Should marijuana be legalized for recreational use?

Left: Rohit Asirvatham, a junior majoring in political science
Right: Al Hiland, a graduate student studying rhetoric

This is a first in an occasional college debate series hosted by Today’s Question where we invite debate clubs to frame and guide the day’s discussion. Positions taken by the debaters don’t necessarily reflect their views. As always, personal attacks aren’t allowed in this space. The comment thread continues to be open to all. Join in!

For this series, we welcome members of the University of Minnesota debate team to defend or challenge the argument for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

Defending the argument is Rohit Asirvatham, a junior majoring in political science.

Advocates for the legalization of marijuana often argue that legalization would decrease cartel violence, boost the economy, and alleviate some of the racially disparate impacts of the war on drugs.

The impacts of the drug war in Mexico are staggering, with nearly 20,000 dying last year alone. Legalization would reduce the violence by shrinking cartel profits, because users would be able to shift to legal weed. According to Beau Kilmer, the co-director of the RAND drug policy center, marijuana makes up more than a billion dollars (15%-30%) of cartel revenues. Legalization would also allow for a shift in police resources which would help cut off other sources of cartel income like heroin and cocaine. Reducing cartel profits is important because it would make it less likely that cartels would be willing to fight to control different routes if they became less valuable. It would also make joining cartels less financially attractive for young people in Mexico.

Many also claim that legalization would stimulate the economy at home. Dr. Jeffery Miron, a senior lecturer in the department of Economics at Harvard, argues that legalization would generate $10 billion per year. He cites things like a decrease in enforcement expenditures and an increase in tax revenue and marijuana-related jobs.

The war on drugs has contributed to the sobering statistic that one in three black males will go to jail in their lifetime (the Sentencing Project). Police have arrested black people for marijuana possession at a rate three times higher than white people, even though more whites use marijuana. When marijuana is legal, those arrests will stop.

Challenging the argument to legalize marijuana is Al Hiland, a graduate student studying rhetoric, and an assistant coach for the debate team. He can be followed on Twitter @xanderrhetoric.

The argument in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use relies on the false assumption that reversing a failed policy produces a better system. Legalizing marijuana simply changes how the product is distributed and not in a manner that serves the social interest. The public is better served in a world where marijuana remains illegal.

One of the major arguments in favor of legalizing marijuana is that it can be controlled easier if it is not simply a taboo. This change to a control oriented system means that growers and distributors will be subject to regulatory regimes and taxation. These pressures mean that small scale growers will not be able to compete because of the costs of compliance. Large corporations, with big tobacco in the lead, will take over and use their advantages in size and scale of production to insure limited competition. While Marlboro Green might be convenient it means that a new industry will be given over to corporate interests that have already proven that they lack any real concern for the public interest.

That marijuana has negative health effects is admittedly somewhat unclear. We do know that it contains carcinogenic materials similar to tobacco, and the evidence that marijuana is harmful to young adult users is well substantiated. Legalizing marijuana under these conditions gives a corporate interest that sells a potentially dangerous product a carte blanche to take advantage of the public.

Today’s Question: Should marijuana be legalized for recreational use?