although a number of the founding fathers including
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would grow marijuana, there's
no evidence that they knew anything about its less nautical applications.
In the second half of the 19th century, marijuana became a
popular ingredient in patent medicines as a cure for migraines,
rheumatism, and insomnia. It wasn't until the early 20th century that the
government clamped down after the political upheaval in Mexico led to a
wave of immigration. Police officers in Texas said that the traditional
means of intoxication for these immigrants, smoking marijuana, led to
Anti-drug campaigners spoke of the marijuana menace. And in
1914 El Paso, Texas enacted what was probably the first U.S. ordinance
banning sale or possession of marijuana. By 1931, 29 states had
followed suit. In 1937 Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act effectively
criminalizing marijuana throughout the U.S. A week later an unemployed
laborer named Samuel R. Caldwell became the first person convicted
under the statute. He was arrested and convicted in Denver. He got four
years at Leavenworth.
Today under federal law cultivation and distribution of
marijuana, including giving it away, are all felonies. Possession for personal use is a misdemeanor. Possession of paraphernalia is also
illegal. Cultivating a hundred plants or more carries a mandatory
minimum sentence of five years.
Now, a word on public opinion, which has actually moved up
and down over time. According to Pew Research Center in '69 -- 1969,
only 12 percent of Americans favored legalization. Over the course of the
'70s that approval grew. Then it dipped in the 1980s, before beginning
to rise again and then rise rapidly over the course of the last 10 years or
so. Just three years ago, only 41 percent favored legalization and today
52 percent did.
So let's start out with this room. How many come into this
debate in favor of legalization? A show of hands. How many are
opposed? And is there anybody whose mind isn't made up on this
subject? Okay, great. All right, well, let's plunge in. And Asa, I would
like to start with you. So you can smoke a cigar -- you can't smoke a
cigar, but you can -- in Colorado, at least the voters have approved the
idea of people being able to smoke marijuana. What are the health
affects here? Are cigars in fact more dangerous?
MR. HUTCHINSON: Well, both smoking cigars, smoking
cigarettes, and smoking marijuana gives you carcinogens, and that's the
reason we have education campaigns against smoking so that we don't
have the adverse health consequences. And so, sure, it is clearly an
adverse health consequence of smoking marijuana. Everybody's body
and the amount, all of those things make a difference in terms of the
consequences. But you know, you have cognitive issues. You have
productivity issues at work. You have restrictions on driving while under
So clearly -- and that's not to say it's, you know, a hundred
times worse than alcohol or some other drug, but it is -- it does have
adverse health consequences and that's been acknowledged by the
medical community. But you also know that from personal experience. I
approach this as a law enforcement person. I was a federal prosecutor. I
was head of the DEA. I was in Congress, had oversight responsibilities
and I've travelled to Colombia, and I've seen all aspects of our fight against illegal drugs.
Most importantly, I've seen it as a parent. And as a parent
who has raised three sons and a daughter, you worry about these things.
And every parent does. And I think parents know that there is adverse
health consequences as well.
MR. BENNET: Ethan, I'm afraid I didn't give you your formal
title earlier. You are the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy
Alliance, which is the leading organization in the U.S. seeking alternatives
really to the war on drugs. How do you respond on --
MR. NADELMANN: I should start, James, just by clarifying.
Even though Colorado voted to legalize marijuana, you're still not going
to be able to walk down the street smoking a joint. It's not going to be
legal to smoke in public just -- and it will still be more restrictive in fact even
in public than smoking a cigar or cigarette. So you'll be able to smoke a
cigar out in a park or something but not a joint, although maybe local
authorities will shift on that.
So we should be clear about what's happening here. And I
think -- look, where I agree with Asa on this is on the following. I too am a
parent. Most of us here I think are parents, and we are all concerned
about young people using these drugs. We are concerned about them
getting involved with alcohol in a problematic way or other drugs or the
pharmaceuticals that may be in the bathroom closet, and we are
concerned about marijuana.
I think we're also more and more realistic, because if we were
to have a show of hands here and ask how many of you used to smoke
marijuana, I think probably half or more. I don't know if you want to ask
that question right now, James. You got a former head of DEA sitting here.
MR. BENNET: You ask it yourself?
MR. NADELMANN: But the fact of the matter is what's happening, I think, is a lot more pragmatism in our parental generations.
We focus on the real harms. We are concerned about safety. If our
teenagers go into a party or they are going off to college, we want to
know that they are going to get home safely at the end of the night, right?
We are worried about booze and worried about young men
getting reckless and wild. We are worried about getting, you know, high
on the roads with marijuana or alcohol. But we are also -- we are
worried about young people, you know, waking and baking, right?
Waking up every morning smoking before you go to school. That's the
problem. We see that.
But quite frankly, the simple consumption of the occasional
joint, you know, on a weekend or whatever, I don't think we all are going
to get worked up about that. And what I agree with Asa too is there is
evidence that smoking marijuana can be harmful. That mostly applies to
heavy use of marijuana.
There is very little evidence showing that the occasional use of
marijuana is problematic. And I think part of what we have through the
whole war, drugs war on marijuana was conflating, talking about the
harms of marijuana while focusing on the small minority of consumers who
are waking and baking, smoking all the time, being stupid about it. And
ignoring the fact that most people who use marijuana don't have a
problem with it, aren't hurting anybody else, are going on to lead perfectly
fine and otherwise law abiding respectful lives.
And in fact, you know, we looked at at three people use
marijuana when they were younger and they are now in the White House.
So if we want to talk about marijuana to be a gateway, maybe it's a
gateway to the White House or something. I mean --
MR. HUTCHINSON: But not cocaine or heroin.
MR. BENNET: Asa, would you expect usage patterns to
change if in fact it were legalized across the country?MR. HUTCHINSON: They would increase, and you know that
from logic, but also from history. In the 1970s Alaska decriminalized
marijuana and it increased in usage. Parents got concerned about it.
And then in the '90s they recriminalized it. They went back the other
direction because of an increase in use.
You see that also in -- well, look at alcohol. And the
comparison is always made about prohibition. Well, when prohibition
was lifted, did alcohol consumption increase? Absolutely, without any
question. And the same thing would be true with marijuana use. Now, I
think you have to be more concerned about what it would do with
teenage consumption. And I think you look at the experiment with The
Netherlands. The indications are that the consumption of illegal drugs,
marijuana, went up with the decriminalization and they had tightened it
up, closed some of their cannabis coffee houses. California, even with
their medical use of it, it's dramatically increased among all groups. So I
think it would.
MR. BENNET: So, Ethan, what do you say to that? I mean I'm
-- and by the way, I'm now going to be using the expression "waking and
baking" all the time.
MR. BENNET: But as the father of two little boys, it concerns
me too. Are we going to see spikes in usage?
MR. NADELMANN: Let me just clarify a few things Asa said. I
mean, first of all, back in the '70s, 11 states decriminalized the possession
of small amounts of marijuana, which means they turned it to a civil fine as
opposed to something you get arrested for. And what you saw was that
marijuana use went up in those states during the '70s. It also went up in
the states that did not decriminalize in the '70s. And during the 1980s it
went down in all those states.
So the best research on this was an article by a guy named Eric
Single (phonetic) in the '80s in a refereed journal basically showed that decriminalization did not have any impact on levels of marijuana use.
Similarly, The Netherlands, which, you know, legalized -- sort of legalized
the retail sale of marijuana in late '70s, early '80s, they have had this
coffee shop system now for 30 years, not just in Amsterdam, but almost
every city of any size in the country. And marijuana use has gone up and
down a bit
Sometimes the coffee shops there were too many of them. The
government closed down some and back. It's more or less been a stable
system for 30 years. Rates of marijuana use right now among young and
older people are much lower than they are in the U.S. with our much more
repressive policies. They are roughly at the average as far as Europeans
go, and a lot of the European countries have more repressive policies.
So this notion that liberalization will lead to huge increases, it is
not borne out by the evidence. That said, the fact that we are now
moving from decriminalization to actually legalizing it and selling it,
allowing it to be sold in licensed outlets, which is what Colorado and
Washington will do in the next few months if Washington D.C. doesn't say
no. I think there is, as Asa says, a risk that marijuana use will go up, right.
It will be less expensive. It will be easier to get.
But I don't think the real risk is among young people. Why?
Because there are now three national surveys in which young people say it
is easier to get marijuana -- easier to buy marijuana today than it is to buy
alcohol. Every high school in America marijuana use is a bit more or less
omnipresent. You know, the surveys for the last 30 years, 80 percent of
young people say it is easy to get marijuana.
So I don't think that's the group where it's going to go up. If
anything, you are going to take away some of that forbidden fruit
attraction to marijuana. Where marijuana use is going to go up, it's going
to be people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. It's going to be
older people going, "Damn it, it helps with that arthritis and I didn't realize
it" or "it helps me sleep at night" or "I actually find I prefer it to having a
drink at the end of the night" or "you know what, I prefer it to the
pharmaceuticals my doctor is giving me for my mood or my anxiety or
whatever."So I think that's where we are going to see the increase. It's
going to be among older people, most of whom are not going to be
prone to being addictive or using it in a problematic way. That's where
we will see the likely increase.
MR. BENNET: Do you buy that, Asa?
MR. HUTCHINSON: I think there is an argument that teenage
use -- because clearly under legalization scenario it will still be illegal for
teens to use it. And so that's an unknown as to the dynamic there. But
what we do know is that the attitude of leaders make a difference on teen
attitudes. And like right now, part of the reason there is a increase and
uptick in teen use is because our leaders in states like Colorado and
Washington State say it's okay. And there's talk about medicinal use.
And so you see anything identified with medicine, whether it's
prescription drugs in the medicine cabinet or whether it's marijuana that
somebody, "Hey, I heard that was good for you." It goes up and it
changes teen attitudes. Now, as to whether parents can clamp down,
law enforcement can clamp down to make sure there is not diversion of
marijuana to teenagers, that remains a law enforcement question, which
goes back to an argument, "Well, we don't want law enforcement
focusing on marijuana." They will be focusing on marijuana because there
is going to be increased access and you don't want it in the hands of
teens. It's an unknown. But clearly, in every other age group it would go
up because it's a legal substance.
MR. NADELMANN: Well, I'm just going to say -- I mean --
look, none of us want teens using marijuana. But the fact of the matter is,
it's widely available today. If you ask, who has the best access to
marijuana today? It's young people. Who had the best access 10 years
ago? Young people. Twenty, 30, 40 years ago, young people. And
you know what, 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from
now, whether we continue towards national legalization or not, it's still
going to be young people whether we like it or not.
So I think the key there needs to be less obsessing about -- we can't build a moat, right, between marijuana and teens. We can't do
that. The focus needs to be on keeping young people safe and on
coming up with smart, sensible regulatory policies. I think honest drug
education too. I don't think all of this demonization and all these myths
that the government has been putting out on marijuana for decades, I
don't think that helps.
I think it was a mistake when government was saying that
marijuana is so bad that young people, you know, tried marijuana, didn't
believe them on that. And then they didn't believe the government talking
about heroin or cocaine. I don't think that make sense. I think honest drug
education is probably going to be our best bet.
MR. BENNET: By the way, the only data I could find on this
question seems to cut both ways. It goes back to 2010. According to
the administration there were 2.4 million new past-year users of marijuana
then and the average age of initiation had increased from 17 in 2009 to
19 in 2010. On the other hand, the rate of past month marijuana use
among 12 to 17 year olds climbed 7.4 percent, well above the rates in
the immediate previous years. So it seems to be cutting in both directions.
You both have mentioned leadership, and I kind of wonder if this is going
to be a point of agreement. I wonder if either of you is satisfied right now
with the leadership from the White House on this question? And how do
you reconcile the federal law now with state law in Colorado and
MR. NADELMANN: I mean those are two very big issues. I
mean, I would say when it comes to political leadership generally, it's
weak on this issue. You know, if you look at the Gallup poll on legalizing
marijuana, and you look at the Gallup polls over the last 10 years on
legalizing gay marriage, marriage equality, they line up almost exactly,
from roughly one-third of the country in favor about 10 years ago to
slightly more than half in favor now on both issue.
But then you look on gay marriage and what you see is you
now have the White House, many senators, governors, others in favor,
significant members of Congress in favor. Whereas on the issue of
marijuana legalization, not one member of the U.S. Senate, maybe two dozen members of Congress -- and that's a huge jump from only two guys
a few years ago, Ron Paul and Barney Frank.
And the state legislature is beginning to change. So what you
see is still a lot of trepidation and fear. This is very much an issue which is
being lead from the -- no pun intended -- grass roots up, right. And with
Obama -- I mean -- look, I feel for the guy in a way. I mean, you know,
these controversial hot button social issues are not typically ones where the
White House leads, right. And the fact of the matter is, even with
Colorado and Washington, the President does not have the power to
order federal prosecutors not to enforce federal law, right.
He can say to the U.S. attorney in Colorado, "Do not enforce
federal law." What he can do is provide leadership in terms of saying,
"Here is what we regard as our priorities." What he can do is to say that
the people in these two states have spoken and they didn't speak by a
squeak, right. In both Colorado and Washington it was 55 percent of the
electorate voting to legalize marijuana. In Colorado, the vote to legalize
marijuana got more votes than Barack Obama did, okay.
MR. NADELMANN: And in Washington State, it got almost
as many votes as he did and more than the Democrats who won the race
for governor and attorney general. So I think what he can do is to say the
people have spoken and we want to find a way to allow these two states
to work this out in a responsible way. That's what I hope he will say.
That's what I hope the attorney general will say. And I think they can't
quite figure it out, which is why it has taken them so long to say anything.
MR. BENNET: What do you think of the White House's
MR. HUTCHINSON: Well, it's silent -- to a total extent it is
silent in reference to Colorado and Washington State, and what the
federal policy on enforcement is going to be. There's some easy solutions
that I think that they could address. But overall, President Obama is very
clear in the international leadership. He does not -- he is thinking very carefully, does he want to leave as his legacy legalizing marijuana not just
in the United States, but leading the international community down that
President Obama whenever -- he went to the Summit of the
Americas this last year in Colombia, he said that it is okay for us to debate
the pros and cons of the war on drugs, but I personally, and my
administration's position, is that legalization is not the answer. This is what
the President has said to the international community. Why is he saying
that? Because he does not want the United States to go contravene every
treaty that we've entered into and led the international community to.
Now, let's come back to Colorado. The administration has
been silent on the Colorado and Washington State initiative as what the
federal government is going to do. And this is the first time in history that
we've had a state setting up a regulatory regime that totally contradicts
federal law. So you are going to have the state of Colorado engaged in
basically a criminal enterprise to -- in a systematic way to assist in
distribution of marijuana.
And the Justice Department has been silent on that issue. If they
remain silent, legalization will be the law of the land in a majority of the
states within five years. There is a lot at stake in what the position of the
administration will be, certainly. If you think that's the right way to
approach, then President Obama can do that.
You've also, though, got the issue that he's been sworn to
uphold the constitution and federal law and it's hard for me as a former
Justice Department official to understand the silence that we are not going
to enforce federal law. And it's not a heavy handed issue. The federal
government doesn't need to come in and start arresting Colorado citizens.
That's not the issue.
Just like they did in Arizona, the federal government can file suit
to have a declaratory judgment that the state law and regime for
marijuana distribution violates federal law and asks for an injunction. No
one is arrested. No one gets excited. It's just a declaration of what
federal law is and that what Colorado is doing through their state regime is in violation of federal law. So a lot rides on it and so far he's silent.
MR. NADELMANN: Well, let me just correct. Well, it's not
actually the first time with the Colorado -- this is not the first time the state
has set up something in contravention to federal law. In fact the first time
was for medical marijuana in the last few years. And what you have now,
there's now 18 states that have legalized medical marijuana, where you
can get marijuana, and it's not a crime if you have a doctor's
And there's a good chance that Illinois and New Hampshire
will become the 19th and 20th in the next few weeks or months if the
governors sign those bills on their desk. There is a 1.5 million to 2 million
people now with a legal medical marijuana recommendation. And if you
look around the states, what you see is you have states like Montana or
California where the state failed to set up a regulatory regime for that, and
that's where you see the federal prosecutors being fairly aggressive.
But then you look here in Colorado, where the state set up a
very responsible regulatory system for medical marijuana a few years ago.
They have a Colorado State medical marijuana enforcement division.
They've hired former law enforcement to regulate it.
You look at New Mexico, you look at some of the New
England states, they have tight regulatory systems. It's not like you see in
the newspapers with Los Angeles, where people can get marijuana with
any type of, you know, hangnail or whatever it might be, right.
And what you see is in those states the federal prosecutors are
not doing anything, and the DEA is hanging back. And you more or less
have the White House saying, "Look, if this is being effectively regulated,
we don't need to go after it." So what Colorado did with medical
marijuana a few years ago, by legally regulating it the way it has, and
what New Mexico and other states have done, that does provide a
model for what Colorado and Washington are now trying to do.
The other point I just want to make here is, you know, we are
focusing on the health consequences of marijuana, and about what legalization might look like. But the reason why I'm in this is not because
I'm a pro-marijuana person, and it's not because I think legalizing
marijuana is such a wonderful great thing, right. There are risks associated
with it, as I and Asa would agree.
I'm in this because I think that arresting 750,000 people a year
for marijuana possession is a terrible thing to do. I think giving millions of
Americans a criminal record for simply having a joint is a ridiculous thing
to do. I think having this business be in the hands of organized criminals in
Mexico and the U.S. and other countries makes no sense. I think that
foregoing the tax revenue while putting it in the hands of criminals makes
no sense. I think having people growing it illegally in national forests
makes no sense. I think that having people be disqualified from access for
students' scholarships and public housing and other assistance because
they once had a marijuana conviction makes no sense. I think people
who have been legal immigrants in this country for 20 years getting kicked
out because they get popped twice for possessing a joint is inhumane and
So the reason I'm doing this is not because I think legalizing
marijuana is such a great thing, it's because keeping it illegal is an
atrocious thing. And whatever risks there are to making marijuana legal
are less than the risks and the harms of continuing with a failed prohibition
MR. HUTCHINSON: I thought you've lost control of the
MR. BENNET: No. Well, I actually want to come -- I'm going
to come back to that speech you just gave in a moment. But Asa, I'd like
to actually first hear you address --
MR. BENNET: I'd like to hear you first address how successful
you think the regulatory regimes of marijuana have -- medical marijuana have actually been. I don't mean to be facetious about this. People with
severe medical conditions have said marijuana has been a tremendous
benefit to them.
On the other hand, I have had occasion to travel a fair amount
in Colorado over the last couple of years and I read the alternative
weeklies and so forth in the towns I go to. And I see all these marijuana
dispensaries competing on the quality of the munchies that they offer, the
brownies and so forth, and it seems like people have been probably
accessing those dispensaries in some cases for non-medicinal purposes. I
wonder what your view is?
MR. HUTCHINSON: Well, it hasn't worked. I mean, the
bottom line is that both the agenda for medical marijuana has been
outright legalization. I mean that is -- it is the legalizers that have pushed
the medical marijuana not for compassionate care but for ultimately getting
to marijuana being legal across our country. And so whenever the regime
in California or other places, anytime you have, you know, a medical --
something like a backache, which is totally subjective and you can have
marijuana for that, you are going to have extraordinary abuses in it. And
so you are not having any good regulatory scheme or enforcement
scheme on it.
And the fact is that in the Bush administration there was a
declaratory judgment type action that federal government does -- federal
law does supersede state law when it comes to the distribution of
marijuana or the regulation of medical marijuana even.
So I think it's been poor. That's why California has really tried
to tighten it up. Some of the communities see the abuses and they are
either outlawing it or trying to provide restrictions for it. But the debate
today is not about medical marijuana. And I would be the first one to say
that if there is a patient that has a need and the medical community says
this is a good solution for it, medicine, and they ought to be provided that
way, absolutely, if that is the case. But the medical community has not
said it to date.
So I don't think how we've handled medical marijuana is a lesson as to what happens whenever you go into full legalization of
MR. NADELMANN: Okay. I'm going to open it up to you
guys in a moment, so please start thinking about what questions you might
want to ask. Now, I'd like to return to what Ethan said a minute ago.
Asa, you were George W. Bush's first DEA administrator. I mean has the
war on drug particularly with reference to marijuana just been a costly
mistake? And aren't we in a position to realize -- not only save a lot of
money on incarceration and so forth, but raise a lot of money -- and this is
an argument that one hears -- through tax revenue if marijuana is
MR. HUTCHINSON: Our democracy is not going to fall if you
legalize marijuana, but I think you have to ask yourself, "What is the best
thing for our country?" And you can take two approaches to it. You can
say, well, there's been some mistakes in past policy on marijuana
enforcement and so we ought to adjust those policies, and that's actually
what's happening all across the country. It's such a small miniscule
percent of people who are particularly in federal custody because of
marijuana possession offence. It just doesn't happen.
And so -- but look at it. You know, Texas, Arkansas, many
states are looking at incarceration policy, making adjustments, and you've
got to be a pretty serious drug offender in order to go to jail for, you
know, breaking the law. And so you can adjust current policy. We have
done it with drug treatment court, so that we are putting more money in the
treatment side and alternatives to incarceration for those that have an
addiction problem. That's the path I would like to see. If you see mistakes
made, let's adjust those. And I think that's what Europe has done. Europe
has not moved toward decriminalization across the board. Latin America
has not moved toward decriminalization. They've simply moved toward
adjustment of their enforcement policy.
But the other path is, let's legalize it. Now, let's think about
what happens if you legalize marijuana all across this country. One, I
think it would generate tax revenues. I'm on the conservative side and
there's a lot of libertarians who don't believe in strong government but support marijuana legalization. It's ironic to me that if you legalize
marijuana what are going to create, a huge government bureaucracy.
That's what's happening in Colorado. You've got to have
licensing authority. You've got to have tax collection authority. You've got
to have enforcement authority. So you're going to create a huge
regulatory body in every state and the federal government if you legalize it
across the board to collect the taxes and to make sure the enforcement is
Arkansas; we have the Arkansas Lottery Scholarships. Lottery
money coming in which funds our scholarships. Well, we're going to be
having pot scholarships, because you're going to have revenue coming in
that's going to generate it and the public is going to sell it because you're
going to be able to send your kids with scholarships based upon
marijuana tax revenue. You're going to have retail shops, you're going to
have distribution, you're going to have cultivation all highly regulated.
That's the path we've got to go I believe with increased harm.
So two paths you can take. And I think the best one is, keep it
criminalized, keep it illegal conduct, but let's make the adjustments from
lessons that we've learned over the last two decades.
MR. NADELMANN: Well, I got to say, you talk about
expensive bureaucracy. You know the most expensive bureaucracy we
got is the prison industrial system. I mean --
MR. HUTCHINSON: And it will not change if you --
MR. NADELMANN: But I got to tell you that.
MR. HUTCHINSON: -- legalize marijuana because you still got
enforcement on heroin, methamphetamine, and a whole host of other
drugs, and that's not going to be solved unless you legalize everything,
and that's a bad idea.
MR. NADELMANN: The fact of the matter is -- I mean, roughly
half of Americans between the age of 17 and 65 would have tried marijuana now. Not that many Americans seems to be trying heroin and
cocaine or methamphetamine. And what you see in the public among --
we've done the polling on this and the research. What you see among a
lot of people who are on the fence around this stuff and are worried about
their kids and maybe they used marijuana when they were younger,
maybe they didn't, they're basically saying, "We want the cops focusing
on real crime." And quite frankly the cost of having some bureaucracy to
regulate this in a responsible way is well worth it.
If we can be bringing in billions of dollars of revenue and that
revenue will in fact go to pay for school construction and other services,
that's a tradeoff that we want. We don't want the criminals getting that
sort of stuff.
So I think this notion about, "Oh my god, we are going to have
another bureaucracy." Better to have a marijuana legal regulatory system,
which in Colorado is going to be under the Department of Revenue. In
Washington, it's in the Alcohol Control Bureau. That's the way to really
deal with this stuff.
Meanwhile, spending what we're doing now, $10 billion,
$15 billion a year enforcing these marijuana laws, three-quarter million
marijuana arrests. And I'll tell you this too. I used to wonder whether just
decriminalization would be enough.
MR. BENNET: The European approach is what you're
MR. NADELMANN: Well, yeah. Yeah, exactly. And then
you look what happened. 1970s you had, as I said, 11 states
decriminalized possession of marijuana, and initially the arrests dropped,
right. But you know what happened, by four years ago, in California and
New York, both of which had decriminalized the possession of marijuana
back in the '70s, you had more arrests than you had back in the '70s.
Because even though marijuana had been decriminalized, police found
new ways to arrest. And who are they mostly arresting? Overwhelmingly,
it was young men of color. Every city and county around the country.When you survey, you know, white kids, black kids, brown
kids, and you say, "Who's got more marijuana?" By and large, the same
percent are going to have marijuana in their pocket, white kids, brown
kids and black kids. But all around the country it's young black kids, to
some extent brown kids, who were getting arrested at three, four, seven,
ten times the rate.
So the problem with decriminalization was, police still found
ways to keep arresting people. They kept doing it. And decriminalization
still keeps it in the hands of the criminals, the black market. So that's why
I'm saying, let's make this legal, let's regulate it.
And by the way, now in Europe, you have now in Denmark, in
Switzerland, in Spain, The Netherlands, they're all now looking at the
U.S. and saying, "Whoa, U.S. is now leapfrogging us when it comes to a
pragmatic cannabis control policy." So they're beginning that debate
right now themselves about how to effectively legally regulate this stuff.
MR. BENNET: United States leadership does make a
MR. NADELMANN: It does.
MR. BENNET: All right, I'd like to go to the audience. Are
there questions out there? I think there are microphones -- microphones are
now set up actually, so if you would please go to the microphones and
line up at both sides of the room. I'm sorry; they weren't there a moment
ago when I looked up.
I'm going to ask -- since this is a debate and we've got a -- we
got a small enough group here -- I usually say no speech making. I still say
no speech making, but if you want to express an opinion, that's fine. I'd
love you to get your full question out in a paragraph though. So why
don't we start over there, please.
SPEAKER: Hi. I was just wondering, one of the things that was
not addressed today was the health risks. And the information that my
teenage children tell me, you can have alcohol poisoning, you can't die from pot. But you can still die in a car accident if you're high. And
possibly, if marijuana was legal there would be a lot of regulations like
Xanax, OxyContin. You have drugs that you're told are bad for you or
that could be addictive or there are problems, and that's one of the things
that legalization might help with is more information. And you all didn't
really talk about -- you did say carcinogenic, one of you, the very first
But the young people especially don't see any downfalls, brain
development, and a lot of other things in addition to the fact that it is
addictive, that's not -- it's overlooked.
MR. BENNET: John Hickenlooper, the governor of Colorado
was here a couple of days ago and he opposed the referendum. It was
passed over his opposition. And one of the things he's very concerned
about he said is long-term memory loss in kids, and they're not aware of
the hazard there. Ethan, what do you say about the health risks of
MR. NADELMANN: Well, as I said earlier, the health risks of
moderate or occasional marijuana use are virtually nil. I mean the one
exception will be people who maybe have a -- you know, are struggling
with mental illness, and that's where marijuana can sometimes be really
problematic. But the problems really are heavy use. And so there was a
significant study a year ago which suggested that if you use a lot of
marijuana when you are young and you keep using a lot of marijuana
when you get older that that can reduce your IQ, right.
Now, a subsequent study challenged that, and other people
pointed out that the same study suggested that if you're a heavy user of
marijuana when you're younger and then stop when you're older or if you
did not use when you're younger but then use when you're older, you
don't see the impact on IQ.
When it comes to driving, driving what you see is -- alcohol is
far and away the worst. But one clearly should not drive under the
influence of marijuana. I mean, the evidence shows that whereas
experienced marijuana users driving on the road it's hard to tell the difference between experienced marijuana user driving and somebody
who is not high at all. That if you're a novice user, if you're using a new
batch or whatever it might be, that there are risks of driving under the
influence of marijuana.
Finally, on memory, in terms -- once again, heavy use of
marijuana can have some impact on long-term marijuana -- on long-term
memory. But what you see -- and also short-term memory. So, for
example, when you're high -- the stuff that you learn when you're high
you're going to be less likely to remember the next day or the next week.
When you're high you can remember stuff from the past as well
as somebody who is not high. But it's the stuff you learn while you're high
that you forget. That's why going to school, studying, doing things like that
while you're high is a bad idea, okay. But when it comes to the evidence
about long-term memory stuff, there's very little evidence showing harms in
that area unless you are smoking 24/7 for very long extended periods of
MR. HUTCHINSON: I actually think you made a pretty good
argument against legalization right there. That's a lot of harm in my
judgment and potential harm and risk for our society to take by the
legalization model. But to the lady's very appropriate question, you know,
we have drug education now. It's funded federally through the Office of
National Drug Control Policy known as the Drug Czar's Office. And that
funding has been cut significantly in recent years and so you're not hearing
the same type of drug education messages for our young people. As a
result you see some uptick; education makes a difference.
Some of the programs in the schools have been diminished as
well. But clearly, governor of Colorado taking a lead in this, saying,
we've got to have drug education if we're going to have legalization. So
you're going to have to do that. I think it's important whether it's legalized
or not to have that drug education, but it's probably even more necessary
in terms of the health consequences. And not just for the teenagers but for
the adults to prevent the heavy use that you're speaking of that has some
very long-term consequences.MR. NADELMANN: Yeah. I mean, I just want to say also, I
think Hickenlooper is providing something of a model. Because he
opposed this initially on the ballot, but he then very clearly followed
through in good faith about trying to implement it. He just signed the
implemented legislation last month. He's lobbied the Justice Department for
permission to implement this thing. And he's focusing on where the real
harms would be. "We don't want to see more young people getting in
trouble with this stuff. We don't want to see more accidents on the roads,
but we also don't want to see our young people getting arrested. We
don't want to see this thing out of control. We don't want to see
unregulated marijuana. So the challenge really is about coming up with
that balanced marijuana policy."
MR. BENNET: Let's take two from over here.
SPEAKER: You know, I really don't understand the brouhaha of
that pot. I actually don't smoke it, but it's a sedative. And it's much less of
a sedative than alcohol and valium and all the other drugs that the adults
in this society are using. Now, am I going to let my 15-year-old drink?
No. Am I going to let my 15-year-old smoke pot? No. But if my 16, 17
or 18 year old walks out and somebody hands him a joint, I don't want
them to have a criminal record.
And then I'll tell them, "Listen, you know, this is the reason you
shouldn't be smoking" or "this is the reason you shouldn't be having five
glasses of wine." But look at the adults in our society and ask yourselves is
this a much more criminal behavior than having six shots of whisky? I
mean this is what's okay for the Senate when they go out to their parties at
MR. BENNET: Asa, I think that's a question probably to you.
MR. BENNET: I mean why is -- you know, why shouldn't we
leave this to the parents of America? Why is this the government's
business?MR. HUTCHINSON: Well, it is the first responsibility of the
parents. And the concern you expressed is that if you have a teenager
that's given a joint by someone else and smokes that joint, you don't want
them to have a criminal record. And under our system they are not going
to be arrested. They, you know, could be -- you know, repeat offence,
they could be going into juvenile court or it could be some school
disciplinary matter. Usually, it's dealt with between the parent and the
school and that type. If he gets into much more serious problem, there's
more serious consequences. But you're going to have that challenge if
you legalize marijuana and someone gives your 15-year-old a joint and
they smoke it, guess what? It's still a violation of the law because they are
underage. And so nothing is going to change in that regime.
SPEAKER: You know what, though, they are going to get it
anywhere. If you ask any parent in this room their kids are saying, "I'm
getting this stuff." And the only thing that stops them from having this at this
age is parental influence and talking to them. But beyond that, it is a
sedative and it's a less dangerous sedative than alcohol.
MR. BENNET: All right. Thank you.
SPEAKER: It doesn't create --
MR. BENNET: Can I stop you there because I like to get to
some other questions. But, Ethan, can -- you want to respond to that? But
specifically a point Asa made that nothing really is going to change. Her
child might still wind up with a criminal record.
MR. NADELMANN: So the evidence we're beginning to see
suggests that even though the laws apply in Colorado and Washington to
people 21 and over, what we're seeing in fact -- appears to be seeing, is
that police are less likely to be arresting people under that age as well.
So even though the law doesn't technically apply to the below 21, that's
the change we're seeing.
I'll tell you this, though -- it goes to the question somebody
asked before about the risks of marijuana and other drugs. One thing
about marijuana is you cannot die of a marijuana overdose and if you do become addicted -- first of all, a smaller percentage of people will get
addicted to it than with many other drugs. And if you do get addicted, the
harms of the addiction are less than other drugs and it's easier to put that
addiction behind you.
The thing I'm most worried about now is the opiates. It's not just
heroin, but the pharmaceutical opiates. We've seen a number of people
dying of an overdose related to pharmaceutical opiates or heroin increase
four-fold over the last 10 to 15 years. As many people died of an
accidental drug overdose last year as died of an auto accident, right.
Now if you think about it -- the thing about opiates is if you
combine them with alcohol that's how people can die and that's how
young people can die by accident. With marijuana you can bind it with
anything. It may make you sick, nauseous, tired, but it's not going to kill
you. You sleep it off and you wake up okay the next morning
MR. HUTCHINSON: Do you want your 15-year-old using
MR. NADELMANN: Asa, as I said before, I don't want my
teenagers using any drugs. And my message for the young people --
MR. HUTCHINSON: Will it be a criminal offence?
MR. NADELMANN: No, but let me just say --
MR. HUTCHINSON: Will it be a criminal office? That was
really the question.
MR. NADELMANN: But my -- I don't think young people
should go to jail for marijuana, no. I don't think they should go to jail. I
don't want to make it available to them. I don't think -- but it's like with
cigarettes. I don't think kids should be using cigarettes either. I think treat
marijuana more or less like we're treating alcohol or cigarettes, right.
Strong, smart public health measures, education measures,
good taxation, restrictions on time and place, good education. My message for young people in drugs is, first, don't do drugs. My second
message is, don't do drugs. My third message is, but if you do do drugs,
there is some things I want you to know. Because my bottom line is your
parent loves you to death -- ultimately it's not "did you or didn't you." My
bottom line is, are you going to come home safely at the end of the night
and grow up and make me healthy grand kids. That's my bottom line.
MR. BENNET: But Ethan, just so I just understand it, I would
like to crystallize this question of fact. Is there anything under the Colorado
law that will put her child less at risk of winding up with a criminal record,
is I thought is the question? Nothing is going to change.
MR. NADELMANN: No. As I said, nothing specifically
MR. BENNET: Okay.
MR. NADELMANN: -- the issue of under 21. It's really more
that as you change the law for adults, the police are less likely to be
arresting people age 18 to 21.
MR. BENNET: Okay. Next question, please.
SPEAKER: I just wanted to say, I work in the addiction field for
many years. I have never seen a child or any age die of an overdose of
marijuana. I see our kids dying and people of all ages dying from the use
of prescription medication that is legal and is prescribed by our doctors.
This issue is more complicated than just legalizing marijuana.
We have to look at the education that we're doing on drugs. We have to
look at the instruments that we have to treat addiction, which are
miserable in the country, except for people who have a lot of money to
pay for treatment. And we --
MR. BENNET: Could you move to a question, please. I'm
SPEAKER: And my question is, instead of getting caught up in all this discussion about what is the bottom line. If we are not going to
take a double standard with marijuana and prescription medication in
terms of what will happen to crime in our country having legalized drugs
or not a black market, let's put it that way -- eliminating the black market is
what I mean?
MR. BENNET: Will it eliminate the black market if we legalize
marijuana, is that the question?
SPEAKER: That's part of the question because right now even
we have the legal drugs that are prescribed by -- there is a black market
for that too.
MR. BENNET: All right. Thank you.
MR. HUTCHINSON: I mean that's the thing. I don't think you
can make a logical argument that you're going to reduce incarceration
costs, law enforcement costs by legalizing marijuana because you're
going to have those that are going to try to sell outside the market. You're
going to have the same -- you know, the DEA, well, they diminish one iota
because you're going to legalize marijuana. They are going to be able to
focus. Maybe that's a good argument for it.
But they are going to be able to -- you know, it's going to be
heroin. It's going to be the prescription drugs. So there is always going to
be the enforcement responsibility whether a specific drug is legal or not.
That is still going to be the case. I think you're going to have actually
increased law enforcement expenses under a legalization regime of one
drug. And the only way that you're really going to eliminate that if you
legalized all drugs, which I don't think very many people expect for Mr.
Nadelmann actually would advocate for.
MR. NADELMANN: Well, actually -- and even I'm not
advocating for that. I mean, my organization, the Drug Policy Alliance,
we're the leading organization in the country, probably the world, of
people who are advocating against the war on drugs. What I would say
is that most of our members, and I for that matter as well, we don't
advocate for treating heroin and cocaine and methamphetamine the way we do alcohol or cigarettes, or the way we argue with marijuana. We
have some libertarians who are supporters and some people who want to
legalize everything. But we have a lot of people who don't want to
legalize anything, who will say, "Decriminalize, treat addiction as a health
If I were to sum up the overall objective of drug policy reform in
one rather long sentence, it would be this. It is to reduce the role of
criminalization and the criminal justice system in drug control to the
maximum extent possible while protecting public safety and health, right.
So I think about drug policy (inaudible) spectrum from the most punitive
lock them up, you know, pull out their fingernails, cut off their heads, Saudi
Arabia, Singapore, to the most free market like we had with cigarettes 50
And I think the objective is there is no inherit role why the
criminal law and the criminal justice system has to be front and center in
dealing with these drugs. One of the lessons of Europe is that you can put
the health people in charge. You can put the surgeon general in charge
rather than a military general or a police chief. You can treat these drugs
primarily as health issues, where law enforcement plays a backup role
rather than a frontal role.
And that means in the end, let's take marijuana out of the
criminal justice system, responsibly regulate it, you know, tax it, control it.
It means, secondly, with respect to the possession of other drugs, do what
Portugal has been doing for the last 12 years. Nobody goes to jail for the
simple possession of a small amount of any drug. The production,
distribution still illegal, but the evidence from Portugal shows that they've
reduced the cost of drug enforcement and drug use has not gone up and
drug addiction and HIV and Hep-C have all gone down.
MR. BENNET: Any drug whatsoever?
MR. NADELMANN: Of any drug. What they say basically is
if we catch you and you got a little bit of heroin, cocaine on you, or
marijuana, whatever it might be, we are not sending you to jail. We are
going to send you to what's called the dissuasion committee, where you talk to people with expertise in health. No, I'm going to tell you, Portugal
made a real commitment to treating drug addiction as a health issue, right.
In the United States we say if you use drugs, we're going to lock you up if
you don't stop. Portugal said we're not going to do that. We are going
to send you to a committee. We are going to try to get you help. If you
have an addiction we're going to treat it as a health issue. That's what we
are going to do. If you are really a bad guy, if you are really committing
other crimes, then we will arrest you. We will lock you up. But we are
not going to put you in jail simply for possessing or using drugs.
MR. BENNET: All right. Let's try to get a couple of more
questions in. Over here, please.
SPEAKER: All right. So I'm asking my question. You said to
introduce ourselves. I have sat on a state trial bench since 1986 in a city,
Baltimore, where 10 percent of our population is addicted. All these
years later, 27 years later, having created and sat on drug courts and
having sat in civil and felony courts -- why would using a health model, an
education model, appropriate regulations, criminalization for certain types
of selling and distribution not work in preventing the serious public safety
and health issues as well as the significant discriminatory effect?
And that's really important in a city when one sees that people
who are going to drugs -- jails, who are being charged are young people
of color, and who has, the panel has mentioned, come out with badges
of felony and misdemeanor convictions that cut off so many future
opportunities. Why wouldn't it work and who else is working on this to
make it work or at least explore ways?
MR. BENNET: Asa, I think that's a question for --
MR. HUTCHINSON: No, that's a great -- it is a great
question. And I agree totally that whenever we have an addiction
problem in our society, we need to address the addiction problem. I'm a
strong supporter of more funding for the addiction and the treatment of
those that have drug problems. But what you see is that -- what compels
someone to go into treatment? You would like to think that they realize
they got a problem, so they are going to go into treatment. They got an addiction problem. Or, that the family comes to them. But in 90 percent
of the cases what puts somebody into treatment is when they get arrested
and they are confronted by their law enforcement officer and then they go
And that is -- you mentioned the drug treatment course. That's
where they have the accountability. They are going into the addiction --
the treatment program. But if they are not staying clean, if they are not
reporting, if they are not staying employed, if they are not taking care of
their family, then that judge very well could put them in jail. It's an
But I have been to those drug treatment court graduations,
where whenever the -- after a yearlong treatment, they get through that,
they graduate, they go over and they hug their arresting officer, and say,
"You are the one that got me on the right path." So you've got to combine
the enforcement side with what triggers the treatment side.
Enforcement doesn't always necessarily lead to incarceration
and it shouldn't. And the addiction -- it could be somebody is committing
burglary who has got an addiction problem as identified or writing bad
checks to support their habit. In law enforcement you got to identify that
it's an addiction problem and put them into the treatment side.
You mentioned the discriminatory outcome, and that's always a
great concern. I mean part of it is economics, part of it is poverty. I mean,
you've got -- why do we have more of minorities that are in poverty. Well,
there's a lot of reasons for all of that. We have to look at our enforcement
to make sure that we are being even handed. That's one of the reasons I
supported the changing of the cocaine -- crack cocaine disparity because
it had a racial disparity impact. That law was changed by Congress and
that's an example of things we need to fix. Things we need to do better.
We need to learn. And if there is, you know, a poor outcome for
minorities because of this, because of some inappropriate enforcement
policy, we need to change that.
MR. NADELMANN: Well, actually, Jim, I just got to say
something here. I don't think all that's right. First of all, we have a two-tier system in this country when it comes to drug treatment. If you have money,
if you are white, if you are affluent, by and large the criminal justice system
is not involved with you or your drug use or drug addiction. You are
finding ways to deal with that outside the criminal justice system.
If you are poor or often times black or brown, the odds are the
criminal justice system is the only way you are getting access to drug
treatment, and that's not the best way to do drug treatment. The criminal
justice system is not a good drug treatment provider. Also, Asa, when you
say that most people don't go to drug treatment or don't get rid of their
addiction without the criminal justice system and a judge holding a
hammer over their head, you know, you ask heroin addicts what's the most
addictive drug of all. You know what they say? Cigarettes.
But in fact half of all Americans who have been addicted to
cigarettes have quit and the vast majority did it without being coerced and
with no judge holding something over their head. Then you look, as I said
before, at the Portugal model. Well, they are dealing with addiction more
effectively than we are without holding any hammer over anybody's head
and instead of putting the money in billions of dollars into the law
enforcement side --
MR. HUTCHINSON: You said --
MR. NADELMANN: No, wait a second.
MR. BENNET: Give Asa a chance to respond to you.
MR. NADELMANN: Instead of putting the money into law
enforcement side, they are putting it into the health side, where the
MR. BENNET: All right. Let him -- give him a chance and then
let's get one more question.
MR. HUTCHINSON: Well, you previously said that in
Portugal they were arrested but instead of putting them in jail, they put
them into their re-education program.MR. NADELMANN: No, I didn't say they arrested, Asa.
MR. HUTCHINSON: They are stopped by a law enforcement
officer, that to me is an arrest.
MR. NADELMANN: No, no, but they are not arrested. They
get no criminal record to speak of. It's a system totally different than the
MR. BENNET: Let's go over here please for a question.
SPEAKER: Yeah, I think there is one question that we haven't
really addressed. I'm a psychotherapist here in Aspen and I deal with
young people. I'm in the trenches, so I talk to these people day in and
day out. A lot of people here, young people, are starting very young and
using it way into adulthood and beyond, you know, young adulthood.
And I'm seeing people that are really just dropping out of society. They
are losing ambition. They are dropping out of college. They don't have
jobs. They are young parents and they have anger. They have psychosis.
They have schizophrenic like actions.
And I'm really worried. I feel like one-tenth of the people I'm
working with will have no futures at all and they will be on the sidewalks
or their parents will have to be supporting them. And I think that's one
thing we have not addressed and I think it's a huge issue in the United
States. And because I feel like you all have not experienced it, you don't
know the reality of it and it really is frightening to me for our nation.
MR. BENNET: How about that, Ethan?
MR. NADELMANN: Well, what I would say is --
MR. HUTCHINSON: What's the -- would you --
MR. BENNET: I'd like to hear Ethan respond to that first.
MR. HUTCHINSON: Okay.MR. NADELMANN: I mean what I would say is, you know, I
have been doing this for a long time and I have talked to many, many
people struggling with addiction. Many of the people involved in our
organization are people who have seen the worst that drugs can do.
And what their conclusion is, is that criminalizing these people who are
struggling with their lives, with their children, with their families, with mental
illness, with all these things, that criminalization is not the right approach.
We now have a half million people behind bars who are
mentally ill. That's not the right place for people struggling with mental
illness. We have people struggling with trying to get jobs and stuff like that
and drugs are out there, alcohol is out there, they are all problematic. But
I think -- look, we've built a prison industrial complex in this country that is
the most extensive and most expensive one in history.
And not just, you know, in absolute dollar numbers, but per
capita. I think the real answer to dealing with the sorts of problems that
you are encountering and the people who are struggling and families and
all this, it's not going to be by pouring ever more billions of dollars down
the rat hole of the criminal justice system.
It's going to be by dealing with those issues directly as health
issues, as mental health issues, as job training issues, in those sorts of ways.
You know, I think that's really where we need to focus, not through the
criminal justice system.
MR. BENNET: Asa, how do you react to that question? And
then I think we are going to have to proceed to a vote and wrap it up
MR. HUTCHINSON: Yeah. I mean I think all of her points are
very accurate. I mean the incredible consequences of addiction, even of
marijuana, that you are speaking of. And I think the question that we have
to ask as a society is, one, is this going to get better or worse if we
legalize marijuana. My judgment is it's going to get worse, not better.
And the second question is, if we keep it illegal then how do we address that problem. And I think we obviously need to continue to
put resources into the treatment. We need to do greater education and
address it like any other society problem. So thank you for your question.
MR. BENNET: All right, I would like to ask you guys, if you
came in here opposed to legalization or uncertain have you had your
mind changed by this conversation? Any hands? There is one. Okay.
And how about the other way, if you came here in favor of legalization or
uncertain have you had your mind changed the other way? So we
haven't moved this crowd very much.
MR. BENNET: It shows maybe how much -- how rigid
positions are on this subject. But thank you guys for making such strong
and knowledgeable basis on both sides.
* * * * *
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