Baker Institute expert weighs in on marijuana legalization

David Ruth

Baker Institute expert weighs in on marijuana legalization
Drug Enforcement Administration opposition to marijuana legalization is a losing battle and a waste of taxpayers’ money

HOUSTON – (Aug. 15, 2014) – Following the legalization of retail marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington and medical marijuana in 23 states and the District of Columbia, the continued opposition by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to the legalization of marijuana is not only a losing battle, but also a waste of taxpayers’ money, according to a drug policy expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

“The president, Congress and nearly half of the state legislatures are responding to the will of the people by decriminalizing nonviolent crimes such as marijuana drug use and possession,” said Gary Hale, the nonresident fellow in drug policy and Mexico studies at the Baker Institute, a 31-year veteran of the DEA and chief of intelligence in the DEA’s Houston Field Division from 2000 to 2010. “Our federal tax dollars would be better spent by focusing on responding to the current widespread increase of heroin use in ways that will prevent continued abuse, reduce harm to users and provide greater public safety.”

Hale outlined his insights in a new policy brief, “Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization: A Paradigm Shift in Federal Policy.” Hale, who works with both the U.S. and Mexican governments as they grapple with drug trafficking organizations operating in the two countries, is available to comment on federal drug policy enforcement and marijuana legalization.

“There was a time in the 1960s and 1970s when anyone who used marijuana was considered a radical, a hippie or generally an anti-government sort,” Hale said. “Social issues of the era, such as resistance to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, caused the government to respond with draconian measures in an attempt to control the uncontrollable. Those measures included designating marijuana as among the most dangerous drugs in existence, when clearly it is not, compared objectively with substances such as heroin, methamphetamine and others, including some prescription drugs.”

Hale said times have changed and American society now accepts that people are different and those differences account for varied forms of behavior and dress. “Not all ‘drug’ users are the same,” Hale said. “As a society, we have learned that our diversity is not to be feared but embraced as another aspect of our social strength.”

The federal government in its entirety must adapt to these new norms as the public already has, Hale argued. “It (the federal government) must put aside pride and prejudices and instead take objective views and positions regarding the use of marijuana as a medicinal substance and perhaps even as a recreational substance used as many use alcohol, and take steps to normalize its approved use to cure numerous ailments that, from a purely humanitarian point of view, would improve the quality of life of many who are suffering from various illnesses,” he said.

“U.S. federal marijuana policy adjustment would also provide worldwide credibility to our nation, instead of ridicule in the face of conflicting domestic and international policies,” Hale said. “It is time for our government to do what is right and demonstrate to the public and to the world that democracy works, and that democracy includes accepting the will of the people through changes made by duly elected legislative officials.”


Follow the Baker Institute Drug Policy Program via Twitter @BakerDrugPolicy.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Related materials:

Hale biography:

“Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization: A Paradigm Shift in Federal Policy”:

Baker Institute Drug Policy Program:

Photo courtesy Rice University’s Baker Institute.

Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks among the top 15 university-affiliated think tanks in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at or on the institute’s blog,

About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.