Nick Gillespie Debates Former DEA Head Asa Hutchinson on Drug Legalization (And Wins!)

On Wednesday, November 14, I was honored to participate in an Intelligence Squared debate in New York (check out this website to see what Intelligence Squared, a great forum for top-notch debate and discussion, is all about).

The topic was the legalization of drugs and I joined Georgetown Law Professor Paul Butler in arguing for legalization. On the other side of divide: former Drug Enforcement Administration head Asa Hutchinson and Manhattan Institute fellow Theodore Dalrymple.

Click above to watch the full debate (expertly moderated by John Donvan) and go here to watch highilights and read a full transcript of the discussion. You can also listen to an NPR podcast of the debate and get times for a PBS broadcast of the same. My opening statement - in which I present myself as a conscientious objector in the war on drugs - starts around the 26-minute mark.

IQ2 events feature a pre-debate poll of the audience, followed by a post-debate poll to see which team succeeded in winning over more people to its side. I'm happy to report that on that score Butler and I won the night. Before we started talking, 45 percent were for legalization, 23 percent were against it, and 32 percent were undecided. Afterwards, the numbers were 58 percent for, 30 percent against, and 12 percent undecided.

Whatever your position on the legalization issue, I think you'll find much of value in the debate. However much I disagree with the policy prescriptions of the other side, Hutchinson and Dalrymple gave as good as they got. I only wish that legalization was debated more often, especially with people on the nay side. on Drug Policy here.

Here's a summary of the debate at The Fix, a site that covers drug policy and addiction issues.

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  • zandooo||

    lol, I thought the election was over??

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Where's that Ann Coulter debate?

  • SugarFree||

    She vomits acid on her victims, then slurps up the dissolved nutrient fluid. Do you want to be onstage with her?

  • Lord Humungus||

  • VG Zaytsev||

    It's a real mistake to make the war on drugs about unfairness to black people like the first speaker does in his opening address.

    It may be the reality that the wod inflicts disproportionate casualties on blacks, but you need society in general to feel the impact to end it. Unfortunately, large numbers of incarcerated blacks is a price that many are willing to bare if it keeps demon weed and evil heroin out of the hands of their kids.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    It's a real mistake to make the war on drugs about unfairness to black people like the first speaker does in his opening address.

    It may be the reality that the wod inflicts disproportionate casualties on blacks, but you need society in general to feel the impact to end it. Unfortunately, large numbers of incarcerated blacks is a price that many are willing to bare if it keeps demon weed and evil heroin out of the hands of their kids.

  • SIV||

    If only more white people's lives were ruined, it would be "fair".

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Ironic way to put it, but if more white people lives were ruined by the wod, mj at least would be legal by now.

    It's similar to the appeal of increasing someone else's taxes.

    Concentrated costs and diffuse benefits are appealing to the majority that gets the benefits without paying the cost in the same way that concentrated benefits appeal to the minority that get them.

    Even when, as in this case, the benefits are mostly psychological and imaginary.

  • Ted S.||

    The real question is whether the server squirrels are racist.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Nick needs a teleprompter.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Dalrymple's point about drugs not causing violent and property crimes is an argument for legalization.

  • MisterDamage||

    I'd like to see this debate done again, with people debating the negative who actually know how to debate. As in how to shift someone skeptical of your position to their own point of view. Much of the debate from the negative team was either harmful to their position or completely beside the point.

    Maybe that's because arguing the negative of this question is difficult to do in a logical way but I'd at least like to see someone try.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    These debates always present a dichotomy of keep the war on drugs ramped up or complete drug anarchy, which is a radical scary choice to most people.

  • sarcasmic||

    Pretty sad that these drug warriors would sentence their own children to the company of murders and rapists in prison for committing the victimless crime of consuming an unapproved chemical.

  • R C Dean||

    Does anybody ever ask them that question?

    "If your child used drugs, would you call the police and have them arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned?"

  • sarcasmic||

    In a roundabout way, yes. In his closing arguments one of the drug warriors talked of how someone close to him was having a drug problem, and if drugs were legal all the state could do was take her children away. But since the stuff is illegal, not only can the state take her children, but it can lock her in a cage and force her into treatment. Once she realizes that it is for her own good, she'll get on her knees and thank the men who kidnapped and imprisoned her.

  • Robert||

    You didn't have to get to the closing arguments. Long before that, he said people he'd had imprisoned thanked him for turning their lives around.

  • Robert||

    I watched it streamed live. You y Mr. Dalrymple were informative y witty, but I could've done without either your or his partner, who brought up silly debating points.

  • Robert||

    Headlining it as you debating Asa Hutchinson y winning is misleading. Anybody could be Hutchinson. Anybody could beat Butler too.


    Meth is by far one of the most destructive and easy to make cheap drugs even Cocaine would be a better choice but its far most expensive I feel Coco Leaves have been used for thousands of years with not much problem I think if research were not to be block by the DEA there could be extracts of coca leaves that might be safer with out making cocaine which might also be useful for Diabetic and weight control.
    And no one would use spice/bath salts if cannabis were legal.

  • johnl||

    Nick you didn't win. The night started with 32% undecided and ended up with 12%. You split those undecided 2 to 1 with the other side, which is the same advantage you atarted out with.

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    I thought The Jacket did a pretty good job of dealing with the ex DEA guy who kept raising the spectre of meth as the big boogeyman. I also find it bizarre in our culture that prohibitions against food and prescription drugs are on the rise, yet pot legalization is growing as well. Goes to show that people in general have no idea what "liberty" is. They have no clear idea of what is a "right".

    5% of the world population, 25% of the world's incarceration. "Land of the free and home of the brave" my ass.

  • FreedomRocks||

    Was Dalrymple really on the "against" side? Everything thing he talked about was a good reason to legalize. He seemed to not even know what the point was or he just wrote what he wanted to say whether it applied or not.

  • FreedomRocks||

    Also, Mr. Huthinson fails to recognize that justice for the average citizen is beyond their financial means. He could afford a good lawyer for his children to get them off or at least lessen the penalties that others suffer if not just get them off because of who he is. The law isn't judicious or equally applied. Especially when you have statutory minimum sentences and DMVs that make laws to harass citizens who actually try to exercise their Constitutionally guaranteed rights to not submit to the policeman everything they want. Which also, with mandatory minimums, pretty much guarantees that highly connected people will have a better chance of the police just letting them go so they won't have to even face a mandatory minimum sentence.

    Unfortunately, they only focused on race. It's about justice being too expensive for the average citizen to have access to.


    What job will be the users of legal drugs be allowed to perform so that they can support themselves or their families? Do you want to be driven in a taxi by a marijuana user? Do you want the operating room doctor using meth or speed?

  • Tablet pc||

    I do not like drugs, and this is really damn, we should ban it.

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