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Should Marijuana Be Legalized? Ethan Nadelmann Debates Stephen Baldwin

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Last week California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger became the latest and most high-profile U.S. elected official to call for a debate on legalizing marijuana.

On May 12th, CBS News.com ran pro and con marijuana legalization opinion pieces by Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance and actor Stephen Baldwin.

Here is what they have to say on marijuana legalization. What do you think? Who do you support?

Make Marijuana Legal

By Ethan Nadelmann, founder, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance

Marijuana should never have been made illegal in the first place.

Ask why it was made illegal -- by many state governments and eventually the federal government during the first four decades of the past century -- and the answer cannot be found in expert medical testimony or any objective assessment of the costs and benefits of prohibiting marijuana.

In many western states, it was simply a matter of prejudice against Mexican-Americans and Mexican migrants, with whom marijuana was popularly associated. Rancid tabloid journalism also played a role, as did Reefer Madness-like propaganda and legislative testimony.

We know the result. Marijuana became dramatically more popular after its prohibition than it ever was before. Over one hundred million Americans have tried it, including the three most recent occupants of the Oval Office. Billions, perhaps tens of billions, of dollars are spent and earned illegally on it each year. Marijuana is routinely described as the first, second or third most lucrative agricultural crop in many states. And taxpayers are obliged to spend billions of their own dollars each year in support of futile efforts to enforce an unenforceable prohibition.

Clearly marijuana prohibition is unique among American criminal laws. No other law is both enforced so widely and harshly yet deemed unnecessary by such a substantial portion of the populace. Police made roughly 800,000 arrests last year for possession of marijuana, typically tiny amounts. That's almost the same number as are arrested each year for cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, Ecstasy and all other drugs. Meanwhile recent polls show that over 40% of Americans think that marijuana should be taxed and regulated like alcohol; and it's closer to 50% among Democrats, independents, adults under age 30, and voters in a growing number of western states.

This is an issue on which politicians can be counted on to follow, not lead, public opinion. But some at last are saying publicly that legalizing marijuana needs to be on the table. For California Governor Schwarzenegger, it's the prospect of new tax revenue and costs savings when the state's budget deficit has never been larger. For Arizona Attorney General Terry Goodard and the City Council of El Paso, Texas, it's the realization that legalizing marijuana would help reduce the violence and profits of Mexican drug gangs.

Others point to the fact that marijuana prohibition is a remarkable failure in the eyes and ways of young people. Over eighty percent of high school seniors say that marijuana is easy to obtain -- and even easier to buy than alcohol. It's hard to see how making marijuana legal for adults would make it any more available to young people than it is already.

Is marijuana addictive? Yes, it can be, in that some people use it to excess, in ways that are problematic for themselves and those around them, and find it hard to stop. But marijuana may well be the least addictive and least damaging of all commonly used psychoactive drugs. Most people who smoke marijuana never become dependent. Withdrawal symptoms pale beside those of other drugs. No one has ever died from a marijuana overdose, which cannot be said of most other drugs. Marijuana is not associated with violent behavior and only minimally with reckless sexual behavior. And even heavy marijuana smokers smoke only a fraction of what cigarette addicts smoke. Lung cancers involving people who smoke marijuana but not tobacco are virtually nil.

It's no surprise that the Drug Enforcement Administration's own administrative law judge, Francis Young, came to the conclusion in 1988 that "marijuana may well be the safest psychoactive substance commonly used in human history."

But when all is said and done, the principal, and most principled, argument in favor of ending marijuana prohibition is this: whether or not I or anyone else consume marijuana should be none of the government's business-so long as I'm not behind the wheel of a car or otherwise putting others at risk. It's time to get the government off my property and out of both my pockets and my body when it comes to marijuana. Enough is enough.

Common Sense Says, "No Thanks!"

Guest Column: co-written by Stephen Baldwin & Kevin McCullough

America doesn't want its pot...American potheads do!

Sure the debate is raging presently, but it's as fictional in its need as whether pigs can fly or whether Superman was or was not faster than that bullet.

In the modern trumped up controversy over whether marijuana should be legalized for the masses, the biggest canard of all is the supposed demand that exists. As a team that produces a weekly talk radio show now heard on 195 stations, we can earnestly say one thing is definitively true in the discussions we've launched about the revival of the "Should pot be legal?" question: "America doesn't want its pot...American potheads do!"

Almost to a person, callers to our broadcast who have asserted the need for weed's legality are also toking up on a regular basis.

Considering that Stephen starred in "Biodome," one of the more famous marijuana movies of all time, and that he has testified to smoking enough of the substance prior to his conversion to Christianity to fund a third world junta or two, we are able to compare the pleas of the modern marijuana movement and measure them for what they are -- cries of economically struggling potheads who want to get high cheaply, next generation be damned.

Nothing could be more foolish and nothing could be more unnecessary.

We have no desire to prevent doctors from prescribing specified care, or authorizing specific treatments for patients that simply cannot find any more compassionate or effective means. We do, however, also recognize that the medical community has expanded its array of treatments in instances for cancer and other diagnoses that might render the need for marijuana completely useless.

What we oppose with ferocity is making it as common for children to obtain as alcohol and cigarettes are now.

Legalizing it across the board creates easier access for children who we suppose would still be legally prevented from "purchasing" it. This doesn't even preface the fact that cigarettes are now thought of as a greater evil to children than sex offenders.

Marijuana proponents claim that the benefit to society would be enhanced by fewer offenders being sent to prison, tax revenues that would be generated, and the establishment of marijuana farming systems.

A major untruth that they spread is that for every criminal it would prevent from being sent to prison, dealing with the increasingly prevalent use by underage users would be doubled or even tripled.

What they also will not tell you is that for every ounce of tax revenues raised, a ton of cost is exacted upon society by intoxicated drivers, child addicts, counseling, rehabilitation, etc.

And the farming argument is just dumb.

What the rabid dealers and addicts will not admit is that the primary reason they are making this push is multi-purposed. First, they believe having a former user in the White House will give them the cover they need to make this process speedy, efficient, and successful. And second, they are convinced that it will give them easy access to the "high" they want, as well as give the pushers a new line of clientele.

The pot-heads of America believe that their new day has dawned.

But for the sake of our kids and the generations to come, it is still not too late to "just say no!"

(Stephen Baldwin & Kevin McCullough produce Xtreme Radio with Baldwin/McCullough, heard on 195 stations nationally. They can be reached at BMXRadioNow@gmail.com, or at 903.200.HOPE.)