I love the debate over marijuana.  Literally, love it.  It’s fun to be right.  And it’s fun to talk with people that haven’t thought that hard about it, because you can see the cogs turning in their brains when you start to point out some fairly obvious truths, like the ones below.

One of the most common reasons people think marijuana should be illegal is that its use somehow poses some danger to others.  Consider this argument from an anonymous commenter on another website:

In order to protect the rest of society, including my family and yours, I choose to limit the “personal freedoms” of speeding and smoking weed. So I would put the safety of society above certain individual rights. Now, if people would smoke weed, not leave their house, and wait until it left their system so there was no trace. Smoke away. But that’s not reality. They smoke. They drive. They kill.

Now let’s leave aside the actual statistics here (how many people kill others while under the influence of marijuana?  Don’t they normally just want to sit around and munch?).  Conservatives and liberals alike are very good at pointing out the awful, horrible things that will happen if their respective political sacred cows are sacrificed by a change in the law.  Liberals say everyone will shoot each other if we allow gun ownership; conservatives say everyone will become dangerous junkies if we allow drugs.  But sometimes the best response is to make them call into question the coherency, the consistency, of their position by comparing it to their position on other issues.

So, to the above, I responded:

Your argument about marijuana is interesting. What it logically leads to is not the current status quo, what it leads to is going back to the prohibition era where alcohol is illegal too. Observe your argument in logical form:

  1. If people could be trusted to smoke marijuana without driving under the influence of it, they should be allowed to smoke it.
  2. But they don’t; they drive under the influence of it and kill people.
  3. Therefore, marijuana should be illegal.

To be consistent, your argument on alcohol should therefore be:

  1. If people could be trusted to drink alcohol without driving under the influence of it, they should be allowed to drink it.
  2. But they don’t; they drive under the influence of it and kill people.
  3. Therefore… [drinking should be illegal].

Have you been campaigning for prohibition lately? (And, as a follow-up question: if not, why not?)

He hasn’t been campaigning for prohibition.  And that’s because he’s a conservative: he wants to conserve the status quo, no matter how illogical and inconsistent its conception of rights or freedoms.  (Earlier in the same conversation, I asked him if he had any laws he wanted to change. He responded, “No.”)

But pointing out that inconsistency in debate is a powerful way to challenge it.  The ultimate answer to his argument is, of course, that there is no evidence to suggest that, if marijuana is legalized, more people will drive under the influence of marijuana than currently drive under the influence of alcohol or medicinal drugs, and that a system which prosecutes driving under the influence is the correct response to that problem rather than outright prohibition.

The debate is a lot of fun, in any case.