Fun with debates

I had a fun time yesterday. There was a flyer about a debate on campus on the legalization of marijuana – not sure if it was a class thing or a debate club thing, but it was one of those structured academic “debates” with everything written out before-hand and a strict series of timed sections. The participants merely read their arguments (including the questions and responses to each other) and it didn’t have any passion, but it was still interesting to see what material they chose to use.

Danielle took the “pro” side and focused on the lack of harm caused by marijuana, proactively debunking numerous myths. She also mentioned the economic benefits of legalization, and interestingly, focused a fair amount of time on “spiritual” benefits that can be achieved from marijuana, going so far as to posit a 1st Amendment claim.

Molly took the “con” side and you could tell her heart wasn’t really into it, but she dutifully argued the side, and it was fascinating to listen to the same lies told by the government over and over again and how she naturally picked them up because they’re out there everywhere. She hit on the marijuana is clearly addictive because of the number of people in treatment, the carcinogens and other chemicals in smoke and the strong implication of cancer, and many of the other standard lies (again, not her fault, except in the failure to research opposition material to protect her from what I did later). She also spent a lot of time on the drugged driving issue, saying that it was very hard to detect stoned drivers and they posed a danger to others, so we had to keep it illegal.

When the event concluded, the moderator asked if there were any questions, clearly used to getting none from the audience in these debates (there were maybe 16 students there, most of whom signed a paper to indicate attendance). I had my hand up.

I decided to limit myself to a few items and to be gentle, but I could still have a good time with it. So I countered the cancer item with the Tashkin study, pretty much destroyed the treatment item with the treatment statistics analysis, and then noted that texting while driving is dangerous to others and very hard for the police to detect. So I asked if she proposed making the possession and sale of cell phones illegal. By this point, the rest of the students got into it and there was a pretty spirited discussion. Some of the SSDP students were there and brought up Portugal, and one even brought up an old humorous saying about driving and marijuana. Ah, it warmed my heart.

A very nice diversion in a busy work day.

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8 Responses to Fun with debates

  1. Dante says:

    Surely, the tide is turning thanks to you and people like you.

    Thanks, Pete.

  2. thelbert says:

    with teachers like you Pete, we have a chance to undo some of the brainwashing. thanks, Pete.

  3. Sunday I called in to a libertarian-leaning radio program when another caller, passionately supporting the repeal of drug prohibition, used rhetoric and statisitcs that were incorrect and easily debunked by prohibitionists. So it’s important that folks on our side take care not to overstate or misrepresent our side of the debate.

  4. Francis says:

    Danielle took the “pro” side and focused on the lack of harm caused by marijuana, proactively debunking numerous myths. She also mentioned the economic benefits of legalization, and interestingly, focused a fair amount of time on “spiritual” benefits that can be achieved from marijuana, going so far as to posit a 1st Amendment claim.

    I’m sure that Danielle did a great job, but I generally think it’s a mistake to focus on the “lack of harm” argument. You can certainly spend some time debunking the drug warriors’ lies, but don’t let the discussion get bogged down in a debate over whether or not there were significant methodology problems with the 1994 DeVry University study which concluded that smoked cannabis increases one’s risk of acute bronchitis by 8.941% (or whatever other asinine “fact” the drug warriors trot out) because those kind of claims are largely, if not entirely, irrelevant. Make that point with the “liberty” argument, e.g.: “The question is not whether cannabis is ‘harmless.’ The question is not even whether the benefits of cannabis outweigh its risks. The real question is who decides in a free society: adult citizens for themselves or politicians for all of us?” You can then make the point that prohibition does very little to mitigate the harms that are associated with drug use, and in fact, it probably exacerbates those harms. And finally (and this is probably where I’d spend the most time), you can explain how prohibition creates MASSIVE new problems. (Of course, the above is just my opinion, and different arguments will appeal to different people. As far as I’m concerned, any argument that is (a) truthful and (b) wins people over to our side is a good argument.)

  5. green stickies in the bud dryer says:

    I had a bud in high school who took LSD years before ever tokin’ a reefer. Is that a reverse gateway? In the yearbook he signed-thank you for introducing me to your cousin Mary Jane, I really love the taste of her dried bush.

    • Duncan20903 says:


      The Monitoring the Future surveys consistently show that less than 60% of youth “initiate” “drug use” with cannabis. The latest one I’ve seen shows over 17% initiating with prescription pain medicine. But regardless of the numbers they’re giving drinking alcohol its standard free pass. When I was a school boy getting drunk was almost uniformly the first drug used to get high, and that includes me. I’ve had to set that aside though, because of the widespread agreement among school children that drinking alcohol is harder to obtain than cannabis nowadays. That certainly wasn’t true during Jimmy Carter’s administration. My best friend in high school started buying beer OTC when he was 14. Now he was a strapping lad of 6 feet plus with a beard worthy of Grizzly Adams at that tender age but I still doubt he’d have the same success under today’s rules.

      The only thing the so called gateway theory proves is that people who like to get high like to get high.

  6. Francis says:

    I’m a little torn on the “spiritual” argument. On the one hand, it’s true, and it would seem to be helpful because it highlights the fact that reform is about more than just “the right to get high.” After all, religious freedom is supposed to be one our most cherished rights. On the other hand, let’s think about our audience. My guess is that acknowledging cannabis’ spiritual dimension will, in many cases, only make it seem more threatening.

    • Peter says:

      spot on with that francis. they have their sacrement (wine, blood of christ) and are sure as hell going to fight any other sacrement. onward christian soldiers

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