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Pot (Drugs) are Dangerous - How to Deal with the Argument

by Clifford A. Schaffer

You have heard the argument before:

Pot is dangerous. It causes cancer, auto accidents, grows hair on your palms, and makes you go blind.

This is a guide on how to deal with this argument in all sorts of easy ways. Some of these arguments were developed during debates with doctors, so some of them assume that the opponent is a doctor.

General Discussion

First, it is generally pointless to get tied up in debating the details of health issues or, in general, any supposed danger of drugs. The reason is that you get so wound up in trading scientific references that you never get to the real bottom line -- prison. Dr. So-and-So (who the audience doesn't know anyway) says X, Dr. Whositt, says Y -- so what?

Net result -- you convince nobody. Once you have won your main point, and established that criminal punishment is not an effective approach to the problem -- no matter what you have assumed about the dangers -- then you can go back and, at your leisure, knock down their health evidence as well.

My approach -- conceding all their evidence up front -- does a complete end run. They expect me to argue that pot doesn't cause cancer, etc. When I don't, and jump to the bottom line policy issue (prison), they are completely disarmed. They really don't know what to do. They never thought about their logical non-sequitir (Because XXXXX is dangerous, therefore prison is the solution) and are completely unprepared to deal with arguments which address the logical disconnect. Once they are sitting there with a stunned expression on their face -- knowing they have been completely cut off -- then I come back with the mop up campaign of addressing the health risks and comparing them with other health risks for which we do not put people in jail. By that time, they will be doing little but nodding their head and agreeing.

I remember one debate in which my opponent showed up with a whole stack of medical references on the harmful effects of drugs. A few minutes into the debate he closed his folder and never opened it again. Of course, as always, he conceded and agreed with me.

The Specific Responses

Now for the specific responses:

  1. Ok, you convinced me. Let's assume everything you say is true and it grows hair on your palms besides. How many millions of people do you suppose we ought to throw in prison for best results?
  2. Let's assume all the evidence you presented is 100 percent accurate. The evidence you presented shows that pot is perhaps three times as carcinogenic as cigarettes. What does this mean in terms of policy? Does it mean that the penalties for pot should be three times the penalties for cigarettes? Then, of course, there should be even higher penalties for cigars and chewing tobacco, right?
  3. So the argument is XXXXXX causes cancer. Therefore, the law is really based on trying to prevent people from doing things which might give them cancer, right? Should we have laws against staying out in the sun too long, eating cheeseburgers, or smoking tobacco?
  4. The reasons you have stated never did have anything to do with why the laws were passed in the first place. Please answer two questions: Why were the drug laws passed in the first place? When did the concerns over cancer become the reason behind the laws?
  5. If your concern is really the carcinogens, then we can just require that the active ingredient be distributed in its pure form. Or what if someone only uses it by distilling the active ingredient (a simple process) and thereby takes no carcinogens? Shouldn't they be free from penalties?
  6. Gosh, you convinced me. Let's solve the problem right away. We will elect you King so you can do _anything_ you want. And ... every pot smoker in America is lined up outside your door with a bag of dope in one hand and a signed confession in the other. Now what?
  7. Every major study of drug policy agreed that prohibition only multiplied the bad effects which already exist with drugs. For example, overdoses become more likely because users don't know what they are getting; there are no standards for drug purity so there is greater harm from contaminants, addicts are less likely to receive effective treatment, etc. The more you assume about the harmful effects of drugs, the more imperative it becomes to address them in a non-criminal manner.
  8. Your evidence states that pot may be a problem while driving. Let's assume (for the sake of argument) that this is true. Do we attempt to solve the problem of drunk driving by throwing wine and beer drinkers in jail? Why not? (Can you say "misapplication of resources"?)
  9. The argument that pot was found in the bloodstreams of any group of people who died from any cause is not indicative of anything other than that they might have used pot some time within the last two months before they died. It does not say anything about all the people who may have pot in their bloodstreams and still be alive and well. It doesn't even say anything about _why_ they died. For comparison purposes, as any competent doctor knows, we need control groups.
  10. We must be wary of false comparisons (as any competent doctor should know). For example, we had one previous example in which large numbers of people were dying with pot in their bloodstreams. It was called Vietnam. Pot smokers had a high death rate, but it had nothing to do with pot.
  11. Pot causes cancer. Therefore, the best approach to the problem is to put millions of people in prison. This is the basic argument. Can you say "non-sequitir"? Where did you get the idea that if something is a health hazard, we ought to throw people in prison?
  12. Name all the other health problems for which prison is the recommended treatment.
  13. Please make a list of the comparable health problems caused by say, alcohol, and then match the health problems with the appropriate criminal penalties.
  14. Then maybe you can tell me why every major study of drug policy in the last fifty years recommended decriminalization. (See the list of Biggest Studies of Drug Policy on my web page.)
  15. You know, we can dispense with all the details and cut to the bottom line. Rather than argue the details of what it _might_ cause, we can take a look at the actual stats on what it _does_ cause. When we look at the official stats, such as deaths from any pot-related cause, the numbers are trivial in comparison with the damage done by alcohol and tobacco. We are spending 99 percent of our budget on one percent of the real drug problems.

If Your Opponent is a Doctor

16) Hey, Doc! What is the first rule of addressing a health problem? First, do no harm. Right? Putting people in prison does significant harm long before they are likely to get cancer.

If my opponent is a doctor I will hammer him on points just like the one above. If he is really concerned about pot as a health issue then, by God, he ought to be ready to address that part of the problem as he would any other health issue. Would he put people in prison for non-marital sex in order to prevent venereal disease? Obviously he wouldn't. Hit him with his own values and evidence.

And, if he is a doctor, I would hammer him repeatedly on the fact that he really didn't know anything about the subject. Like:

So tell me why the Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs said that prohibition was the worst thing we could do for drug-related health problems. You haven't read it have you? The big problem here is ignorance, Doctor. It is one thing to read some medical literature about the harm these things can do and it is quite another to make the leap to an effective public policy. Your problem, Doctor, is that you have read some of the medical evidence but haven't read the evidence on drug policy. Ignorance is a shameful thing in someone with as much education as you have.

In short, if I am in a debate with a doctor, he will fall before I am done -- because he is a doctor. I will goad him into reading the CU Report by taunting him, calling him ignorant, cajoling him, or anything else I have to do. I will force him to either read what I have read or look like a public fool. Once they read it, they always concede. For example, see my much earlier post "Cliff Converts Doc". It was written by a doctor who fought me tooth and nail and then wound up telling everyone that I was right. Excerpts of my debate with him are posted on my web page.


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