The Foundation for Economic Education held a debate at the Colorado School of Mines on the topic “Legalizing marijuana saves money and lives.” Representing the affirmative position was Jim Gray, the most recent Libertarian candidate for Vice President, a retired judge and current speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Representing the negative position was Kevin Sabet, former adviser to the Bush and Obama Administrations on Drug Control Policy and the co-founder of Project SAM, Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

The debate began with opening statements from each speakers, followed by rebuttal, questions from the audience, and final statements. “The most dangerous thing connected with marijuana is jail,” began Judge Gray, who laid out the case that the current policies of marijuana prohibition cost money and lives. “We cannot get rid of these drugs, they are going to be here one way or another, and wouldn’t you rather have that in the hands of law-abiding businessmen than violent criminals?” Judge Gray also made the distinction that he didn’t want to “legalize” marijuana. “The shirts on your backs are legalized products -- no age restrictions, no limits. I support regulating marijuana.”

“I believe prohibition and legalization are equally dangerous,” replied Dr. Sabet, who laid out the case that legalization will lead to a new predatory industry with the aims of addicting children and resisting regulation. “The theory of legalization works a lot better than the practice of legalization,” Dr. Sabet intoned to the Colorado audience. “The soccer mom who voted for [Colorado’s legalization] Amendment 64 didn’t have in mind a pot shop near her kids’ school or candy edibles sold with cartoons on the package.” Dr. Sabet continued to paint the picture of evil marijuana companies enticing children, adding, “The vast majority who got addicted started when they were young -- the 50-year-old hippie isn’t enticed by sodas and strawberry crunch edibles.”

[NOTE: According to National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2000 there were two 17-year-old marijuana smokers for every over smoker over 50. In 2010, there were two-and-a-half smokers over 50 for every teen smoker.]

Judge Gray began his rebuttal by attacking Dr. Sabet’s base assumption that there isn’t an either-prohibition-or-regulation choice to be made. “The biggest oxymoron in our world today is ‘controlled substance.’ When you prohibit, you give control to bad guys!” 

Dr. Sabet delved into the idea of regulation and control. “Last time I checked,” Sabet said, “the black market hasn’t gone anywhere. You know if you’re over 18 and have a pulse you can get it in a store.” Dr. Sabet points out that the black market won’t go away, because they’ll still sell to kids, or to adults seeking marijuana products that have been banned by regulation.

[So… since some of the marijuana market will always be underground, we should keep it all underground?]

There is so much reefer madness in Kevin Sabet’s talking points and so much sanity in Judge Gray’s that you should really watch it for yourself. The complete debate is archived online here.