By ANUSHKA MEHROTRA
Over 100 Cornellians and Ithacans filled Ives Hall Wednesday to listen to Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 debate the legalization of marijuana against members of the Cornell Forensics society.
During the debate, titled “This House Would Legalize Marijuana,” Myrick defended marijuana legalization, while forensics society debaters Srinath Reddy ’14 and Enting Lee ’17 argued against it. At the end of the debate, audience members voted in support of Myrick’s stance.
According to Myrick, there are three primary arguments against criminalizing marijuana — racism and classism, inefficiency and costliness and the promotion of a dangerous underground drug market.
He said that poor and minority users of marijuana are disproportionately arrested for its use.
“We have two separate criminal justice systems for people who abuse drugs,” Myrick said. “If you are black or poor and you are smoking marijuana, you will be arrested and given a criminal record. If you are white or rich and you are caught smoking marijuana, your parents will send you to rehab … and you will never have a criminal record.”
Myrick added that the repercussions of using marijuana are not nearly as bad as other social problems — such as drunk driving.
“The truth is marijuana is bad for you, but it is not that bad for you… We lose zero people from marijuana overdoses,” he said. “We have 18-year-olds who get drunk — they think they’re invincible and drive 80 miles an hour, [and] we have 18-year-olds who get stoned, they get paranoid and drive 15 miles an hour to Taco Bell.”
Additionally, Myrick argued that criminalizing marijuana is ineffective due to the large proportion of Americans — approximately one in three — that have reported using it.
“After arresting more people for marijuana use than for all other violent crimes combined, marijuana is still the most popular drug in the entire country,” he said.
Myrick also said that criminalization leads to the creation of a multitude of illegal drug dealers and cartels that police themselves through “violent intimidation.”
Reddy, in response, argued that marijuana is not as “rosy” as Myrick depicted, saying that it is physically harmful, serves as a gateway drug for harder drugs and should not be legalized.
He said it is likely corporations, which have a profit incentive to keep people addicted, would monopolize marijuana distribution upon its legalization.
“Corporations have a profit motive to not only get people addicted, but to keep people addicted,” Reddy said.
Reddy and Lee both argued that legalization would increase marijuana usage as a result of a decrease in its price.
“[Upon legalization], the price of marijuana may plummet by up to 80 percent,” Reddy said. “If the price of a thing plummets by 80 percent, it is likely that thing will be purchased by more people.”
Additionally, Reddy said the taxation of marijuana is only beneficial when tax revenues from marijuana sales “exceed the social costs” of its legalization.
Marijuana usage serves as a gateway to “harder drugs” that have more dramatic health consequences, according to Reddy.
“Innocuous early experiences with certain kinds of drugs — as is often the case with marijuana — [lead you to] believing or convincing yourself that the exact same thing is true with harder drugs,” he said.
However, Myrick said that marijuana is considered a gateway drug mainly because marijuana dealers tend to also distribute harder drugs.
“Cigarettes are not considered a gateway drug because you don’t buy cigarettes from a drug dealer that [sells harder drugs],” he said. “The last three presidents of the United States have reported using marijuana — maybe it’s a gateway to the White House.”
Lee addressed the dangers of psychological addiction — particularly amongst college students — that arise from marijuana usage.
“Even if [marijuana] does not get your body physically addicted, you get psychologically addicted to the high it gives you,” she said. “[It] is a sensation that is very easy to get used to — especially for overly stressed college students like all of us.”
Both Myrick and the forensics society debaters agreed that marijuana usage is harmful to one’s health.
“Marijuana is carcinogenic. It has a developmental consequence on people’s IQs, which is particularly concerning in a world where marijuana users that begin between 12 and 17 are not only large, but also growing,” Reddy said.