More than 70 students, some irate and begging to attend, were turned away from an overflowing La Rose theater Monday night, where speakers discussed the hotly debated issue on whether or not marijuana should be leagalized during "The Great Marijuana Debate."
Students, faculty and members of the Burlington community may have crowded the room and spilled into the aisles because of the new Obama administration policy that will not press charges against those who use or sell medical marijuana, provided they abide by the state laws and new policy guidelines. That change, which was announced two weeks ago, moves America closer to ending, or at least partially ending, the prohibition against marijuana now than at any other point.
Morals and Prohibition
Paul Chabot, an Iraq war veteran and father, offered the con side of the issue and stressed the moral concerns of legalizing marijuana, while Kris Krane, former representative of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, discussed the positive aspects of legalizing marijuana.
"We're better than them," Chabot said in his opening statement. "We have a responsibility for ourselves, our families and our communities."
Chabot framed his position as the minority and the underdog, saying "pro-drug" advocates outnumber anti-drug supporters at least 100 to one. He said those who want legalization had more money for campaigning and that a majority of Americans want to see marijuana legalized.
While Chabot stressed the moral responsibility every American in the room had to uphold the country's values and beliefs, Krane brought the a udience back to the 1920's, a time of speak easies and prohibition.
Krane spoke about America's "very noble" and "moral goal" to rid the country of alcohol and all the problems associated with it.
"What the country soon discovered was that prohibition did not make alcohol go away," Krane said. "But it made the problems surrounding alcohol worse."
The problems alcohol created in the 1920s are the same issues America faces regarding marijuana today, Krane said. Illegalizing a substance only creates more crime and unsafe practices.
In the 1930's, after only two minutes of floor debate, marijuana was rendered illegal. "Marijuana remains illegal today, despite having caused no overdose deaths, and despite being no more harmful than legal and regulated alcohol and tobacco," Krane said.
Chabot, in contrast, said marijuana was rightly outlawed.
Taxation and the economy
"For every dollar that you would make from taxation, you would spend about eight cleaning up the cost," Chabot said.
Chabot said he finds the push for taxing marijuana interesting because those who are pushing for taxation are very anti-government.
Those who want marijuana to be taxed are simply trying to compromise with the government to get the amendment passed, Chabot said.
Krane, along with other supporters of legalization, said he is not asking for lawless legalization, but for one with rules and regulations. This should be a choice people do in the privacy of their own homes or in restricted public areas, such as a marijuana bars.
Krane said he believes that if marijuana was made legal, with stricter laws surrounding sales and distribution, rules would be enforced. Buyers would be carded, making buying marijuana much harder than it is today, and sellers would be held responsible by the government.
Krane also argued the legalization of marijuana would greatly impact the economy in a positive manner.
"The state of California alone would stand to benefit $1.4 billion in annual tax revenue," Krane said.
While some of the profits would be allocated for treatment cost, Krane said he feels this is a market the U.S. government could benefit from greatly.
And not just in tax revenue, Krane said, but jobs as well. There would be licensed sellers and distributors, something Krane said he believes should be up to the state to decide how to manage the stores, much like each state is responsible for its own alcohol distribution.
Chabot said the direction which Krane spoke of is exactly where the country should not go. He spoke of responsibility of American citizens saying, "We are better than that."
Chabot said some people will never "grow up" on this issue. Instead, his goal is to educate youth about responsible choices.
"( Los Angeles ) is an example of what not to become," Chabot said. "Parks are made for kids, not drug users."
Chabot, as many anti-marijuana advocates argue, questioned whether or not this would be the beginning of the process to legalize all drugs. He also argued that marijuana is the gateway to other drugs.
"Marijuana is the safest, therapeutically active substance known to man," Krane rebuttled. "DEA's words, not mine."
Alex Crockford, a sophomore, found the debate intriguing.
"It's hard for Chabot to prove his point when the majority uses," Crockford said. "In the long run, as people get older, they will use it less as they become role models."
October 28, 2009