Peter Bensinger was appointed head of the US Drug Enforcement Agency by the Gerald Ford administration in 1976 and served in that position through 1981 under Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. Today Mr. Bensinger is a frequent speaker on the topic of legalization of marijuana, and we were honored to have him as our speaker.

Mr. Bensinger started by giving us a verbal quiz to test our knowledge of the effects of marijuana use, its extent, and the impact on the criminal justice system.


He reported that drug use has declined from 14% to 9% nationwide since 1979. Use of marijuana is low compared to alcohol, tobacco, and any other illegal drug use—largely because it's illegal, he believes.

Contrary to reports of prisons overcrowded with people charged with minor marijuana offenses, Mr. Bensinger said that in Cook County Jail only 7 of 9,000 inmates are there for just possession of marijuana. In state prisons, of a population of 1.3 million, only 0.3 percent are there for marijuana possession or use, he said. Mr. Bensinger cited the success of drug courts in dealing with marijuana arrests, and minor offenders' records can be expunged.

Medical marijuana has value, he said, and is available as a pill and a spray.

His opinion is that marijuana should remain illegal. He believes this has prevented tens of millions of people from using it, and that legalization would increase use and would not reduce crime or cost, with negative impacts on public health and safety in the workplace, highways, and schools.