Former DEA Agent, Magazine Editor Take On Legalization Issue

More than 300 college students crowded into a standing-room-only auditorium
Thursday at Missouri Southern State College to take part in a debate on

The traveling debate, "Heads vs. Feds: A Debate of the Legalization of
Marijuana," was brought to the college by the Campus Activities Board. It
featured Steve Hager, editor of High Times magazine, and Robert Stutman,
former special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

As students filed into the Mills Anderson Justice Center to find seats, the
speakers were introduced. While Stutman and Hager both received applause,
Stutman's introduction was peppered with hissing from the audience.

"The speakers lose 15 minutes because of outbursts such as this," said
Jeremy Sturgel, activities director with the Campus Activities Board.

Hager, a proponent of the legalization of marijuana, gave the audience five
reasons he supports governmental action to legalize the drug, beginning
with medical purposes and ending with his spiritual beliefs.

"They (the medical community) don't want you to be able to medicate
yourself with something growing in your own back yard," Hager said. "It is
a threat to the profits of the system we've created. If it weren't for the
repression, marijuana would be playing a huge healing role in North America."

In his argument, which often received speech-pausing applause from the
students, Hager said there are 50,000 different uses for hemp, including
items now being made from "petrochemicals."

Hager argued that the criminal justice system is too crowded because of the
arrests of marijuana users, and he said prisoners become "angry, violent,
sick and twisted" because of incarceration. He said drug cartels earn $500
billion a year because marijuana is illegal.

Some students said they are concerned that marijuana is perceived as more
of a threat than alcohol.

"I don't think pot is a bad thing unless it's abused, and I don't think
it's any worse or better than alcohol," said Dana Tucker, a biology major,
suggesting that marijuana should be legalized with an age limit for
consumption. "This criminalizes people who aren't criminals."

When Stutman took the microphone, he acknowledged that some medical experts
say cannabinoids - a substance in marijuana plants - can be beneficial, but
he emphasized medical journal articles that cite health risks such as lung
disease, and a loss of depth perception and short-term memory.

Many students booed in disagreement.

"Those of you who are opposed, I challenge you to ask Steve (Hager) if he
would recommend smoking a joint and then going to a calculus class,"
Stutman said.

Stutman argued that legalization of marijuana would lead to more users;
that marijuana is more harmful to the lungs than cigarettes; and that
recent Gallup Poll results show the majority of Americans oppose legalizing

"I believe the marijuana argument in the United States of America isn't
about medicine or spirituality; it's about people wanting to get stoned and
high whenever they want," he said.

"That's right," shouted several in the audience.

Some students who remained relatively quiet during the debate said they
attended because they oppose legalizing marijuana, and they wanted to know
more about the topic.

"I'm glad they're coming here and trying to get the facts out, but I think
a lot of students came because they think marijuana is a cool issue," said
Casey Highland, a criminal-justice major. "It's against the government, and
it's like, 'We're fighting the power.'

"I think a lot of students are thinking .Y.Y. pot is cool. But what I feel
about it is that it's against the law. I'm a future law enforcement
officer, and I know it's not as bad as other drugs, but I get up and leave
when people do it."

Amber Lybeck, an education major, said she was just curious.

"I don't do it, but I want to know why the DEA doesn't want to make it
legal," she said. "I think there's a lot of college students who are into
marijuana and are for it."

Hager invited students to stay after the debate and help organize a local
marijuana legalization support group. And while he encouraged the students
to pursue the path they feel is right, he told them that their college
years are a time to move ahead.

"Don't think getting high is a big part of the process of getting your life
skills together," he said. "Concentrate on your grades, but be an activist.
And, start with your parents."

Pubdate: Fri, 29 Mar 2002
Source: Joplin Globe, The (MO)
Copyright: 2002 The Joplin Globe
Author: Cassie Hombs