With support for recreational and medical marijuana at an all-time high, many activists wonder why meaningful marijuana reform still seems so far away.
While there are many reasons why reform is taking so long (including corruption, conflicts of interest, and political indifference), it cannot be overstated that many still find common arguments for marijuana prohibition compelling.
Effective activists must know these common arguments and refute them whenever they are raised. Only by knowing the mentality of the opposition can we hope to persuade them. In my experience here are three common arguments put forward by prohibitionists.
1. Marijuana is unsafe and untested
The Argument: Prohibitionists often argue that marijuana is an unsafe and untested drug that has failed to go through the rigorous safety testing and trials normally associated with other medical drugs.
The Rebuttal: Advocates who encounter this argument should be glad that reality is on your side. Over the decades, the medicinal qualities of marijuana have been tested extensively. In fact, marijuana currently has more medical research and clinical trials than most modern pharmaceutical drugs. Researchers have consistently found that marijuana has little potential for abuse, or addiction, and is one of the safest recreational drugs around.
In fact, no one has ever died of a marijuana overdose. Simply put, marijuana has very few downsides compared to the penalties that society gives for its use. Marijuana is safe, marijuana is tested, and marijuana is not a threat.
2. If we legalize, children will use more marijuana
The Argument: Prohibitionists like Nancy Grace will often cry “will someone please think about the children?!” when discussing marijuana reform. The argument goes that if we allow the government to regulate the sale of marijuana, more marijuana will get into the hands of minors.
The Rebuttal: Simply put, this argument is illogical and incorrect. But recent studies show that marijuana use by teens has decreased in Colorado, and the average rate of underage consumption has also declined across the country since recreational legalization began in 2012.
That could be because the black market makes marijuana more accessible to minors. Prohibitionists think that legalization puts kids at risks, but prohibition is the bigger threat since it relegates cannabis to illicit markets where there is no age restriction to prevent street dealers from selling drugs to minors. In contrast, regulated business are monitored to prevent underage sales, which would result in serious criminal and civil penalties.
Simply put, this prohibitionist argument is not only incorrect but also incoherent.
3. “Just Say No”
The Argument: The final common argument put forward by prohibitionists is unfortunately the hardest to rebut because it completely lacks a rational basis to refute. Prohibitionists like Attorney General Jeff Sessions will argue, “Well Nancy Reagan said, 'Just say No,' then that's what we should do. No one should use drugs, period.”
The Rebuttal: Unfortunately, this argument is nearly impossible to rebut because it goes to deep-seated emotional beliefs about drug use, and what it means to use drugs, which are difficult if not impossible to challenge. Some parrot this argument because they believe that only hippies, liberals, and minorities smoke marijuana, and the government ought to stop them. Like Sessions, these people truly believe that “good people don’t smoke marijuana”.
Others hold religious beliefs that forbid them from using recreational drugs, which they then want to protect through the power of the government. Still others naively believe that if everyone 'just said no' to drugs, we wouldn’t have a drug problem anymore.
Unfortunately, these world views are horribly misguided. Good people smoke marijuana. The people who use marijuana are not some nameless “others.” Those who use marijuana are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children and grandparents. They're employers and employees as well as retirees and veterans. Marijuana use is not confined to one political ideology or social demographic. Marijuana use is more common than many can imagine.
'Just Say No' is a failed policy which is wholly out of touch with reality. Drug use and abuse has been with human culture since the dawn of our history, and a three-word phrase is not going to change it. Unfortunately, this argument is still being embraced today, even by those who should, or at least did know better at one time.
While there are many more arguments for prohibition, these three are by far the most common I have come across in my four years of advocacy. As advocates we must do our best to understand the prohibitionist positions so we can better rebut and combat resistance to reform. Good advocacy begins with a solid understand of the opposition, and these are arguments we must overcome if we are to see real marijuana reform in our lifetime.
Hunter J. White is the Communications Director of the national Republican political organization, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, or RAMP, a Non-Profit 501-c3 organization dedicated to the complete repeal of marijuana prohibition in all its forms. In this series of articles, Hunter shares the challenges, experiences, and insights that he has gained from years of working to bring marijuana policy reform to the Republican Party.