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A fact-checked debate about legal weed

Two opposing perspectives and six true facts about cannabis legalization.

There are few places in the world where you can walk into a licensed shop and buy marijuana for recreational use. Uruguay is one. Canada is another. They’re joined by 21 US states, representing 48 percent of the American population, up from zero states in 2013.

That means that in Idaho, people caught growing or selling weed face mandatory jail time and tens of thousands of dollars in fines while their counterparts next door in Washington can enroll in a state-funded mentorship program for cannabis business planning and development. And states like Washington are violating both US federal law, which prohibits any use of marijuana, and also international law, which prohibits non-medical uses.

That’s messy. But it reflects that although large majorities agree that the criminalization of cannabis use was a mistake, there’s less consensus about how exactly to move forward.

Will Jones III, the director of community engagement and outreach at Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), maintains that the commercialization of weed would lead to more harm than good. He prefers decriminalization, which removes criminal penalties, treating marijuana possession more like a traffic ticket. (Six US states have decriminalized recreational cannabis without legalizing it.) However, SAM prioritizes fighting legalization and reducing drug use over promoting decriminalization.

SAM co-drafted the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act, which makes it easier to study marijuana and develop marijuana-derived drugs but without descheduling marijuana as a schedule I illicit substance. President Biden signed it into law in December.

Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), has spent decades advocating for the legalization of marijuana and says decriminalization doesn’t go far enough. NORML represents the interests of cannabis consumers and has been advocating for the removal of criminal penalties for recreational marijuana since 1970.

We thought both of their perspectives were worth hearing but didn’t want to stage a traditional debate where viewers so often come away confused about what to believe. So we created a format that would help establish a shared foundation of facts while still communicating what each of these advocates believes is the most important information to know.

In this new take on a debate, we asked both participants to identify facts that their opponent would have to concede are true. They were given an opportunity to review their adversary’s facts in advance and in a video call agreed on a set of six. In the video, you’ll see those facts presented, with each participant given the opportunity to add a “footnote” to their opponent’s facts.

You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube.