Kansas: Debate over marijuana tries to clear the air

By Jesse Trimble

You couldn’t smell any marijuana in the crowd Monday night during the “Heads Versus Feds” SUA event, but there were plenty of tie-dyed, 1960s band shirts sprinkled through the crowd of 440 people.

Steve Hager, editor-in-chief of High Times magazine, and Robert Stutman, a retired special agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency of New York City, argued until they were both red in the face about the legalization of marijuana in front of an emotionally charged crowd, but they also inspired a few laughs.

Hager took to the stage first, and he listed five reasons why cannabis should be legalized:

- It is useful for medicinal purposes.

- Hemp is good for the environment.

- Criminalizing marijuana has led to crowded prisons, with 900,000 people arrested for possession each year.

Robert Stutman, retired agent for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration listens to the argument delivered by Steve Hager, editor-in-chief of High Times magazine about the legalization of marijuana. Nearly 450 people attended "Heads Versus Feds" on Monday night in the Kansas Union Ballroom.

- Keeping marijuana on the black market provides dealers and criminals a cut of the $500 billion-a-year industry.

- It’s part of his culture.

“That’s most important to me,” Hager, an Illinois native, said of his affinity for the counterculture of the 1960s. Hager said he first smoked marijuana at 15 and was one of the first in his high school to do so.

Many in the audience were amused when Hager said George Washington was a hemp farmer and that hemp was used for books, ink, lamps and ropes.

“The first American flag was made from hemp,” Hager said.

When Stutman took the microphone, he said that Hager, his friend of seven years, passed off his own beliefs of marijuana as facts.

“Don’t fall for half-truths,” Stutman said.

Stutman fired back at Hager’s hemp statements, saying he didn’t think most Americans cared about the counterculture or about making hemp ropes.

After 25 years in the DEA, Stutman said he had arrested more than 15,000 people on drug charges.

Although Stutman disagreed with the recreational use of marijuana, he said Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a substance found in cannabis, could be used for medicinal purposes.

Stutman said only 16 million people in the United States were regular cannabis users.

“You know why?” Stutman asked. “Because it’s not legal.”

Stutman said it should remain illegal because cannabis could lessen depth perception and impair a person’s ability to think and reason logically.

Kelley Rushing, Lawrence junior, said both Stutman and Hager did a reasonable job of presenting both sides of the argument.

“But I came because I believe in marijuana,” Rushing said. “I know you shouldn’t smoke and drive. And while Steve presented a logical and reasonable argument about a harmless drug, Bob made us think and sound like we are blind followers.”

Kristen Lervik, Mulvane freshman, said she did not smoke marijuana but was interested in the event because some of her friends did smoke.

“I don’t look down on people that smoke,” Lervik said. “I have never smoked and never will. It’s a personal choice, and it’s just how I am.”

The event was open to a question-and-answer session after points about the legalization debate were presented.

Many questions involved states’ rights to legalize marijuana, the medicinal uses of marijuana and why the government won’t allow it to be used for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

“I smoke weed. I’ll admit it,” one student said as he stepped up to the microphone.

Another student asked if the DEA confiscated marijuana and then sold it back to the public ­­— a question which incited laughter from Hager and Stutman.

“No, we burn it,” Stutman said.

Although some assume Hager would spend most of April 20 stoned, Hager said he’s usually debating.

“I think there’s a meaningful significance to 4:20 though,” Hager said. “It’s the socially acceptable time to smoke.”

Hager said out of 140 schools, Stutman has won over the crowd with his arguments only twice.

Will Coquillette, Lenexa senior, said both speakers appealed too much to the emotion of the audience.

“I wanted more prudent evidence from both; more concrete facts,” Coquillette said.

Hager said marijuana was part of his religion, and people shouldn’t fear cannabis users.

“We are good people,” Hager said. “We’ve done good things for America, and we’re as American as apple pie and baseball. So, please, can I get a little freedom of religion in America?”

Edited by Lauren Keith

Source: http://www.kansan.com/stories/2008/sep/16/debate/