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November 2006
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The Debate

I thought last night’s debate went exceptionally well. The crowd really seemed to enjoy it, and both debaters did a good job. Unfortunately as moderator, I had to insure an even playing field and couldn’t get into it myself — even though there were times that I was absolutely itching to do so. The most I could do is force someone to a more direct answer if they were dodging the question (which I did a few times).
Kudos to William Otis, who flew out from Washington to take part in the debate. He is Counselor to the Administrator of the DEA — a political appointment who provides advice to Karen Tandy. He was quite nice and seemed sincere in his efforts — a combination of really believing a lot of what he said (partly due to a lack of detailed knowledge or understanding), along with repeating the DEA line in a number of areas (even though his own personal preferences might not go that far).
I was impressed by the fact that Otis was open to correction of factual errors in his information. During the debate, he said that Marinol did not cause a person to get high. When I told him that was incorrect, he said he’d be happy to look that up and change what he said in the future (Marinol’s site doesn’t specifically say that it gets you high but that the effects included “dizziness, feelings of exaggerated happiness, paranoid reaction, drowsiness, and thinking abnormally.”) Mr. Otis also several times mentioned the dangers of marijuana and driving, citing a Memphis “study” that has been widely rejected for its methodology. When I brought this up after the debate, he agreed to investigate it further.
Some of the more outrageous moments in the debate included the following claims by William Otis

  1. Drug dealers would benefit from legalization.
  2. There is no difference between “use” and “abuse” for illegal narcotics.

Mostly I felt that Mr. Otis could benefit from a lot more actual information. I think that he lives in a bit of a propaganda bubble and needs to read more about the drug war (although that might make it more difficult for him to do his job). I was surprised to learn, for example, that he was unaware that President Bush had actually campaigned in 2000 on letting the states choose regarding medical marijuana.
Bryan Brickner, representing the other side, had a delightful approach — not so much focusing on lots of details (although he had them), but rather painting a picture — of individual freedom and the promise of America, and the marvelous life of marijuana user Louis Armstrong, and the shattering of America’s promise through the non-sensical arrest and incarceration of people for… using drugs. There were tons of points that I wanted him to cover that he didn’t, and yet he was keeping the message clear and clean, which was more important. Sometimes you can’t give people all your points or you overwhelm them — something that Bryan seemed to understand well.
Bryan Brickner was the clear winner in my mind (not only on style, but on actual substance).
All in all, a great experience. A big thanks to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Federalist Society and the Coalition of Student-Professionals for Social Change (and Shaleen).

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