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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
America's High, the Case for and Against Pot
Aired July 24, 2009 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to this 360 SPECIAL: AMERICA'S HIGH, THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST POT. In this hour we're going to take a close look at the intense and growing battle. Marijuana is the most commonly used narcotic in the country. The White House says nearly 100 million Americans have tried it.
It's also a multibillion dollar business with deep and violent ties to the Mexican drug cartels. And as you'll see the cartels are turning parts of America's national parks into marijuana gardens. We'll take you along on a raid.
We'll also bring you my interview with award-winning singer Melissa Etheridge who credits marijuana with helping her battle breast cancer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELISSA ETHERIDGE, SINGER: You don't take medicinal marijuana to get high.
COOPER: So does -- you weren't getting high.
ETHERIDGE: No -- you don't get a high, no it's not a high. It's a normal. And I could -- all of a sudden, I could get out of bed, I could go see my kids. And it was amazing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Thirteen states allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes. The only requirement is a doctor's recommendation. With that recommendation patients have access to dispensaries where cannabis is legally sold.
We went to one dispensary in Los Angeles where the options run from marijuana-laced cookies to drinks. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Joanna Laforce has been a pharmacist for 30 years, most of that time spent in traditional medicine. But in 2007 she co-founded The Farmacy, a dispensary that sells marijuana as medical treatment.
JOANNA LAFORCE, CO-OWNER & CLINICAL DIRECTOR, THE FARMACY: All of the people are here for medical reasons and we're very careful in how we verify our patients. They need a California ID or a driver's license and their doctor's recommendation. COOPER: There are as many as 600 medical marijuana dispensaries like the pharmacy around Los Angeles. They were made legal under California State Law in 2003. But they were constant targets of raids by the federal government under the Bush administration.
Just recently, President Obama has vowed to end those raids and that's good news for patients like Scott Babcock.
SCOTT BABCOCK, CANCER SURVIVOR: I'm a pancreatic cancer survivor with recurrence and it helps me with appetite, to get to sleep.
COOPER: Judy Eden says she uses marijuana to help treat her anxiety.
JUDY EDEN, MARIJUANA USER: You can see it's gorgeous, they're very, very nice, they're knowledgeable. There's no secret backroom -- this is just -- I'm not embarrassed to be here.
COOPER: So this medical marijuana dispensary, they have about 30 varieties of cannabis available on any given day.
Here is one called Air Force One. This is an organic blend of cannabis used to treat stress and it's used to treat pain. See what it smells like. Oh.
I don't think Air Force One has ever quite smelled like this. But it's got a very strong, pungent odor. It smells like cannabis.
Just like in a restaurant, Laforce and her staff will show clients a menu of the many varieties of cannabis for sale used to treat different symptoms.
So there was like Bubba Joe, Mendo Purple, Princess, Third Eye, Air Force One.
LAFORCE: Exactly. And when people are familiar with these varieties or the names then they have a feeling for what -- how it is going to work for them.
COOPER: But despite all the different varieties available at here store, Laforce says all of them fall into one of two basic types, Sativa and Indica.
LAFORCE: The Sativa usually has a higher percentage of THC. It's more of a stimulating so it's really well for depression. It's excellent for stimulating the appetite so I would -- for other type of psychological ailments. As opposed to Indica which is a more sedating, more kind of full body, really good for inflammation and arthritis.
COOPER: And for customers who feel uneasy about lighting up and smoking marijuana, Laforce has products for them, too.
This pharmacy has introduced a line of what they call edibles. These are the lollipops that have cannabis in them. These are -- there are brownies and cookies, biscotti, chocolates and chocolate bars. This pharmacy has even introduced their own line of drinks; this is mint green tea, enhance mint green tea, so there's cannabis inside this. This can basically have the same impact as smoking some cannabis.
No doubt for a number of people who are watching they're going to say look, this is basically just kind of a fancy way of getting people stoned.
LAFORCE: Every day we have people come in with that same attitude and very skeptical. The more people are exposed to it and also more people who have family members or friends are benefited from cannabis, the more the idea of exactly what we're doing really is changing.
COOPER: But that change hasn't come without a fight. Despite recent signs the Obama administration might be more hands-off when it comes to medical marijuana; until federal law changes, the fight is far from over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Pot and biscotti, chocolate bars, as you just saw even mint green tea. That dispensary has an extensive marijuana menu. And supporters say there are many reasons to take pot for medical purposes. And as we told you, all it takes is a doctor's recommendation. It's that easy in California.
And for many that is a big part of the problem. Dan Simon reports.
DR. ALLEN FRANKEL, GREENBRIDGE MEDICAL: So it's pain, anxiety, insomnia?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And depression.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dr. Allen Frankel is a so-called pot doc. On a typical day he says he'll see 13 patients at his Marina Del Ray office and recommend they use marijuana to help them with their various aches and pains.
FRANKEL: I'm not trying to get patients stoned. I'm trying to get patients to feel normal.
SIMON: Instead of a prescription to obtain medical marijuana a patient needs a doctor's formal recommendation, a letter. It's how you get inside one of the state's hundreds of dispensaries. You need to be at least 18. Minors can get it if their guardian approves.
Dr. Frankel started his practice three years ago after nearly 25 years working as a regular internist.
FRANKEL: I think it's the greatest medication I've ever worked with, I really do.
SIMON: For those who want it, getting access to medical marijuana in California is relatively easy.
CHRIS PEREZ, PATIENT: I'm here to sign an orientation...
SIMON: Chris Perez is a typical new patient, complaining of insomnia and depression.
How does marijuana help you?
PEREZ: It calms me down. It eliminates the confusion and the congestion out there.
SIMON: After a 45-minute appointment which includes a thorough briefing on the types of marijuana, Dr. Frankel gives him the recommendation.
PEREZ: I'm legal. I can legally do this now in the state of California.
SIMON: Finding a pot doc in L.A. is like trying to find a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills. They're everywhere, in the classifieds and on the Web. Dr. Frankel charges his new patients $200.
By law the recommendation can only be good for up to a year. Patients then have to go back to the doctor to get a renewal. It's a system that is also being fueled by the explosive growth of dispensaries.
There are more than 600 in Los Angeles alone. To put that number in perspective, there are more dispensaries here than Starbucks, 7-11s and even McDonald's.
That not what the architects of the Medical Marijuana Law like Reverend Scott Imler envision when California voters passed it in 1996. He says the dispensaries today are little more than dope dealers with store fronts.
REV. SCOTT IMLER, CO-AUTHOR OF PROP. 215: That just wasn't the intention of Prop. 215. It was to get people off the black market, not institutionalize the black market.
SIMON: Even Dr. Frankel estimates that about half of those buying medical marijuana are doing so just to get stoned. He says, those users harm the industry and make it difficult for marijuana to be viewed as legitimate medication.
At the same time though, he says there's little doctors can do combat misuse.
FRANKEL: It's true. Will people lie? Yes. They'll lie to get anything. I am not that concerned about that because what they're just getting is cannabis.
SIMON: Getting cannabis, at its worse, California has created a system with plain old drug abusers hiding under the cover of state law; at its best, medication to help people manage their pain.
Dan Simon, CNN, Los Angeles.
COOPER: Next on this special 360 award-winning singer, songwriter and medicinal marijuana user, Melissa Etheridge. She is a cancer survivor who says marijuana didn't make her high, it eased the pain of chemotherapy and did much more to get her back on her feet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ETHERIDGE: It instantly, instantly within a minute, relieves the nausea, relieves the pain and all of a sudden I was normal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: My interview with Melissa Etheridge just ahead.
And you'll meet another woman who says using medical marijuana nearly destroyed her life.
Plus, the man they call "King Bong;" Oregon's pot pioneer who's made a name for himself by matching people with doctors who say yes, to marijuana.
COOPER: We're back with the 360 SPECIAL: AMERICA'S HIGH, THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST POT.
As you've heard, those who want marijuana to be legalized say they have studies that prove its health benefits; that's their opinion. The government has its different opinion. The office of National Drug Control Policy for instance says that marijuana is quote, "a dangerous drug that has no recognized medical value."
To the hundreds of thousands who use pot for medical purposes it does have a medical value. Some of those supporters are well-known like Melissa Etheridge. The Grammy award-winning singer/ songwriter turned to marijuana after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She told me pot not only eased her pain during chemotherapy it restored her health.
ETHERIDGE: I'm actually grateful for my cancer diagnosis.
COOPER: Grateful because it changed your life?
ETHERIDGE: It changed my life, it woke me up totally.
COOPER: Melissa Etheridge's wakeup call came in October 2004 when she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. She immediately underwent two surgeries to remove the tumors and lymph nodes and then began what she calls the most painful experience of all, chemotherapy.
What was the pain like?
ETHERIDGE: It was just a general pain, of your body dying, of all your cells dying. Your appetite is gone and you're nauseous. And your hair is falling out. Your skin -- it's like death.
And the only thing I could do is lay there. It hurt to -- light hurt. Sound hurt. I couldn't read anything. I just laid there. COOPER: Needing something to ease the pain she didn't want to use Vicodin or other prescription pills that could be addictive or come with side effects.
ETHERIDGE: All of these things have side effects. So, the steroids and the pain relief that they give you on that first day when you go into chemotherapy causes constipation. So they will -- here is a pill for the constipation which will give you diarrhea. And you get huge side effects from all of this.
COOPER: Etheridge decided to combat the pain of chemotherapy with medicinal marijuana.
The first time you did it, it made a big difference?
ETHERIDGE: It instantly, instantly within a minute relieves the nausea, relieves the pain. And all of a sudden I was normal.
You don't take medicinal marijuana to get high.
COOPER: So you weren't getting high?
ETHERIDGE: No, you don't get a high. No, it's not a high. It's a normal. And I could -- all of a sudden I could get out of bed. I could go see my kids. And it was amazing.
COOPER: Often too sick from the chemotherapy to smoke, Etheridge's wife Tammy Lynn Michaels would mix the marijuana into butter and spread it on Melissa's food or she'd inhale it through a vaporizer.
Medicinal marijuana worked so well Etheridge said she used it every four hours daily during chemotherapy.
Did you ever worry about becoming addicted? You know the others will say, look, this is a gateway drug?
ETHERIDGE: No. It's not. Not at all. If you ever were on that side of it you would understand what I mean. It's almost laughable to think that you could be addicted to this. It is not all.
COOPER: You mention you still have a prescription. Do you still use marijuana?
ETHERIDGE: Yes, I do. The effects of -- on my gastrointestinal system, leaves with a -- I have a real low tolerance for acid of any kind and so acid reflux is a constant problem. And I don't want to take the little pills that they give you that have all the side effects to help with that.
And I do use it -- I'm one of the users like that would like in a stressful situation or maybe when I've eaten that cheese pizza with my kids that I'll do that and it settles -- it totally completely settles all of that.
COOPER: Most people eat the cheese pizza after the marijuana.
ETHERIDGE: That is true -- well.
COOPER: You've got it backwards.
ETHERIDGE: No, it's not like that. I know.
COOPER: Today at 48, Melissa Etheridge has been cancer free for four years. And she says she can't imagine having gone through the battle of her life without medicinal marijuana. She is now pushing for its legalization.
There's more than I think, 200,000 people in California who are registered to receive medicinal marijuana. Do you really believe that all those people though, have legitimate reasons to be getting marijuana?
ETHERIDGE: Yes. Who are we to say what a legitimate reason is? If it helps somebody at the end of the day instead of drinking a couple of glasses of wine, to have a few tokes, who are we to say?
Why must we in this country be so judgmental about this? These people are not hurting anybody. They're not hurting themselves.
COOPER: Etheridge is obviously a strong supporter of medical marijuana. But you're about to meet another woman who used pot to treat her illness who's not a supporter. She says it nearly in fact drove her to suicide.
Her story raises questions though, not only about the effectiveness of the drug but about the wide discretion doctors have in giving it.
Here's Randi Kaye.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When this California schoolteacher was diagnosed with bipolar disorder nine years ago, she decided to medicate with marijuana. She asked us not to identify her so we'll call her Lisa.
Lisa found a doctor online to recommend medical marijuana. She showed me how easy it was.
LISA, PATIENT: Yes, you just type in finding medical marijuana doctor. And a list of Web sites will pop up.
KAYE: Before she started using medical marijuana, Lisa says depression would keep her in bed for weeks. She also had thoughts of suicide. Medical marijuana was supposed to make life better for her.
But remember, once she got the paperwork, Lisa could buy as much marijuana as she wanted at the California dispensary. And it was all legal.
LISA: Here is a free gram for coming. And you can try this blend or this blend. In fact, we have plants over here if you'd like to buy some clones to grow your own. We're going to throw in some edibles for you; we're going to give you some cookies and maybe some brownies just for being such a good customer.
KAYE: Lisa had smoked marijuana before for fun. She says she never imagined she could get addicted but this was so easy to buy and the better it made her feel the more she wanted to smoke.
Lisa became hooked, spending as much as $1,000 a month on the drug.
What does that translate into?
LISA: It's about seven, eight joints a day.
KAYE (on camera): Eight joints a day. You were smoking?
LISA: Yes, bong rips. I would wake up in the morning and have a nice bong rip. And then I would -- on the way to work I would smoke, I would leave during my break and smoke, I would smoke on the way home, I would smoke all night long.
KAYE (voice-over): Psychiatrist Denise Greene didn't treat Lisa. In fact, she says Lisa never should have been approved for medical marijuana.
DR. DENISE GREENE, PSYCHIATRIST: Long-term side effects of chronic marijuana use psychologically are depression and anxiety. So anyone who certainly has underlying psychiatric illnesses should not be using marijuana on top of that.
KAYE: Adding to the problem, Dr. Greene says, medical marijuana isn't dispensed or control the way other medications are. There are no limits and no fine print for how to take the drug.
GREENE: It's not a standard prescription. It's not like smoke one joint every eight hours for pain and the prescription says you can get 12 joints.
KAYE: Lisa hit rock bottom two years ago. The marijuana had started to affect her negatively. Her mood swings became more extreme.
In June, 2007, she found herself on the verge of suicide. Her parents called police, had her rushed to the hospital. That was the last time Lisa ever touched the stuff.
LISA: It saved my life for a long time. And then it stopped saving my life, then it started killing my life.
KAYE: Today Lisa has been clean two years. She goes to meeting at marijuana anonymous and takes lithium daily, a much more controlled way of manage her moods she says, instead of smoking marijuana whenever she felt like getting high.
Randy Kaye, CNN, Van Nuys, California.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: She said pot nearly ruined her life though, she still does believe medical marijuana should be legal.
Coming up, the man who believes the drug has plenty of health benefits. He grows his own pot and smokes it as well. And he's also become a marijuana matchmaker of sorts. And it's all perfectly legal, his story next.
Also, the reach of Mexico's drug cartels: believe it or not they are planting marijuana gardens in America's national parks. We'll take you on one mission to destroy those crops.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Erica Hill, AMERICA'S HIGH, THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST POT continues in a moment.
But first a "360 Bulletin."
President Obama had a phone conversation with the white police officer at the center of the controversy over the arrest of a black Harvard professor today. Mr. Obama is not apologizing for saying Cambridge Massachusetts police acted "stupidly" but he is calling his comment an unfortunate choice of words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, unfortunately, gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically. And I could have calibrated those words differently.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: The executors of Michael Jackson's estate are not wasting any time getting down to business. CNN has learned they've recovered $5.5 million from one of Jackson's former advisers. Investigators are also looking into Jackson's death, searched a Beverly Hills medical clinic for information there.
Arkansas Evangelist Tony Alamo is planning to appeal his conviction, a jury today finding him guilty of taking five girls as young as nine years old across state lines for sex.
And a second-ranking Democrat in the House says, lawmakers may not be able to vote on the health care bill next week. But Steny Hoyer of Maryland says House leadership might keep lawmakers in Washington past the scheduled August break.
Those are your headlines. Stay tuned for more, right here.
COOPER: You're watching a 360 SPECIAL: AMERICA'S HIGH, THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST POT. There is a man who's made millions in his pursuit to legalize marijuana. He smokes pot, he advocates the use of pot and believes it's a healthy alternative to tobacco and alcohol. Who is he?
Well, Joe Johns takes us to Oregon to meet this polarizing figure.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If marijuana has a future as a legitimate business in this country, Paul Stanford of Portland is a true pot pioneer.
PAUL STANFORD, MARIJUANA ADVOCATE: You might be a little bit more relaxed I can feel that I've had a couple of little puffs here...
JOHNS: Call it his Oregon Trail. For 25 years he's pushed to legalize marijuana. In fact, for the last decade he's hosted a cable access show on it.
STANFORD: We have our infamous dancing cannabis leaves.
JOHNS: He founded, what he says, was the First Medical Marijuana Consultation and Referral Service in Oregon. The company has amassed files on 64,000 patients in eight states where medical marijuana is legal, matching people who want it to doctors who can provide it.
Stanford says it's a $3 million a year business. These plants are also Stanford's; he's licensed by the state to grow them for medical marijuana. He gives it away in closed door meetings like this.
The next frontier for this pioneer...
STANFORD: We need to take this market out of the hands of the kids and substance abusers who control it today and put it in the hands of the state where the age limit is strictly enforced and where we can get tax revenue.
JOHNS: He's trying to get an initiative on the ballot here in Oregon that would allow for a state taxation and regulation of marijuana. But he's failed in past efforts to legalize it here.
(on camera): It doesn't cost much to raise these plants. The whole operation runs on a shoestring basically. But if this were scaled out so that marijuana was being sold all over the country and it were legalized, there are some people who say the cost to society would be much greater than the benefits.
(voice-over): It's a guessing game, but a moderate estimate says if marijuana were decriminalized it would save about $13 billion from not having to enforce marijuana law. And if pot were taxed like alcohol and cigarettes it would mean about $7 billion, a net gain for government of $20 billion.
(on camera): But that's not a complete picture. Comparing alcohol to pot, one professor at USC said alcohol taxes only cover about 10 percent of alcohol-related costs like drunk riving and tobacco taxes only cover about 20 percent of tobacco-related medical costs.
(voice-over): So what about marijuana? If legalized would we see more accidents or lower worker productivity? And what about health effect, higher insurance rates? In Paul Stanford's garden it's all blue sky.
STANFORD: That's assuming that marijuana is like alcohol and tobacco. And it isn't. Marijuana is a healthy alternative and much safer than alcohol and tobacco.
JOHNS (on camera): But what about the cartels and the brutal international drug trade? Those who support legalization say it will stem the violence. But critics say the cartels will simply slash their prices or ramp up trade in other drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine.
(voice-over): Stanford says there is no proof that would happen and he remains confident in the mantra of legalization.
STANFORD: Marijuana is a lot safer than alcohol. It has a lot of medicinal benefit. And so if we look at the science, we're going to win.
JOHNS: But given the national experience with legalized recreational drugs, who knows where this Oregon Trail will lead.
Joe Johns, CNN, Portland.
COOPER: Paul Stanford says medical science is on the side of pot.
It's an argument that Rob Kampia strongly endorses as well. He's the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, the group that supports the legalization of marijuana.
On the other side, David Evans, special adviser of the Drug Free America Foundation; he opposes making pot legal. I spoke to both men earlier.
COOPER: Why is it necessary though, the DEA says there is a prescription drug Marinol, that relieves the side effects associated with chemotherapy and assists with loss of appetite and so you don't need to be smoking pot?
ROB KAMPIA, MARIJUANA POLICY PROJECT: Well, that question should up to the doctor and the patient. Marinol, the prescription pill doesn't work for everyone. And in fact, Marinol pill is 100 percent THC. It's the ingredient that gets you high. Whereas marijuana is an amalgam of ingredients, one of which is THC.
COOPER: David, do you buy that?
DAVID EVANS, SPECIAL ADVISER OF THE DRUG FREE AMERICA FOUNDATION: I don't completely buy that, I think we've got a debate. This debate really needs to be settled by the Food and Drug Administration. We've had a drug approval process for a hundred years that's protected us.
Let the FDA sort it all out. Rob Kampia doesn't want it to go to the FDA. He wants it to go to state legislatures to make decisions because he can influence it there using political and emotional arguments.
KAMPIA: It's not true.
EVANS: The FDA will base it on science and where it should go.
COOPER: Well, Rob what about that -- do you want -- why shouldn't the FDA be involved. AMA right now, basically has said there is not enough studies to show that medical marijuana has a good effect.
KAMPIA: We would love to move marijuana through the FDA approval process. Unfortunately, the federal government has a monopoly on the supply of marijuana. So they make it very difficult to obtain it from their farm in Mississippi.
Furthermore, advocates on our side have actually tried to produce their own DEA-approved private supply of marijuana for FDA- approved research and the DEA keeps blocking that private production facility so as a result we've been able to do some research to show that marijuana has medical value for AIDS, cancer, MS pain, but not enough studies to move it all the way through the FDA approval process.
COOPER: But David, there's a lot of people -- I've talked to people at this dispensary who say, look, institutional medicine doesn't want research in this because they're not going to be able to make money off of cannabis if it's sold in smoking form.
EVANS: Well, that's completely a false argument. There are already two FDA-approved cannabinoid drugs Cesamet and Marinol that have been approved. There's one in the works right now called Sativix.
There's a lot of studies that have been done on marijuana plus and minus in terms of its effect on the human body. There's a lot of them, I mean I can show anybody who wants them -- hundreds of studies that have been done on it.
COOPER: Rob, I know you also say, well, there are studies that support your position.
In terms of legalization of marijuana, a lot of people who are against medical marijuana say that, basically, what you really want is legalization, and this is just the first step in that.
KAMPIA: Well, it is true that what we really want is to end the marijuana prohibition. There's three really good reasons for that.
One is that prohibition hasn't prevented people from using marijuana, since it was first enacted 72 years ago. So it's time for a new approach. Two, it's better to have regulated establishments growing and selling marijuana and paying taxes, rather than drug dealers and cartels doing it and not paying taxes.
And third, the police have better things to spend their time on than to be sniffing under people's doors and arresting 872,000 marijuana users and growers a year.
COOPER: Dave, what about that? Something like more than 40 percent of a lot of police arrests are for -- for marijuana. Is that really the best use?
EVANS: I have been a criminal defense attorney for 34 years. Usually, when somebody gets busted for pot, they're busted for some other offense, and when they search them, they find pot on them. And it's just not true that people with small amounts of pot are going to prison, that sort of thing.
COOPER: What about the argument for taxing it?
EVANS: Let's look at the model of alcohol and tobacco. I mean, when you look at the cost to our society of alcohol and tobacco in terms of health-care costs, crime, trauma, accidents, work-place losses, those costs don't any -- come close to the amount of money that we would get in taxes.
COOPER: But you're saying even though we'd get more money in taxes, there would be other side effects?
EVANS: If we legalize marijuana, marijuana use is going to go up. Madison Avenue will get involved. They'll try to create their market. They'll push it to kids, like they do alcohol and tobacco right now. More people will use it. Social costs will go up, and we're going to have a lot of trouble paying for all that.
COOPER: Rob, quickly, your response to that?
KAMPIA: The big difference between marijuana and tobacco and alcohol is that marijuana is vastly safer. Marijuana is impossible to overdose on it, and it's not physically addictive. So when we're actually talking about taxing and regulating a product, marijuana should be first in line.
COOPER: We've got to leave it there. It's obviously a debate we could do this for hours.
Rob Kampia, appreciate your perspective.
KAMPIA: Thank you.
COOPER: David Evans, as well.
They have their opinion, but what does a doctor think? Next, we're going to get some facts on the benefits and dangers of marijuana from Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
And the housing market and marijuana -- how the collapse of one has led to boom times for the other.
We'll continue this 360 SPECIAL: AMERICA'S HIGH, THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST POT.
COOPER: We're back with AMERICA'S HIGH, THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST POT.
Is marijuana safe? Is it effective? Should it be legal? Should it be used to treat sick people?
One doctor we spoke to calls pot the best medication he's ever worked with, that's his opinion. Other doctors -- and there are many who say it is a potent, addictive, gateway drug with absolutely no health benefits. So who's right?
To get some answers, I spoke to 360 MD Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
COOPER: Sanjay, let's get at it. Are there benefits to medical marijuana? Is there a case for its use, because the patients we talk to swear by it?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the answer is yes. I mean, there are some medical benefits to marijuana, and this is more than just anecdotal evidence now, Anderson. There are some studies to sort of back that up.
We know that there are receptors in the brain, cannabinoid receptors. And they control things like your pain levels, your hunger levels, things related to your mood. And therein lies some of the possible benefits, medically, of marijuana.
For example, someone who's having terrible malnourishment or terrible nausea as a result of chemotherapy or being infected with HIV/AIDS, using marijuana could stimulate appetite.
Neuropathic pain, Anderson, something I deal with quite a bit as a neurosurgeon. It's that lancinating nerve pain that's often caused by trauma or some sort of injury or surgery. Sometimes it can be very refractive to pain medications. Marijuana can help there, as well.
Multiple sclerosis, something else that I treat: that's something that can cause significant tremors, for example. Marijuana can help.
But the caveat, Anderson, is that sometimes other medications which we know more about may be better alternatives. So it can help, but there might be other things that are even better.
COOPER: Is there medical evidence that it can be dangerous? What do doctors say?
GUPTA: Well, most of the studies on this really look at some of the shorter term effects of marijuana. It is hard to make the statement right now about the longer term dangers of marijuana. The medical community as a whole, for example the American Medical Association is against the smoking of marijuana. That is a stance that they take as an organized medical association.
But there are several areas in the brain, again, that marijuana affects. The hippocampus, Anderson, is an area that's responsible for memory so short-term memory problems is something that is often cited.
Also the developing brain; is marijuana -- does it have somehow a greater impact on the developing brain? There are studies on this, although as I looked at them today, even not conclusive. It's a real concern.
There's also, you know, this idea that you talk about THC. But there are 300 other compounds or so, as well. And what exactly do they do?
And finally, this issue that you raised, Anderson, about addiction. Is it addictive? You're going to find conflicting studies, not an exact number. But anywhere between 5 and 9 percent of people who smoke marijuana regularly could become addicted.
Take a look there, as compared to other substances: tobacco, 31 percent; heroin, 23; cocaine 17. You can see the numbers there, and you have cannabis at the bottom, 9 percent.
So there is that risk, as well, Anderson.
COOPER: Because, I mean, a lot of people like Melissa Etheridge. I said the addictive question. She basically just laughed and said, "Absolutely not. There's no way it's physically addictive."
Other people say, well, maybe psychologically it has some addictive. Does one make a difference between possible psychological addiction and physical addiction?
GUPTA: That's a great question. And when you talk about addiction, typically, from a medical standpoint, you are talking about some sort of physical addiction. So the body changes in some way.
It could be a mood-related thing, but associated with that mood you may have -- you know, some sort of physical manifestations of the withdrawal. So there are criteria for withdrawal.
COOPER: We got a text question I want to get to. Matthew from New Mexico asks, "Can we not obtain the medical benefits of marijuana without smoking it?"
So, how about that? I mean, there is this federally-approved drug on the market, Marinol, that treats the same symptoms as the medical marijuana does. Some people say it doesn't work fast enough. Is Marinol just not a decent substitute?
GUPTA: I don't think we're there yet. It's a synthetic form of THC. So the advantage, you get rid of a lot of those other compounds that we don't know a lot about. One of the disadvantages, you just mentioned, it's a pill, so it may not work fast enough. One thing about using marijuana, either smoking it or vaporizing it, is that you can titrate it a little bit more easily. So you can get the appropriate dose. With the pill, you may take too much or too little. It's a little bit harder to titrate.
COOPER: All right. Interesting information, good facts.
Sanjay Gupta, appreciate it. Thanks, Sanjay.
GUPTA: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Up next, how marijuana gets into the U.S., across the borders into cities and towns from coast-to-coast. We'll map it out for you.
And we'll take you to Florida, a drug trafficker's paradise. They're buying up cheap homes and growing million-dollar pot farms in those homes in what should be a bedroom or a living room. It could be happening in your neighborhood.
Plus this surprised us. Marijuana is even grown in national parks and forests by Mexican drug cartels armed with AK-47s. Randi Kaye went on a raid and gives us an up close look at the illegal crop.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is pretty easy to take a pot garden down. Once these guys come across the plants they just yank them right out of the ground. It is that simple.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So how popular is pot? Well, consider this, every single day 6,000 people in America will use pot for the first time; 6,000. It is also grown in every state in America. It is also a big money maker.
"Time" magazine says marijuana is the biggest cash crop in California with an estimated value of $14 billion. Profits are big, the business is booming and it is spreading to towns and cities everywhere.
Tom Foreman shows us how it's connected.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, these have been the principle routes by which Mexican marijuana has been coming into the United States over the years. But they are changing. The federal government's 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment says as enforcement has tightened up on both sides of the border, Mexican cartels have moved their pot farms much closer to the U.S. to cut their shipping costs and the distance over which they must risk interception.
Crossing the border often works like this. Whether the pot is in a car, or a truck, or a plane, or a boat, or carried by hand, the cartel operative watches the crossing point, waits for something to distract or overload the border guards. Say, unusually heavy traffic on a holiday or even something as benign as a big storm that might draw upon law enforce.
And then they send the smuggler across. Once over, the load is very quickly spread out in some big city like Houston or perhaps up into Colorado into Denver, over to Los Angeles. And there it's cut into smaller loads, moved to the street-level distributors and then on to the customers.
However, the DEA says the growing risk of border arrests also has the cartels expanding their operations within the United States. For years, they operated these huge farms out on public land in the west. They're now moving more of that to the east and more indoors, where higher quality pot can be grown away from prying eyes.
In addition, it's worth considering that Canadian pot, which was once also pretty much confined to out here in the west, has now been moving more over here to the east and is being carried more into the country by Asian gangs over here.
All along the way, operatives of the cartels keep an eye on the product. And they collect the money. But those jobs are often split up among many players and law enforcement doesn't really know the whole chain of supply. So, even if one shipment, for example is busted, another one will just get rerouted around, to cover the market -- Anderson.
COOPER: For law enforcement the key to ending the demand is cutting off the supply.
Last year, approximately 8 million marijuana plants were seized and destroyed in America. But the plants keep growing and here is the surprise: 61 percent of the marijuana in America is harvested on public land.
That means national parks and forests, destinations for families and tourists and as you're going to see, now Mexican drug cartels, who turned some part of America's most treasured lands into their own pot gardens.
Randi Kaye reports.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We get our first glimpse from the air as our helicopter hovers over Bear Creek Canyon, just about two hours north of Los Angeles. There it is: a marijuana garden planted smack in the middle of Los Padres National Forest.
The Ventura County Sheriff's Department invited us along on this raid.
Last year in California, 5.2 million plants were seized, 70 percent of them on public land. Estimated value: $15.6 billion.
With Captain Derek West as our guide, we start our journey deep into the forest. We smell the marijuana plants before we even see them. The plants are young; no buds yet. That's the part people smoke. They won't have to be burned.
(on camera): It's pretty easy to take a pot garden down. Once these guys come across the plants, they just yank them right out of the ground. It is that simple.
(voice-over): We are heading to the camp, where the growers live during the harvest months. The growers, we're told, are illegal immigrants from Mexico who repay debt to the drug cartels by tending their marijuana gardens.
(on camera): So who do you think is actually financing this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe it's the cartels from Mexico. We find receipts. We find sometimes books. We've made arrests in some of the growers.
KAYE (voice-over): Why here? It's tough to get drugs across the border, and the canopy of trees in our forests and national parks, like Yosemite and Sequoia, where gardens are also prevalent, provides good cover.
There have been shoot-outs between the growers and law enforcement, but no tourists have been hurt. Still, deputies say hikers and campers have reason to be concerned.
(on camera): So do you feel like you're making any headway in the forest against these guys?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. For every plant we take we're taking money away from the cartels.
KAYE (voice-over): Still, too often, gardens are replanted.
(on camera): Take a look at all these marijuana plants on the ground there. Today alone our group thinks they destroyed about 7,000 plants. The street value they estimate at $3.5 million.
(voice-over): Along the way we find an empty bag of fertilizer, also pipes used to divert water to irrigate the marijuana; a real environmental concern.
We reached the camp but the growers are gone.
(on camera): Here at this growers' camp our team actually found BBs. You could see them over here in this little plastic jar. I'm told that the growers will actually use these to kill rodents, which they live on while they're camped out in the forest.
They also expected to find weapons, which I'm told they find in about 80 percent of the cases. We're not just talking any kind of weapon. We're talking military assault rifles, AK-47s. They say that the growers use those to protect the pot gardens from anyone who's trying to take them down.
(voice-over): The raid complete, we make our way back, leaving behind a marijuana garden that now looks more like a graveyard.
Randi Kaye, CNN, in the Los Padres National Forest.
COOPER: One marijuana garden buried, but who knows how many others are being planted right now?
Next from that national parks to the suburbs, see how pot may be growing in a home near you.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Erica Hill. AMERICA'S HIGH, THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST POT continues in a moment.
But first, this "360 Bulletin."
One step forward, one step back for the ousted president of Honduras: Jose Manuel Zelaya walking into the country from Nicaragua and meeting resistance and pulling back, this, just a month after the military forced him from office. Mr. Zelaya is taking heat from Secretary of State Clinton now who is urging all sides to avoid provocative actions that might escalate the power struggle.
360 follow tonight. Murder charges in the killing of a gay serviceman, Seaman August Provost, who was shot and then set on fire at Camp Pendleton last month. Navy officials though say the suspect Jonathan Campos will not face hate-crime charges. The killing they say was simply part of a larger crime spree.
Starting today, you can trade in your own gas guzzler for a more fuel- efficient ride and get a little money back from Uncle Sam; as much as $4,500. There are some rules, though. Log on to cars.gov to see just what they are.
With just two days left in her tenure as Alaska governor, Sarah Palin is throwing a picnic tonight in Wasilla. Meantime, a new poll shows her popularity is slipping; 53 percent of those questioned by "Washington Post" and ABC News view her negatively.
Those are your headlines at this hour. I'm Erica Hill. The 360 SPECIAL: AMERICA'S HIGH, THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST POT continues after this break.
COOPER: In a town hall meeting in March, President Obama said the number one question asked online was whether legalizing marijuana could help bring the country out of this deep recession. He says it wasn't a good strategy.
But there is actually a connection between the growth of pot and the financial crisis. It's happening in Florida, where the collapse of the housing market has turned homes into pot factories.
Here's Drew Griffin.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's 7:15 Tuesday morning. This is a convoy of DEA agents about to hit a drug house. Think you can stop marijuana trafficking? Watch this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seven-footers. I'm guessing off the bat right now -- 60, 65 plants.
GRIFFIN: A three-bedroom ranch, a cut lawn, a family of three and a $500,000 a year illegal business in just one room.
(on camera): This is what could only be described as a pot factory in a garage on a suburban street in Miami. Look at just the water system. That brings the water to every individual plant that's in one of these pots. These plants, seven-feet tall, just all in a garage that you would not notice from the street.
(voice-over): The growers, Cubans, here illegally. Agents say most likely just minor players in a criminal network connected sometimes to as many as two dozen other homes, all growing pot just like this.
TONY ANGELI, DEA SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: This is not mom and pop. With the amount of lights that are in here, the air conditioning setup, the plumbing setup down here, yes, they're not doing this on their own.
GRIFFIN: DEA Special Agent Tony Angeli, a former prosecutor, has watched Florida's casual indoor grower turn into sophisticated networks of organized criminals. In just two days, we watch as agents acting on tips and leads raid home after home.
Arresting this man suspected of setting up drug houses. Inside his house, they find growing equipment, building plans, plenty of guns, $9,000 cash in a bag and several bags of dope.
(on camera): Seems endless.
ANGELI: You could spend all day. There's so many grow houses down here, there's so many leads bringing us to grow houses. This could be a task force just doing grow houses all day, seven days a week.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It still arrives smuggled in by the ton on boats and trucks. The DEA says more and more marijuana is coming from just down the street; and if your street has foreclosed houses, all the better.
(on camera): Sophisticated?
GRIFFIN: The pot grows year round?
GRIFFIN: Potentially four crops a year from one house?
ANGELI: That's right.
GRIFFIN: And the availability of houses?
ANGELI: Today with the depressed real estate market around the country, particularly in Florida, it's a trafficker's paradise to come here to buy multiple houses at depressed rates, pay cash, use the house for a grow and then abandon it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just got consent to search these premises and it is a marijuana grow house.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Case in point, this house in west Florida. Take a look at this evidence tape inside a million dollar operation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Second room, hydroponics (ph).
GRIFFIN: Florida law enforcement is trying to stay ahead of the game. But the more law enforcement pressure here, the further north the grow houses spread.
ANGELI: The whole house still reeks of marijuana.
GRIFFIN: This house raided in suburban Atlanta just this month. Neighbors didn't have a clue.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're just really mad. I always thought it was a safe neighborhood.
GRIFFIN: Back in Miami, agents will spend the next few hours breaking down this indoor farm, processing paperwork to make arrests. In the end, these DEA agents say the mom, dad and son will most likely be sentenced to probation. The task force will move on, and the problem of homegrown marijuana keeps growing.
Drew Griffin, CNN, Miami.
COOPER: Thanks for watching this 360 Special: AMERICA'S HIGH, THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST POT." In addition to what we showed you over this hour, there's a lot more to read and watch online at ac360.com. I'm Anderson Cooper. I'll see you next time.