PALS panelists discuss pros and cons of marijuana legalization

Rebekah Mason, Campus Carrier Staff Writer

Berry’s Politics and Law Society (PALS) recently sponsored a panel discussion on the legalization of marijuana in the Krannert ballroom. The panel featured Berry’s own Brian Meehan, assistant professor of economics, and Michael Papazian, professor of religion and philosophy. Two community experts from outside of Berry also attended: Suhir Morehead, a Chattanooga Administrative Law judge, and Leigh Patterson, the Floyd County District Attorney.  

The event was not offered as a CE credit to students, but this topic draws a lot of attention, so there was a large turnout of both students and faculty. The panel was introduced by sophomore Sara Jordan and junior Momo Abdellatif.  Each panelist was given ten minutes to explain their stance, followed by a time to ask each other questions and answer questions from the audience. 

The first to talk was Suhir Morehead. Morehead, who was arguing in favor of legalization of marijuana, talked about how her view has changed throughout her legal career.  Morehead stated that marijuana is not a gateway drug.

 “There is a gateway drug in America; that drug is called alcohol,” Morehead said.

She focused on the idea that alcohol and cigarettes are legal and, in many cases, harmful. According to Morehead, there are also racial disparities when it comes to marijuana arrests: where most races use the same amount of the drug, black Americans get arrested more. She closed by stating that we need to turn our attention to something of more importance and recognize that our efforts to decrease usage have failed. 

The next to talk was Meehan. Similarly to Morehead, he addressed arguments made by prohibitionists about making marijuana legal, including the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug. He presented a PowerPoint showing research and statistics leaning toward the fact that marijuana is not a gateway drug. He also showed statistics revealing that marijuana does not have an impact on road safety or cause crime to increase, ideas that prohibitionists of marijuana believe. 

“The biggest misconception for marijuana and other drugs is that it is the consumption that creates crime,” Meehan said. “It is not that. It is the prohibition of these drugs. When they are driven underground, that creates crime.”

Up next was Papazian. He based his argument for the legalization of marijuana on the harm principle, created by British philosopher and economist John Stewart Mill. The harm principle states that government power can be used to punish people who have harmed others, but if you are an adult, you have the right to engage in activities that might be harmful to yourself. 

“We don’t need a nanny or babysitter telling us what to do,” Papazian said.

He believes the prohibition of marijuana is an example of government overreach. 

The final panel member to speak was Patterson. She countered the views of the other panelists, arguing against the legalization of marijuana. She believes that it is, in fact, a gateway drug, and that she has evidence of this from her many years working closely with law enforcement on cases pertaining to this issue. She stated that the increase in THC in marijuana over the years, going from roughly one percent in the 70s to 14 percent today, has also increased the dangers of its use.  She also used statistics from Colorado on how the legalization of recreational marijuana has impacted that state. 

“In many cases there are more marijuana shops in some towns than McDonalds or Starbucks,” Patterson said. 

She also showed statistics that show a rise in crime in Colorado as well as a growing homeless population.

When the panelists finished their discussion, hands shot up across the room as people wanted to ask questions and voice their opinion. Several questions were directed toward Patterson, as some students countered her view on the negative effects legalization would have. President Briggs was also in attendance and asked a question to the panel as well. He also shared research with the audience on the cognitive effects of marijuana on young adults. 

The purpose of this panel was to offer an opportunity for an open exchange of ideas in order for the audience to become better informed on this controversial topic and listen to differing sides of the argument. 

“My initial views on the legalization of marijuana have not changed,” freshman Lily Smith said. “I think marijuana should be legalized, but it needs to be closely monitored and carried out in a safe manner.” 

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