Marijuana debate lights up at UVM

When a Harvard professor and a Drug Policy Research Center researcher meet to discuss the legalization of marijuana, sparks fly. Professor of economics at Harvard University Jeffery Miron argued in favor of legalization against Co-Director of the Research and Development Corporation (RAND) Drug Policy Research Center Rosalie Liccardo Paccula, on Nov. 3 at the fifth installment of the Janus Forum. “Welcome to the fifth installment of the Janus Forum, a debate series intended to stimulate thought around some of the most controversial issues of the day,” debate moderator Emerson Lynn said at the beginning of the two-and-a-half-hour debate. “Today is certainly no exception. We’re fortunate to have two of the brightest minds in the business here tonight.” Those minds added different perspectives to the overall marijuana debate. Miron added a twist to his viewpoint. “I want to turn the tables,” Miron said. “I want to say that the burden of proof should be on the people who want to prohibit marijuana. I’m going to claim that the only reasonable starting position for discussing this issue is with a strong presumption that marijuana should be legal.” The basis of Miron’s argument was that there should be a compelling case for the illegalization of marijuana, and that in keeping it illegal, “whatever negative effects it might have need to outweigh the values of liberty and freedom that the United States claims to hold dear.” “Such a case does not exist,” he said. Paccula presented her side of the issue through the medium of a PowerPoint presentation titled “Why Not Legalize Marijuana?” She also emphasized that she was in no way reflecting the ideas of the RAND Corporation. “Why legalize something that has the potential of health risks and harm, particularly to youth, if right now we can buy ourselves time to figure out what those costs really are?” she said. The sentiment that echoed throughout Paccula’s argument was that marijuana prohibition keeps the price of acquiring the substance artificially high, thereby keeping consumption lower than it would be if marijuana were legal. “Our estimates show that the price [of marijuana] would fall as much as 80 percent if legalized,” Paccula said. “We’re talking about enormous price changes.” She further argued that it would be irresponsible to permit widespread use of marijuana while the health consequences are still unknown ­— especially in the cases of drugged driving and mental health. “The science is not there yet,” Paccula said. In contrast to legalization efforts around the country, like the failed Proposition 19 in California, the debaters were relatively optimistic for marijuana legalization. “[The prospects for marijuana legalization] are looking better and better each year,” Paccula said. “There’s support for a significant change in the marijuana laws.” Jeffery Miron agreed, but was cautious to predict a speedy process. “Legalization is plausible in the next few decades, but it doesn’t seem likely in the next few years,” he said. “I don’t think that we’re making the case in the best possible way.” “I’m not a smoker so I don’t care either way,” sophomore Doug Daigle said. “I think everyone is going to have their own opinion, but people should stop arguing.”