Debating Society, International Club Sponsor Marijuana Debate
BY JIM MALVEN
Every chair in Hazel 112 was filled during Friday’s debate over whether marijuana should be legalized in the United States.
In a two-versus-two format, Adesola Adeyemo, ’17, and Nicolas Lopez-Cano, ’18, argued in favor of legalization, and Andrea Ramos, ’19, and Joseph Opoku, ’18, argued against it. The crowd declared the pro-legalization side the winner after hearing nearly 90 minutes of arguments from both teams.
The debate, co-sponsored by International Club and the Westminster Debating Society, began with an opening speech from Ramos, who outlined four reasons why marijuana should not be made legal: that marijuana causes negative health impacts, that it will not “make the black market go away,” that its legal status will increase its usage and that it is a gateway drug.
In regard to health, Ramos said that marijuana “affects our brain development, damages our memory and interferes with our attention span” and also “suppresses our immune system.”
She added that long-term negative consequences of using marijuana have been amplified in the last 70 years, as marijuana is now grown with higher proportions of Tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in marijuana that affects the user’s psychological state. According to drugabuse.gov, T.H.C. stimulates dopamine-controlling neurons at unnaturally high levels, resulting in a blissful experience for the user. But it also acts as an invasive neurotransmitter that is able to alter the areas of the brain responsible for controlling memory, attention, balance, posture, coordination and reaction time. Ramos said that some growers in Colorado engineer cannabis (marijuana plant) that is one-third T.H.C.
For her second major point, Ramos claimed that legalizing marijuana would not put an end to the black market, or groups of illegal, underground sellers involved in criminal activities.
As evidence, she referenced the state of Colorado, whose marijuana regulations are far less restrictive than most, due to Colorado Amendment 64. This amendment legalized the sale, possession, use, production, and personal cultivation within Colorado state borders.
Ramos pointed out that Colorado’s black market is still very much alive, saying that “only 60 percent of the marijuana consumed in Colorado is sold legally.”
A portion of the other 40 percent, she stated, is made up of licensed marijuana medics who do not strictly abide by legal guidelines but mostly by black market dealers.
“Legalization is not getting rid of the black market but instead fueling illegal activities,” she said.
According to a Washington Post article from 2014, that fuel comes from the fact that black market purchases are tax-free, whereas legal purchases often carry large state and federal taxes, sometimes up to 33 percent.
Third, Ramos argued that the legalization of marijuana would result in increased accessibility and social approval of the drug, therefore increasing its legal and illegal use as well as its use among children and teenagers.
Referring to marijuana cookies, brownies and candies, she said, “These are all foods children find very appealing. The way in which marijuana is being marketed makes it more attractive to children, which can lead to accidental ingestions.”
Ramos added that even in states where marijuana is legal, children have still had easy access to the drug.
“Scaling this model nationwide will be catastrophic,” she said.
Ramos said that in the 30 days leading up to the debate, 45 percent more Americans 12 and older had consumed alcohol than had consumed marijuana. Ramos argued that the reason is because alcohol use is legal for persons 21 or older and that in most states, marijuana use is illegal for persons of any age.
Last, Ramos said that marijuana is, indeed, a gateway drug. “Data from the National Institute of Drug Abuse indicates that two-thirds of people who use hard drugs started with marijuana.” she said.
Ramos concluded: “It is a dangerous drug that is going to have a large-scale negative impact on our country. Therefore, it should not be legalized.”
Adeyemo then presented the opening speech for the pro-legalization side.
Her main points were that legal, regulated marijuana sales would generate tax revenue and that legalization would decrease discrimination, lower prison spending and, contrary to the opposition’s argument, eliminate the black market.
In terms of tax revenues, which Ramos used as part of her black market boom argument, Adeyemo said that in Colorado, this money has been used to increase the number of health professionals in public schools and that the state’s government will refund taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
Second, Adeyemo claimed that legalizing marijuana would help reduce discrimination. She referred to a 2015 American Civil Liberties Union report that stated that black Americans are almost four times more likely than white Americans to be arrested for marijuana possession. She argued that such a disparity is due to racial profiling.
“People of color are more likely to be profiled, more likely to be caught and less likely to bring an adequate defense to court,” she said.
Third, Adeyemo said marijuana legalization would decrease prison spending. She said that prosecuting a person found in possession of marijuana costs about $21,000 and that in 2010, states spent a total of $3.6 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
She claimed that these amounts, along with tax revenues, could be used to “help improve the local communities with new projects, such as building new schools or improving on already-built infrastructures in the community.”
Fourth, Adeyemo said that marijuana legalization would eliminate the black market, as legal sales would be strictly regulated, and there would be “an oversight of markets that are currently uncontrolled.”
She said that there would be mechanisms, such as taxes, age limits, labelling requirements, product quality testing, potency limits, motor vehicle operation restrictions and advertising restrictions, in place to protect minors and users.
Finally, Adeyemo argued that, despite Ramos’ opening speech, marijuana is not a gateway drug. She made clear that there is a difference between correlation and causation, saying that using marijuana does not cause the user to use other drugs.
In addition, she pointed out that according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, marijuana is less harmful than alcohol use.
“It is less addictive, less damaging to the body and less likely to contribute to violent and reckless behavior,” she said.
After the two opening speeches, the two sides cross-examined each other and then gave opposition statements and rebuttals.
In the pro-legalization’s opposition statement, Nicolas Lopez-Cano contested the claim that marijuana causes negative health effects, saying that its usage can “cure cancer” and that it is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes. He also said that we cannot pick negative examples out of Colorado because it is just one state and because Colorado has seen positive results as well.
In rebuttal to Lopez-Cano, Joseph Opoku, the president of the Debating Society, said that marijuana usage among men causes lower sperm counts. He also suggested decriminalizing marijuana offenses, rather than legalizing marijuana use.
After almost a half hour of debating, Adeyemo closed the discussion with a quote from former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson: “By managing marijuana like alcohol and tobacco — regulating, taxing and enforcing its lawful use — America will be better off. The billions saved on marijuana interdiction, along with billions captured as legal revenue, can be redirected against the individuals committing real crimes against society.”
As the attendees walked out of the crowded meeting room, they pinned tacks on a board under the name of the group they felt won. The final tack tally: for legalization 29, against legalization 18.