Last Wednesday, UTM professors and political pundits discussed the legalization of marijuana at an on-campus debate organized by the UTM Liberals club.

Arnd Jurgensen, a political science lecturer at UTM, opened the discussion with his support for marijuana legalization. He compared the legal status of marijuana to that of other substances, including tobacco and alcohol.

“Almost every doctor that I’ve spoken to and read articles by would suggest that the health effects of tobacco are more severe than they are in the case of marijuana,” said Jergensen. “The addictive qualities of tobacco are far more severe than those of marijuana, and yet tobacco is relatively freely available to anyone over the age of 18—and, unfortunately, pretty much available to those underneath that age.”

Jergensen argued that the negative social effects of alcohol consumption are also more severe than those of tobacco and marijuana, giving the example of bar fights started under the influence of alcohol. He pointed out that unlike other drugs, there is effectively no lethal dose of marijuana.

He dismissed the notion that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads users to take harder drugs like cocaine and heroin. “I know of quite a few people that smoke marijuana, and virtually nobody that takes harder drugs,” said Jurgensen.

He also said that because marijuana is put in the same category as harder drugs, people selling marijuana usually also sell harder drugs, which makes harder drugs easily available to people purchasing marijuana. “They have a profit motive to push harder drugs, because the profit margins for harder drugs tend to be higher than [for] marijuana,” he argued.

Revenue from the sale of marijuana can be taken away from drug dealers and organized crime and put into legitimate activities where it can be taxed, regulated, and kept away from the hands of vulnerable people, according to Jergensen.

The Liberal Party of Canada adopted the legalization of marijuana as its official policy in January.

Jonathan Scott, the president of the U of T Liberals club at the St. George campus, suggested that their official stance could be risky for the party.

“We’d be branded as an unserious party if we don’t sell this as a substantive policy,” said Scott. He also mentioned that the selling point of the legalization policy needs to be economic rather than ideological.

Zach Paikan, a former candidate for  the national policy chair of the Liberal Party, said that money saved from the war on drugs and generated from taxing marijuana could be used to reduce corporate taxes, personal income taxes, and debt, which can be a crucial selling point  for conservative voters.

Paikan added that the revenue would be important as Canada assumes a more important role in world politics. “Legalizing marijuana is a really important way to generate billions of dollars per year […] to ensure that we are secure as a people,” he said.

However, Nicholas Li, an associate economics professor at UTM, suggested that the fiscal benefits of marijuana legalization are being oversold.

Canada’s total government revenue is approximately $600 billion, and marijuana legalization would only create between $1 billion to $2 billion government revenue, according to Li, who cited Frasier Institute and Harvard University studies on marijuana markets in Canada and U.S.

Li argued that legalizing marijuana will also have international consequences, particularly with the U.S., that could increase costs, such as at customs. Even a 1% reduction in trade with the U.S. would reduce Canada’s revenue by $3.4 billion, he said. This loss would outweigh the revenue generated from legalization.

Students and audience members asked questions after the speakers finished their statements. Andrew O’Brien, the president of UTM Liberals, moderated the Q & A session.

UTM Liberals used marijuana legalization to attract first-year students and new members this year, but the primary selling point for UTM students is lower tuition fees, according O’Brien.

A recent poll suggests that more than 65% of Canadians favour decriminalizing marijuana, according to a Global News report on July 1. Marijuana became illegal in Canada in 1923 under the Opium and Drug Act.