By Chris Megerian
It was immediately evident when they stepped on stage Tuesday that the two speakers in the Great Debate on the legalization of marijuana could not have had less in common.
Former Drug Enforcement Agency agent Robert Stutman, a stocky man with a shaved head who said he rides a motorcycle, was introduced as the “most famous narc in America” by moderator Jack Zupko, a philosophy professor and director of undergraduate studies in the philosophy department.
His opponent, High Times Editor in Chief Steve Hager, a thin man with shoulder-length gray hair and faded jeans, was introduced as the “most famous pothead in America.”
The duo, who has travelled together to other universities debating marijuana use and the war on drugs, spoke passionately in defense of both positions. But Stutman said they were careful to never attack each other personally.
In opening remarks and in response to audience questions, Hager cited the practical uses of marijuana, such as the alleviation of many diseases and the creation of hemp clothing. He also defended marijuana use on cultural and religious grounds, saying it is an intricate part of his and other people’s beliefs.
“Can I get a little freedom of religion in America?” he asked.
Stutman said marijuana should remain illegal because most Americans oppose legalization and doctors question whether its benefits outweigh its harms.
“Just because it’s natural doesn’t make it good,” he said. “Any doctor who tells you to smoke stuff for your health is a fool.”
More than 800 people attended the debate in Glenn Memorial Auditorium, many of them clapping and cheering in support of the debaters.
Hager and Stutman did agree that the government should not jail people who use illegal substances. Instead, Stutman said the government should focus on prevention and treatment.
“It’s stupid public policy to throw people in prison for the use of any drugs,” he said.
Hager responded by saying he wished Stutman had agreed to serve as the “drug czar,” the leader of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position that Stutman has turned down three times.
“There’s an endorsement that would get me nowhere with this administration,” Stutman joked.
Hager complained that many prescription drugs, which also cause dependency, are legal.
“Nobody sees any problem with 159 million prescriptions last year for antidepressants,” he said.
Stutman aggressively rebutted Hager’s points, arguing that the number of marijuana users would increase tenfold if the drug was made legal. He also said that most legalization supporters “don’t give one damn” about its medical value and simply want the drug legalized for recreational use.
Hager conceded that marijuana should not be used at certain times. As a father, he said, he has learned not to use the drug when parenting. He also told students to “put aside breakfast bong hits” in order to focus on their education.
Responding to Hager’s suggestion that Emory create a chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a student volunteered after the debate to organize an on-campus effort to legalize marijuana.
“I’d thought about it before, but I didn’t realize there was so much interest on this campus,” she said.
College Council Vice President Feras Akbik, who helped plan the debate, said it exceeded his expectations. Akbik, who was recently elected College Council president, hopes to make the Great Debate an annual College Council event.
College freshman Matthew LeVine, who claims to have used marijuana, says it should be legalized because the culture of marijuana use doesn’t harm society.
“I believe that all the arguments that are stocked up against marijuana stem from propaganda,” he said.
College senior Kevin Bleier said he has never used the drug and was unsure of whether or not it should be legalized.
“People should choose not to smoke marijuana,” he said. “[But] I’m not going to enforce my will upon them.”