Oct 7, 2010

thoughts about the illegal drugs resolution

The Nov/Dec LD resolution for 2010, just in case you forgot:
Resolved: The abuse of illegal drugs ought to be treated as a matter of public health, not of criminal justice.
1. Recognize that the resolution isn't just about marijuana. An affirmative that focuses exclusively on pot is not sufficiently affirming--unless able to warrant the exclusive focus. (On the other hand, it's not just about meth or heroin, either. Sorry, Neg.)

2. How much the debate concerns "the real world" is a central question. Do we look at illegal drug abuse policies around the globe? Every nation seems to have its own approach to drug abuse, so it's difficult to ascertain impacts (for those who argue largely in those terms). What if we focus on the United States, as some debaters like to do? How many of the impacts are due to prohibition?

3. Does the Aff have to advocate for some form of legalization? Is "decriminalization" sufficient? Or can the Neg argue that full-scale legalization is a Negative stance, since it would negate the existence of "illegal drugs?"

4. The "balance Neg" approach seems fruitful. A coercive mechanism, via the criminal justice system, to force illegal drug abusers into rehab, combined with a public health approach.

5. Is it a kritik to say "neither?" Public health is itself coercive, as the body politic seeks further control over the body human. (If you hear echoes of Foucault, you're in the right hallway.) Imagine the possibility of vaccinating children (or adults) against drug abuse. Soon, you may not have to imagine it.

6. Statistics on drug abuse are probably useful and reliable, but I'd be cautious with some of the "facts" about drugs, which are not only controversial (due in some cases to a lack of research compounded by the drugs' very illegality), but subject to dizzying amounts of spin, by prohibitionists and legalizers alike.

7. If I were the Aff, I would stay away from the utilitarian argument altogether, arguing instead from a rights-based perspective. The criminal justice system can already handle the societal harms caused by drug abusers--DUIs, thefts, etc.--because they're harms regardless. (We can punish someone for driving while stoned, just like we punish someone for driving drunk. The law even punishes public intoxication. Same for negligent behavior.) The point is, if we don't accept a utilitarian justification of punishment--deterrence--then we have no good reason to criminalize getting high. Even if the law deters it.

8. Drug abuse isn't drug trafficking or possession... or is it? If I were on the Aff, I might argue for a narrow definition of drug abuse, and then show that only an Orwellian police state can successfully criminalize being high. For the Neg, I'd argue that outlawing trafficking or possession is a / the legitimate way to make drug abuse a matter of criminal justice--only through an indirect route.

9. Is there any compelling reason for why alcohol is legal and marijuana isn't? If you have one, please share it in the comments. Even looking through the government's "Marijuana Myths and Facts," I'm struggling to find relevant distinction.

10. Do us all a favor and don't use any pot jokes in your case. Thanks.


G.O. said...

Do you think it's possible to take a Kantian approach to the neg?

1) Define illegal drugs as a way to get high and addiction as a way to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Abuse is thus treating your own body as a means to achieving pleasure.

2) Emphasize the destabilizing effects of widespread drug use, proving that no one can will abuse to be universal law.

The abuse of illegal drugs is thus inherently immoral and calls for punishment and deterrence.

Of course, this assumes the neg has to actually advocate for the criminal justice system. They could plausibly argue the the immorality of drug use is sufficient to show that public health is an inappropriate response and thus that the Aff is unconscionable.

Anonymous said...

Is Aff allowed to focus solely on how a criminal justice approach would violate individual's rights? Or do they have to talk about why drug abuse should be treated as a matter of public health as well?

Anonymous said...

What exactly does it mean to "treat as a matter of public health"?

Jim Anderson said...

G.O., interesting thoughts. Kant's words on suicide seem to echo yours about the self-harm of drug abuse.

The problem is that a Kantian approach to immorality doesn't require legal punishment for all immoral behaviors. Consider lying: should a child who lies to his parents about brushing his teeth face legal sanction? Of course not. What about an employee who lies to her boss about being nearly finished on a report that's due tomorrow, when in fact she's procrastinating and praying for a miracle? Again, the law doesn't seem to care.

We have to have a good reason for making drug abuse a matter of criminal justice, rather than merely a matter of social disapproval / ostracism / shaming, or some other non-legal punishment or consequence.

(Also, as far as I know, Kantian punishment theory is not justified by deterrence, but solely on retribution for past wrongs. Otherwise, one could justify punishing an innocent in order to deter others from committing crimes, as long as it could be shown to have a deterrent effect.)

First Anonymous, if you only "go halfway," so to speak, I'm not sure that would count as fully affirming. Consider one approach: "The abuse of illegal drugs ought to be treated as a matter of private conscience." There's nothing in that phrase suggesting public health implications, and yet conceivably, it would meet the bar set by your hypothetical rights-based Aff.

So, yes. Spend some time developing positive reasons for treating drug abuse as a matter of public health.

And, of course, Second Anonymous asks, what exactly does that mean? Looking to common definitions and achievements of public health, it seems clear that it's largely...

1. More preventive / proactive than reactive
2. More educational than coercive
3. Regulatory rather than punitive

Its programs involve government educational programs (especially school programs like DARE), needle exchanges, treatment centers, efforts to develop anti-drug vaccines, social engineering (making smoking a taboo, for instance), and the like.

Anonymous said...

Does the Aff have to argue for decriminalization or legalization?

Mr. Nordstrom said...

Perhaps an argument should be made about the concept of liberty and freedom, two ideal values most Americans undoubtedly claim to believe in. Does drug use violate either? More importantly, does drug criminalization really ensure the protection of either? I believe it would be hard to make an argument that criminalization promotes either liberty or freedom. Making such an argument would surely require some working with the idea of addiction, taking the freedom and liberty away from the user. However, most studies I have seen about marijuana addiction appear either inconclusive or do not support the idea. The notion then shifts to more addictive and dangerous substances. Still, many of these proven addictive substances, such as common pain killers, are perfectly legal and widely used, whereas others, such as heroin and cocaine, remain illegal.

Furthermore, one should evaluate the true causes of societal problems associated with drugs. Do illegal drugs really create these problems or are they caused simply the prohibition of them? If all drugs were legal, instead of criminal organizations profiting from them (resulting in their expansion and inevitable violence) wouldn't more legitimate, transparent, and taxable businesses profit from them instead? Is this not what a capitalist democracy should seek?

I am of the belief that the problems associated with drug usage are simply medical, such as issues of addiction, depression, and dependency. It would be difficult to argue that the issues of criminal drug sales are not more damaging than the substances themselves. It is my opinion that drug users are not detrimental to our society, those with addiction problems will use drugs regardless of their legality. Instead, it is the criminal organizations such as street gangs that cause bloodshed who are truly detrimental to our society, our safety, and our liberty. Legalizing drugs would, in a very literal economic sense, put them out of business.

Although further research must be done to accurately support this idea, one should consider that Los Angeles was not too long ago the gang capital of the nation, having hundreds of gang related murders a year. Since the state's decriminalization of marijuana, they have been surpassed by other cities residing under governments who still treat marijuana possession as a criminal offense. Of course, this is simply correlation, which does not always mean causation, hence the need for further research.

These are just a few of my thoughts about the argument. I have been following your posts and their comments relating to the issue and look forward to further ideas on either side of the argument. I'm glad the discussion is still as alive as ever and sincerely believe we must continue to discuss these critical issues to have an effective democracy.

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, well, one way of looking at it: if drugs are legal, then the resolution doesn't exist (since it talks about the "abuse of illegal drugs"). So that could put full legalization off the table.

However, the thing about "illegal drugs" is they're punished in the criminal justice system by punishing possession. So the Aff could say that decriminalization of possession would still allow the resolution to exist. The drugs would be illegal to manufacture or distribute, but not illegal to merely possess.

Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

To help those wondering about illegal/legal drugs in the U.S - in 1970 the Controlled Substances Act was passed. The law classifies drugs into groups based on "abuse potential", medical use, and safety concerning the drug.

Abuse potential refers to addiction. I.E if a person takes this drug, it will begin to dominate their lives. Class 1 drugs have high abuse potential, high chance for addiction.

Medical use refers to the medical application of drugs. Drugs in class 1have little to no use in the medical field or medical applications.

Lastly, is the drug dangerous? Things like the OD limit are considered. The amount of the drug you have to take for it to be dangerous. Also, the amount of time a drug remains in one's system and the detrimental effects the drug has on the body. Class 1 drugs are often classified as more dangerous than you common household drugs.

Your common illegal drugs are classified in class 1.

Anonymous said...

Jim, I'm having trouble finding definitions for "public health" and "criminal justice." Do you know what sites I could use other than wikipedia?

Jim Anderson said...

Merriam-Webster's definition of public health is decent.

The American Heritage definition of criminal justice is also helpful.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused if a public health approach could force drug abusers to do anything. Could they force them to go to rehab, etc...?

Jim Anderson said...

Perhaps as an extension of quarantine powers. I discuss that approach here.

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for the help on the topic. I just started debate, but I notice that there may be some holes that benefit the neg in the resolution:

1)Couldn't the neg argue that illegal drug use should be treated as a matter of criminal justice AND public health.

2)Couldn't neg argue that ILLEGAL drug use and CRIMINAL justice are tied together. Therefore, if illegal drug use is treated as a matter of criminal justice and not public health then "illegal drug use" ceases to exist.

I was wondering if these contentions work,and, if they would work, how to counter them on the aff. Hope that made sense and thanks for any help.

Deli Yusufoglu said...

I'm a debater myself sorry if it seems random I'm going back to LD, because the Bronx gave me a bad taste for pf. I have looked at this topic and I'm considering looking at drugs and prison and how to create an argument to reduce prison population as a possible neg.

Jim Anderson said...


1. Yep.

2. They *could* argue it, but I don't find it terribly persuasive. The use of drugs could be decriminalized, while the manufacture and trafficking of those drugs could be a crime. That's how some jurisdictions handle the problem.

Also, "abuse of illegal drugs" can mean, in some contexts, the off-label or non-prescription use of drugs that are only legally available by prescription. (Oxycontin, for example.)

Deli, via "drug court," many drug abusers are sentenced to mandatory rehab, or other treatment- or community-based measures. No need to send them to prison. Is that what you were looking for? (Remember, though, that there are no "plans" in LD--so you might have to defend imprisoning drug abusers on other grounds.)

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is SO hard for Neg, I wrote up an Aff case and went to town, but this neg side has more than meets the eye.

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, what are you having trouble with?

Anonymous said...

I'm confused on the aff and neg burdens of this resolution.

Jim Anderson said...

I've discussed that elsewhere on the blog; for instance, start here and scroll down.

Anonymous said...

Do you know of any nations other than the United States that actively enforces drug abuse through their criminal justice or judiciary branch?

If i use statistics from the United States only is that a barrier to the success of my cases ?

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm sort of a new LDer, and I was wondering, would the abuse of prescription drugs be considered the abuse of illegal drugs since they are illegal without a prescription?

Jim Anderson said...

First Anonymous, almost every nation in the world has some kind of drug law on the books; punishments (and the precise definitions of criminal acts) vary widely.

Singapore is known for its strict anti-drug laws. Other nations also punish drug offenses with severe penalties; a list is available here.

Second Anonymous, I've seen definitions of "illegal drugs" that include off-label use of prescription drugs, so yes.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Nordstrom

I've heard some sentiments like those expressed in political climates, but in some later thought about the subject, I see a possible potential problem with it. Public credulity being what it is, I'm not entirely sure that a drug economy based on large, efficient, legalized corporations would harm the public any less than the brutal practices of cartels do. So long as you accept the contention that at least some of the drugs now considered illegal would be harmful if widely used, then it's easy to see how a corporation could be a whole lot more efficient in getting a lot of people to use their products than a criminal organization that operates in the shadows.

It's true, the harm in this case is less visceral in nature, and it isn't quite so photogenic or evoking of strong emotions, but it is still a great deal of harm. Products like Phencyclidine, or PCP, that can cause delusions that often make the user violent and entirely divorced from reality for a long period of time, compound this problem. What are your thoughts on this? Could an argument from the harm caused by more wide use and access to these drugs counter a claim about the harm caused by criminal activities of drug cartels?

llamagirl said...

I haven't completely read all of these other comments, but on the question about alcohol legality vs. weed illegality, I was just at an "instructional session" on the topic, and the reason the lecturer could come up with was just that marijuana has never been a part of American culture, whereas alcohol and tobacco pretty much always have been. (I live in Kentucky - our economy is basically completely tobacco-based.)

Anonymous said...

hey I'm a new LDer I'm writing my aff case, my value is life my VC is the quliaty of life. my contention 1 is :If the abuse of illegal drug is treated as a matter of public health instead of criminal justice, it will provide a better life and save more life. Contention 2 is If the abuse of illegal drug is treated as criminal justice won’t stop the spread of drug use, furthermore it won’t prevent death caused by illegal drugs. Contention 3: The abuse of illegal drug is a disease not a crime. I would like to add some subpoints and i'm not sure what to and where to add. so help please!!thx!

celia said...

hi, I am a first-time debater, and I have the basic ideas but I'm not sure how to formulate my contentions.
AFF; V - justice, C - retribution
I have the ideas that the drug users do not actually harm the society by doing drugs, so they have the complete right to do whatever they want (harm's principle)

Anonymous said...

How would you distinctly say that this rez only applies to the U.S.?

Jim Anderson said...

llamagirl, according many of the books I've read, much of the anti-marijuana sentiment in the 1920s and 30s was essentially ethnocentric panic about Mexican migrant workers. (See here for a timeline from a mainstream source.)

Anonymous, exactly why do you need subpoints? Just answer the question "why" to every sentence you write--and to each answer to the next "why." Subpoints are merely an organizational tool, and in your case may be completely unnecessary.

celia, well, you might want to have a broader criterion than retribution. Instead, argue based on John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism--that government has an interest in the well-being of its citizens (thus justifying public health responses), but with the limit of the harm principle (thus not justifying criminal punishment).

Latest Anonymous, well, personally, I wouldn't. There's nothing in the resolution to suggest it should be limited to the U.S. (no U.S.-specific phrases or concepts). Usually when debaters argue to limit the resolution to U.S. examples, they warrant it by arguing that it's more relevant / educational / researchable / easier for the judge to understand / or something.

firsttimedebater said...

what are some contentions for arguing that that the drug abuse is not a crime itself?

Jaycie said...

One thing that keeps coming up in my rounds is whether or not 'force' is a criminal justice policy. If it isn't, then public health can use it. If it is, then they can't and it's unlikely to get very many people to go to rehab voluntarily. Any thoughts on that?

Jim Anderson said...

Jaycie, how would public health officials enforce something like mandatory rehab? If a person simply said "no," wouldn't it require some kind of police power--in name or function--to force them to go?

At that point, we've created a distinction without a difference, granting public health officials the power traditionally reserved to criminal justice officials.

(Of course, I've argued differently elsewhere, which is what makes this resolution so prickly.)

Brent said...

My problem with this resolution is the fact that i cant find a good v and vc that supports my case. Basically i prove that criminal justice doesnt fix the problem rather that overlooks it, the fact that public health does treat the problem and that it stops cycle of addiction and helps the society. As of now, i have equality being supported by ralws's theory of justice...any better v and vc ideas?

Jim Anderson said...

Brent, it seems that you're operating with a value of Societal Welfare and a criterion of something like Utilitarianism or Consequentialism, or maybe more narrowly, Promoting Public Health.

Jay said...

Hello! I'm wondering something.

At my last tournament, I was judged by a previous LD'er. My Aff is focused less on showing that Public Health is good and more on showing that using the Criminal Justice System to crack down on drug abusers causes more harm than the abusers themselves do (unjust law).

My two arguments revolved around racism and the drug trade being perpetuated through criminalization.

Apparently, I lost the round because even though I turned the case [showing their contentions negatively impacted their VC] (and the opponent admitted it), "turning the case is not enough to win the round."

Is this true? Do I have to show that public health is awesome if I manage to show that the justice system is always a detriment and the Neg doesn't make any comment about public health having a negative impact? Or was I just screwed over?

Jim Anderson said...

I would think that your opponent would have to make that argument. If so, it's probably fair to say that you didn't meet the burden of the resolution (which is half about justifying a public health approach).

However, if your opponent didn't make that argument, you'd think the judge could tell you about it in an oral critique, but using it as a decision rule would be an intervention.

Obviously, not having been there, and not having all the details, I'm not qualified to make a solid decision either way, but those are my unqualified observations.