Not long ago, I became involved in a discussion in a chat room regarding marijuana legalization. The ad hoc debate became a roiling turmoil of one and two liners that filled the chat box with discussion too fast for anyone to keep up with. Strangely, the two primary debaters, myself and a person who’s a member of the Eagle Forum, were the only ones involved who were civilized during the process. We both agreed, via private message, to forgo the debate and hopefully meet up sometime in the future for another.
What I learned from this discussion turned madhouse post-fest are two important things:
- people who can type fast often become like the screamers who “win” debates by filling the available space with rhetoric – ala Rush Limbaugh;
- the legalization of marijuana (and all drugs, probably) seems to be more a question of religious philosophy for most people rather than a rational one – ala “Hope” and “Change.”
Debate As Marketing
Obviously, winning a debate by yelling is not really winning, it’s just dominating it through interruption and, frankly, being louder than the other person. Most of the time, this is not seen as “winning” by the audience viewing the debate and reflects negatively on the person using this tactic.
Most debaters, unless they’re professionals (aka politicians), realize that debates are not about convincing the person being debated, but are about convincing the audience watching the debate that a given opinion is the correct one. In other words, debate is a form of marketing – you’re working to convince not the person who opposes you, but instead those who witness the debate. This is true whether the debate is live, on television, in a Facebook comments string, or in a chat room.
It should be obvious that if a person is squaring off against another person on a subject, they are “sold” on their own viewpoint and do not plan to concede. Picture this: if a follower of Islam and a follower of Christ were to debate one another, would you really expect the Muslim or the Christian to suddenly change their mind, mid-debate, and convert to the other’s religion? Not very likely. This goes with any debate subject – the two debaters are, by definition, religious fanatics for their own viewpoint.
Debate is about the audience, not the debaters. Those who realize this are most often the ones who succeed in amateur debate circles (blog commentary, chat rooms, and so forth). That is because these people will never do the two big no-nos when it comes to swaying an audience: they will never use personal attacks (ad hominem) and they will never attempt to flood the conversation (“yell”) with their own view, largely ignoring counter points.
Marijuana as Religion
The question of religion isn’t about organized theology, but is rather a question of what the person believes to be true – evidence or no. Marijuana legalization has become an ingrained, often knee-jerk response mechanism (either for or against) that precludes rationality. This religious fervor is on both sides of the argument and is very prevalent in the discussion.
Many proponents in favor of the legalization of cannabis are just as fanatical as those who are opposed. The marijuana religion is alive and well on both sides of the argument. Here are a few snippets from that chat room debate, coming from both supporters and detractors of the legalization question. I don’t have a record of the chat itself (at the time, I didn’t consider it worth saving), so these are off the top of my head and without attribution. They will serve to illustrate my point, however. Myself is referenced as “Pro” and the Eagle Forum member who argued against me is labeled as “Con.”
“Pro, you are an idiot. Of course if more of this crap is put on the streets more teenagers and kids will use it! Duh!”
“Con doesn’t know anything. He’s a jackass jackboot who probably works for the government or is a narc cop. Why is anyone even listening to this loser?”
“All of you people who want to legalize marijuana are just potheads who want to sell it to our kids at school without going to jail.”
“Marijuana is totally safe and completely natural! There’s plenty of scientific evidence to show that it’s not going to hurt anyone and actually cures things like cancer. This is why they don’t want it legalized!!”
Attempting to respond to these religious fanatics, whether pro or con, is a losing proposition. There were more of them (several on each side) than there was me and most of their arguments are based on questionable (if any) evidence.
Take the first one in the above list. Alcohol is legal, yet surveys have shown that more teenagers use (illegal) marijuana than use (legal) alcohol. Obviously prohibition hasn’t slowed down demand or availability.
Now look at the last argument, which is supposedly pro-legalization. This is also blatantly false for two reasons. First, marijuana has been shown to cause bronchitis and may be a contributor to some other problems, such as immuno-suppression and possibly psychosis (though evidence for the latter is inconclusive). It’s also not exactly natural, since decades of husbandry has lead to most marijuana available on the street today being more heavily laden with THC than it’s natural counterparts. Usually THC that affects CB1 receptors (producing a “high”).
Truth in Debate
Were the debate free of dogma, however, neither side would be able to argue on the same points. The evidence that marijuana is beneficial far outweighs the evidence that it is not – assuming studies conducted in the 1960s and ’70s to promote the governmental prohibition view are discounted. The evidence for social ramifications, however, is very much in the air and highly anecdotal and is where the anti-legalization viewpoint usually stands.
No matter which side you are on with marijuana’s legalization, it should be realized that the debate is not about dogmatic points of view and political rhetoric. This is, sadly, where most of it falls.
The Real Issue At Hand
The real debate about marijuana’s legalization should be centered on only one thing (as should all political debate): is the suppression of liberty for one group of people somehow justified by the real-world positives it brings to others? In other words, has the prohibition of marijuana (the removal of our liberty to use it if we wish) somehow benefited society as a whole enough that this infringement on personal liberty is “worth it?”
If the arguments that say it has done so are true, then we must consider the other things in our society which cause death and life destruction as well: alcohol, personal motor vehicles, firearms, legal pharmaceuticals, the military, elective plastic surgery, police actions, processed and fatty foods, competitive youth sports..
All of the above (and many more) have had a far greater impact on society and health than has marijuana. So, by logic, all of these should be considered ready for prohibition and removed from our list of allowed liberties by the same argument used against marijuana.
This, of course, brings a larger, more philosophical question to politics: who “owns” our personal liberties and can we really cede them in any way that is involuntary? That is the core of most political debate and is especially prudent in the debate over marijuana’s legalization.
The author has no prescribed political affiliation. He is libertarian and anarchist by politics, but does not belong to any political party, so is classified as an “independent.”
Cananbinoid-Induced Immune Suppression and Modulation of Antigen-Presenting Cells by Tomas W. Klein, Guy A. Cabral, Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, 2006.
Pharmacology and effects of cannabis: a brief review by C. Heather Ashton, FRCP, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2001.
Cannabinoid receptor type 1 (Wikipedia), aka CB1