Yale students gave the green light to ganja Wednesday night as the Yale Political Union voted to approve a resolution in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Approximately 100 students turned out to hear former Green Party Connecticut gubernatorial candidate Clifford Thornton speak about the need for drug legalization in Connecticut and the evils of the war on drugs. Thornton speaks internationally to around 20,000 people each year on the issue of drug legalization.
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“I am going to talk to you about what is probably the most important issue of your time,” Thornton said. “It’s not the war over there, it’s the war over here, and I’m talking about the war on drugs in America.”
Thornton called the war on drugs a “four-decade-old farce” that has cost the DEA $60 billion a year while resulting in the confiscation of only 10 percent of illicit drugs traded in the United States. Since inner-city economies depend on the drug trade, the war on drugs allows the government to retain its legislative and policing control over inner-city communities, he said.
“The drug war is meant to be waged, not won,” Thornton said.
At the end of his speech, Thornton advocated three major changes to current drug policy: ending the war on drugs, legalizing recreational drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin, and allowing the “medicalization” of marijuana and other currently illegal substances.
Rachel Bayefsky ’09, an Independent Party member who responded to Thornton with a speech in the negative, said Thornton had “no justification for a logical leap from the end to the war on drugs to the legalization of marijuana.” Bayefsky outlined the societal evils of pot smoking as well as the risk of further black-market dealings, even in a regulated market, due to high mark-ups on drug costs.
But some students at the debate said Bayefsky had little defense for not allowing chronically ill patients, such as those with HIV or glaucoma, the right to medicinal marijuana.
“Ms. Bayefsky got a little caught in the medicinal marijuana trap in that it became increasingly clear to me as the debate went on that it’s difficult not to justify using these drugs for medicinal purposes,” said Avital Rutenberg-Schoenberg ’09. “My only concern would be medical exploitation of marijuana by medical practitioners.”
Nate Scherer ’10, an Independent Party member who spoke in the affirmative, said it would be ethically “ludicrous” to deprive certain patients of these functional drugs.
“The only criminality with marijuana is that it is illegal to grow, sell and possess it,” he said.
In the vote following the debate, YPU members overwhelmingly approved the resolution in favor of legalizing marijuana, citing both political and personal motives.
Andrew Olson ’08 said he approved of Thornton’s argument that the war on drugs is politically negative for the country.
“The guest isn’t really advocating drug use, but sensible drug policy, and I think that is really important,” Olson said. “The larger problem is the idea that the government can make whatever rules it feels like.”
But one freshman asked Thornton whether he thought legalizing drugs would involve pharmaceutical companies in the drug trade, offered a more immediate argument for marijuana legalization.
“I’d rather purchase marijuana from Pfizer than the kid in my algebra class,” he said.