Speech

Asa Hutchinson
Administrator
Drug Enforcement Administration
Opening Statement
Yale University Law School Debate with
New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson
"The Past, Present, & Future of the War on Drugs"
November 15, 2001
New Haven, Connecticut

photo - Administrator Hutchinson
Asa Hutchinson
Administrator

 

photo - Governor Johnson
Gary Johnson
New Mexico Governor

 

 

photo - Yale University Law School crest
Yale University
Law School

 

 

photo - Yale building
"Do we want a future in
which...our educational
system is handicapped?"
-Asa Hutchinson

 

photo - heroin
Heroin

 

photo - Marijuana leaf
Marijuana

 

Yale Law School
Federalist Society

 

photo - terrorist
"Terrorists...understand that
drug use erodes the values of
Western Civilization."
-Asa Hutchinson

 

photo - cocaine and money
"Cocaine use is down by 75
percent in the last 15 years."
-Asa Hutchinson

 

photo - LSD
LSD tablets

 

photo - opium poppy
Opium Poppy

 

photo - Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Naval Station crest

Governor Johnson, greetings to you and thank you for your participation in this debate. I want to thank Yale Law School for hosting it, and particularly the Yale Law School Federalist Society, for the invitation you extended to me. I appreciate so many students and members of the community being here for this important discussion.

I think from listening to Governor Johnson and from what we know about the drug battle that we face in our society, that this is not a problem that has a quick fix. We’d like to have that. But there’s not a panacea out there. That’s not the nature of entrenched social problems. We’ve been engaging in our anti-drug efforts in this country not for 20 years, but for 120 years.

Let me start by asking how many here believe marijuana should be legalized (show of hands). I just want to see what my burden of proof is tonight (laughter). I also wanted to make sure these DEA agents up here didn’t raise their hands (laughter).

This year, I was serving my third term in Congress when President Bush called and asked me to head up the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. That was an unusual call, one I didn’t expect. But one I ultimately said yes to. I said “yes” because it was the President asking. But I also said “yes” because I believe in the importance of this issue to our nation, and I believe that our nation should resist drug use as a path to our future.

Governor Johnson has been very consistent in his statements that he believes marijuana and other drugs are “handicaps.” That’s why he admonished everyone here not to do drugs. He understands that they are handicaps, that they are harmful. I believe the issue is what kind of future we want for the next generation. Do we want a future in which the productivity of our nation is handicapped? Our educational system is handicapped? And our service to others is handicapped by drug dependency? Drug dependency that weakens individuals, destroys communities, and shatters families?

If we as a nation want to discourage drug use that harms not just individuals, but society as a whole, how do we do it? Well, I believe that we do it through the law—by the law saying it is wrong because it is harmful. Our laws reflect the values of society. The law is the master teacher and guides each generation as to what is acceptable conduct. Our laws have to be enforced. I’m proud of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the police officers across this country who risk their lives to enforce our laws.

But beyond those guiding principles established by law that drug use and trafficking ought to be criminal conduct, we should have an ongoing debate as to how we can do better in our country on drug policy. Is there a better way to discourage drug abuse? We ought to talk about education and what more we can do on the prevention side. We ought to talk about treatment, and how we can close the gap, so that there are more facilities for those who need treatment. We need to encourage the development of drug courts. New Haven has a mentor drug court established by Judge Simone, and is an excellent example of a new idea that’s working in our fight against drugs. We ought to reexamine the present ban on student loans for those with prior drug convictions. This needs to be changed to deal only with current convictions. We ought to erase racial disparities in policing and sentencing policies.

Those are fair debates for our drug policies. But we should recognize that drug legalization would be a social catastrophe for our country. The legalizers present three basic arguments to support their cause:

1. Individual freedom demands it.
2. The drug war has been a failure.
3. Legalization would reduce the cost of enforcement and incarceration.

Let’s look at these, and I challenge you Yale students to look beyond the easy statements made in the rhetoric.

First of all, in terms of freedom. How many of you believe in seat belt laws? (show of hands). It looks about the same number that support marijuana legalization. Well, if you support seat belt laws, drug laws should not be any problem. The Federalist Society says it’s committed to the principle that the state exists to preserve freedom. I applaud that, and I would argue that the state should protect not just individual freedom, but the collective freedom. Drug use harms the family and the community, as well as the individual.

But, ladies and gentlemen, it also endangers democracy. The essence of our democracy is that freedom is maintained by individual participation, individual sacrifice, and common values. The drug culture erodes and destroys everything that is necessary for democracy to work. When someone is overtaken by drugs, he is not thinking about what he can do for others, for the community, for the family, for our common values. He is simply trying to get the next fix on drugs. We give up freedom when we addict ourselves to drugs.

This fact is not lost on the terrorists. They understand that drug use erodes the values of Western Civilization, and they do not hesitate to send dangerous drugs in our direction. Our common freedoms and our cherished democracy cannot survive in a culture of drug use, and so the drug issue is important to our nation’s future.

Secondly, they say we’re losing the war on drugs. Well, we’re not losing when you’re talking about Jennifer Malloy of Youngstown, Ohio. This young woman recently graduated from a one-year drug court program. She had been convicted of breaking and entering. She had a cocaine addiction problem. Instead of going to prison, she opted for treatment through a drug court, which got her the help she needed and held her accountable for her recovery. During the graduation ceremony, she hugged the judge, then turned to the arresting officer and said, “Sir, thank you for arresting me and saving my life.” And so for her, the drug war is a victory. It’s not a losing battle.

Drug use over the last 20 years has been reduced by half. Cocaine use is down by 75 percent in the last 15 years. Those are just statistics, but perhaps it’s one of your family members that is part of those victories. We should not judge this social problem differently than other social problems. We are making a difference in this effort.

The third argument that is presented is that legalization would put the cartels and drug dealers out of business. Nonsense. If you legalize marijuana, the dealers still have cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, Ecstasy, and all the other abused drugs. Even if you broaden it, and legalize heroin or cocaine, you’ve still got methamphetamine and Ecstasy. And if you legalize everything, the dealers will offer a better, cheaper high. There’s always going to be the black market, and there’s always going to be criminal organizations looking to profit off others’ misery. Legalization will not reduce enforcement costs so long as there’s cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy, or LSD of a higher purity. Legalization will not reduce enforcement or imprisonment costs. Our enforcement efforts would still be necessary.

Finally, we need to learn from history. 120 years ago, heroin and cocaine were legal and plentiful. What was the result? Addiction and crime problems were at an unprecedented high level. In 1880, there were over 400,00 opium addicts in our nation. That’s twice as many per capita as there are today. Our nation has tried legalization. And what did it lead to? Increased drug abuse and social costs. There is no quick fix, ladies and gentlemen.

History teaches us that in a time of national emergency, and we have seen that since September 11, a nation’s moral values are clarified. World War II is a good example of that. After Pearl Harbor, we experienced the lowest level of drug use in our nation’s history. Moral values were clarified. Responsibility was emphasized. And so it is my hope that your generation will lead this nation away from drug dependency and toward responsibility and a more secure freedom. Thank you. ##

Home USDOJ.GOV Privacy Policy Contact Us Site Map