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Rock On! Debate: Spencer Travis on the Jan 2022 PF Res Considering the Legalization of Illicit Drugs

Former Green River debater and co-host of The Half Hour Podcast, Spencer Travis is back on Rock On! Debate to help Public Forum debaters figure out some different approaches to the 2022 January resolution: The United States Federal Government should legalize all illicit drugs.


Spencer Travis dropped in to chat about illicit drugs and share his thoughts on the current January 2022 Public Forum Debate resolution. Spencer is currently studying Political Science at the University of Wyoming. He competed in Speech and Debate for four years at Green River, and his career there was highlighted by two top five State finishes and a finish in the Top 90 of International Extemporaneous Speaking at the National Speech and Debate Tournament.

You all know Spencer as one of the hosts of The Half Hour podcast which has been a powerful resource for Extemporaneous Speakers. On this episode of Rock On! Debate, Spencer discusses the pros and cons of the legalization of illicit drugs and some of the approaches debaters may take in this resolution.


Spencer's Outline/Notes for the Illicit Drugs Topic Analysis:

Resolved: The United States federal government should legalize all illicit drugs.

Maybe we should start by suggesting that addictions are real despite the low statistic

  • Call people if there is someone that you think is in serious need of help

Let’s talk about judge bias and maybe the importance of running tournaments/being a competitor with this topic

My stance on the resolution–setting the bias aside

  • I don’t encourage taking them, too

Break the resolution down:

  • United States federal government

    • Typically will refer to laws passed by the U.S. at the federal level through the passing in the House and the Senate and signed by the President.

  • Legalize

    • A broad definition should be “to make it legal.”

  • Decriminalize

    • Basically, this is to prevent something from being illegal or stop leading this to criminal offenses

      • This will come in handy as we discuss this topic further

  • Illicit Drugs

    • These are drugs that are currently deemed as illegal by the U.S. federal government

      • i.e. Marijuana (although commonly accepted in most U.S. states), heroin, meth, or cocaine

        • Besides marijuana, cocaine is the most discussed issue

Explain U.S. history of drugs becoming illicit. Was there a period of time in the U.S. where illicit drugs were once considered “legal?”

  • Yes, the United States once did advertise the use of marijuana, heroin, and cocaine as “good use” products. As a matter of fact, Coca-Cola used to be filled with cocaine (that is where the name “coca-cola” came from.)

  • It was newspaper headlines in the United States, however, that led to the beginning of the “war on drugs.”

  • To note: The drug war is really what is being discussed with this resolution. In essence, we are ending the drug war; however, it is best to keep the discussion toward legalizing illicit drugs. We do need to talk about the long history of drugs in the world.

    • It started in 1961 with the United Nations. No, it was not Richard Nixon, despite popular belief.

      • It is typically referred to as the “Single Convention on the Use of Narcotic Drugs.”

      • What this convention did was target plant-based drugs that were used for traditional purposes. Scholars argue that this was mainly an attack on the South, as most countries that produced drugs were Southern nations, such as Colombia or Bolivia.

    • In 1971, there was the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. This was mainly focused on synthetic drugs and proposed an argument that unless there was real harm, these drugs should remain uncontrolled.

  • Dragging back to newspaper headlines, they were basically focused against people of color. Once there was an association that people of color were using products, like marijuana, there was an outrage that was sparked by the people in the U.S.

    • It is important to remember that this was during the 1960s and 1970s, which was during the big Civil Rights Movement. As we will note later, the “war on drugs” basically evened out the successes made by people of color.

    • Paraphrasing, newspaper headlines read: “[People of color] seen taking heroin.”

  • From here, we have President Nixon, President Reagan, and President Clinton.

    • It is important to note that this is a problem that has been on both sides of the aisle: democrat and republican.

    • In 1971, President Nixon officially declared the “war on drugs.” Based on what we have discussed, this was a part of the “dog whistle” to appeal to white, middle-class Americans.

    • In 1986, President Reagan put a stress on the Latin American drug war. We also start to see the rise in the prison population with the U.S. due to the five-year minimum law for possession of cocaine, whether it be cocaine or crack cocaine.

      • Ironically, through both of these, we actually saw a rise in the amount of cocaine being produced. And interestingly enough, there is more discussion on the drug war now, which we can all agree that we are still in the midst of. Good question for thought: Did the drugs win the drug war? (That is the title of an Onion article: “Drugs Win Drug War.” Most find this to be true.)

    • Then, in 2000, President Clinton gained approval for Plan Colombia. There was a PF topic on this back in December 2016. I would urge those who still have the briefs on this to read through them. There is some good stuff here.

Why is this topic being discussed? What has sparked the debate about why illicit drugs should be legalized?

  • There are multiple answers to this; however, I believe the answer belongs to a well-known person named Michelle Alexander, author of an infamous book called, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

    • “Colorblindness” refers to not discussing the problem at hand when it comes to race, gender, etc. In essence, people who are colorblind do not recognize people who are black, or Asian-American, etc. Instead, when we look at people as such and by doing so, we understand their history. For example, with people of color, when we look at them, we understand the past that people of color have been through in the U.S. and how they were oppressed by the government and its people. With Asian-Americans, we understand the implications they go through now when faced with discrimination in the status quo.

    • Truthfully, it seems weird to look at people by their race; however, when we do so (under this philosophy), we are better able to understand the past someone has been in and to work to make things better.

  • The “New Jim Crow,” in its simplest form, refers to the argument that the creation of illicit drugs was done to target Americans of color and implement a new set of Jim Crow laws. Part of the argument that is made here is extremely complex, so we will keep it simple.

    • In essence, finding a person of color with cocaine or crack cocaine lends them to being arrested and tried for a minimum of five years in prison.

    • But, there’s a catch.

    • Prisons are actually for-profit. Some items that you may buy, including furniture, are actually produced by prisons. This comes from those who are imprisoned and working for little to no pay.

    • The argument here is simple: Arresting people of color leads them to working in prisons for no pay, which is basically the same thing as slavery.

    • Now, there is an even more interesting argument: in some areas, police officers do have to make a certain amount of arrests per year. This is because prisons cannot have empty beds or else there could be fines paid to a government. An example of this is Phoenix, Arizona (actually where I first heard about this issue).

    • Basically, the extremely populated prison system in the U.S. is seen as an act of slavery. Think about how brutal that is…

  • Even though white people are just as likely to use drugs as people of color, people of color will be convicted more often. The probability is much higher.

  • So, why is this topic being discussed? This is the reason: It’s fundamentally racist.

Let’s discuss the probability of addictions…

  • Addiction probability is quite low, despite what people originally think

  • Dr. Carl Hart earned his PhD from the University of Wyoming and discusses a study he conducted about addictions when it came to users of crack cocaine.

    • His study found this: No one was crawling on the floor trying to pick up the white particles of crack cocaine and tried to smoke them; no one was ranting or raving about it; no one was begging for more; and no violence from it.

    • The same proved true with methamphetamine users.

  • Dr. Hart also conducted an interview with Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show.” In that interview, there are a few important notes to take:

    • The vast majority of people who use drugs do not become addicted to them; this statistic is about 70-80% of those who use them

    • The reason why drugs are seen as bad is because of film, such as television and movies, that portray the use of them as negative

    • It is important to look behind the drug. We understand that the illnesses that spur from the drugs are because of the small percentage that do become addicted to them.

    • And, of course, most importantly: Drugs were banned because of racism. To put this in perspective for the listeners: Defense for George Floyd was arguing that he was going to die anyway because of drugs that were seen in his system.

  • It is important to note: Casual indulgence of drugs does not lead to addiction. Someone can take heroin once and not become addicted to the drug. Addiction is social as well as biological. Someone taking a drug is likely doing it for pleasure, or to be happy.

  • Keep it short: Addiction is uncommon. It is not as probable as we make it out to be.

Before we get into Pro/Con arguments, let’s talk about how to deal with sided resolutions

  • First problem with sided resolutions are personal beliefs - how do you handle this?

  • Second problem with sided resolutions is inaccurate information pertaining to the resolution that continues to be discussed

Arguments for Pro/Con

  • Pro Arguments

    • Addictions are not as common as once thought

    • If we are going to enforce international change, then it starts domestically

    • Racism

  • Con Arguments

    • “Decriminalize” vs “legalize”

    • Increases Taxes

    • State’s Choice


Thanks so much to Spencer for taking so much time to research illicit drugs and share his thoughts with all of us. Be sure to check out Spencer and YuYu’s great resources for extemporaneous speakers on One Clap Speech and Debate: The Half Hour and The Half Hour - Prep Room.


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