Debate on marijuana policy aimed at informing public

Putting his hands together, William Jones III (left) debates with Aaron Houston (right) about the legalization of marijuana. Held on Friday, the debate took place in Forum Hall and was moderated by a moderator from the National Institute for Civil Discourse. (Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

On the eve of April 20, Forum Hall was host to two speakers whose joint debate expressed their blunt opinions on the topic of marijuana legalization.

The Union Program Council hosted “Legalize It” on Friday with the goal of informing the public about both sides of the debate on legalizing marijuana.

Moderated by a member of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, the debate took on a traditional form of debate. Aaron Houston, co-founder of Marijuana Majority, debated in the affirmative — in favor of legalization. Will Jones, member of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, debated in the negative.

Marijuana Majority is a legalization advocacy group that is “dedicated to reporting on the wide variety of figures” who have expressed their views in support of legalization. On the other hand, Smart Approaches to Marijuana aims to inform the public about marijuana policy and advocate for research on medically safe strains of marijuana.

Each speaker was given 15 minutes to defend their stance and a 5-minute rebuttal period. Afterwards, the audience was able to present questions to both the affirmative and the negative .

Both speakers had deeply personal reasons for their participation in this debate.

“I had this deep dark secret that I used marijuana,” Houston said. “I thought I was the only one who could possibly have this story.”

Due to the social pressure of his political career, Houston felt that the stigma against marijuana prevented him from being honest about his own experiences. Once he started to advocate for its legalization, he found that a number of people shared similar stories to his own.

For Jones, a Washington, D.C. native, when the topic of legalization in the city began to arise, he said he was indifferent. But after a family member of Jones began heavily using marijuana and it derailed their education, Jones began to look more in depth into the topic.

“I just began to see all these parallels from a commercialization aspect between big tobacco, the companies that are investing in marijuana, how the marketing works,” Jones said.

Jones is in favor of a de-criminalized approach to recreational use. He said so far the data has not shown a consistent decrease in incarceration rates in legalized states. He fears that the commercialization of marijuana will mostly effect marginalized communities and introduce another form of legal addiction to them.

Houston favors the legalization of both medical and recreational uses. He acknowledged there was an inevitable potential for commercial exploitation but that the medicinal benefits are greater than the commercialization of the industry.