Over 70 students, including over 15 admitted students, participated in an American Whig-Cliosophic Society debate examining the question of marijuana legalization on Wednesday.
The resolution that “this house would legalize marijuana” passed by a vote of 19-7.
Bruno Schaffa ’18, the first pro-resolution speaker, said there are many public misconceptions and falsehoods surrounding marijuana use.
Particularly, Schaffa said that the answer is not so “clear-cut” when debates arise about the physical detriments of marijuana use. Schaff explained that not only have tetrahydrocannabinol extracts from marijuana been used to ease the discomfort of AIDS/HIV patients, but that “responsible, low doses are described as relaxing [and] anxiety-reducing.”
Schaffa further challenged the notion that marijuana is addictive, claiming that in a 2007 study, only nine percent of frequent marijuana users in the United States showed dependence on the substance.
“[Users] are not physically incapacitated without. And the withdrawal symptoms are barely noticeable in most users who quit,” he said.
Joseph Carlstein ’18, a speaker arguing against the motion, countered that because marijuana remains an illegal substance, it has not been examined as thoroughly as other addictive substances have been.
Marijuana use has been shown to cause lung and mental ailments on an individual level, he said. Moreover, there are escalating societal costs associated with marijuana legalization, such as a potential growing need of rehabilitation centers.
In his closing statement, Carlstein further noted that a significant difference exists between decriminalizing the substance and legalizing it.
Making minor adjustments such as decriminalizing stands up as an economic argument, Carlstein said. However, he added that legalization sends a positive message.
To legalize the substance is to make an endorsement of marijuana, he said. This can lead to an increase in its use, which is not ideal for societies.
These glaring problems disqualify marijuana from the influx in positive association that will result from its legalization, Carlstein said.
In addition, Carlstein said that there is no comparison between marijuana and alcohol or tobacco. Unlike tobacco, which does not incur addiction as easily if used in moderation, a single dosage of marijuana may cause the user to “get high” and may lead to addiction.
Alexander Singleton ’17, however, noted in his closing statement that the mere possession of marijuana shouldn’t be inherently criminal.
Marijuana should be legalized as an equivalent to alcohol, Singleton said. Just because someone has alcohol at hand doesn’t mean they have committed a crime, and the same should hold for marijuana, he added.
“We should have to right to choose what to do with [our] own bodies,” he said.
Singleton further argued that the real social cost lies in the current system where money is expended to contain the proliferation of the drug.
Marijuana is incredibly easy to get a hold of almost everywhere, including in high school, Singleton said. However, billions of dollars are still being poured to prevent the drug proliferation, he added.
In a rational way, billions of dollars can instead be generated through sales taxes on marijuana, and the industry would also create jobs, Singleton said. At the same time, the government can devote money to more effective endeavors, such as improving existing public service, he added.
During the audience participation phase, a participant noted that the criminalization disproportionately affects people of color and provides ripe ground for discrimination.
Maya Aronoff ’19, who stood in opposition of the resolution, argued that though it is true that racial profiling may occur in drug arrests, the problem is much more widespread. Merely decriminalizing marijuana does little to tackle the problem at large, she countered.
People from all backgrounds have used marijuana, among them include Bill Gates, Michael Phelps and even president Barack Obama, Schaffa said.“Does it make sense that great people should be considered criminals just for smoking marijuana?” Singleton asked.