With marijuana reform sweeping the nation, the need to thoroughly know common arguments put forward by those who oppose reform as all the more important. Effective advocacy for reform requires knowing common arguments against it, as well as how to counter them. In my years of advocacy these are three of the more common arguments put forward by prohibitionists.
1. Marijuana DUIs will create chaos on the roads!
The Argument: Prohibitionists will often argue that reforming marijuana laws, particularly recreational marijuana, will lead to chaos on the roads. The concern is further advanced because there is currently no effective way to test marijuana impairment.
The Rebuttal: Advocates who encounter this argument need to know the facts. Colorado and Washington have both experienced a small increase in motor vehicle accidents where marijuana is detected since adopting recreational sales of marijuana. These are bad facts, but they are not definitive. In recreational states, routine drug testing for marijuana after motor vehicle accidents is relatively new. This means that while small increases are being seen, this could have been the true rate before testing became regular - and before legalization.
Furthermore, it is unclear if marijuana is solely responsible for the increase in accidents. Marijuana is detectable in the human body for up to 90 days. However, “impairment” from marijuana only lasts a few hours. The lack of an effective way to determine marijuana impairment means we do not know if marijuana is responsible for the increase in accidents. More research is needed.
In short, the rebuttal is that we know more people involved in accidents have detectable amounts of marijuana, but we do not know if the marijuana is responsible for the accident itself. Correlation does not equal causation. This should not justify locking up hundreds of thousands of people.
2. The 'Gateway Drug' Theory
The Argument: Prohibitionists will often argue that if we reform marijuana laws, people will use more hard drugs as a result. The argument posits that marijuana has some magical quality that makes other drugs more enticing. This is particularly concerning as America continues to suffer from the opioid epidemic.
The Rebuttal: This argument is so incoherent that it's depressing when high-profile people such as Jeff Sessions, Mike Pence, and John Kelly espouse this theory. Marijuana is not a gateway drug. I will say that again, and again, and again. The entire idea of a “gateway drug” is absurd. Arbitrarily deciding that one form of intoxication has some mystical quality that leads to harder drug use does not make sense. By this logic, aspirin, nicotine, or even alcohol could all be “gateway drugs”. In fact, by many measures alcohol is the true “gateway drug” - if any such thing really exists.
This argument is further rebutted by the simple observation that making marijuana a black market commodity increases the likelihood that the consumer will come across means for obtaining other, harder drugs. Thus, the argument should really work in reverse: We need to make marijuana legal so that consumers are not more easily exposed to harder drugs.
3. Marijuana Reform Increases Crime
The Argument: Prohibitionists will often say that marijuana reform will increase the rate of crime. This argument stems from a deep-seated fear of a nationwide crime wave.
The Rebuttal: Marijuana reform does not increase the rate of crime. In fact, reform has lowered the crime rate in some states. Drug cartels are exiting the marijuana industry as safe, regulated, legal businesses replace them. Simply put, this fear is unfounded.
Furthermore, the general fear of a crime wave sweeping the county is unfounded. 2017 was one of the safest years for police officers, and crime is at near historic lows. Those who espouse otherwise are trying to make - and keep - you scared.
Knowing how to effectively persuade those who oppose reform requires knowing the facts, both good and bad, in favor of your position. These are another three common arguments that I have come across in my years of advocacy. If we want to see reform in our lifetime, these are the arguments we must rebut.