Boot-camp for the Brain: Death Penalty & Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Debated on the Pacific Ocean

Is it time to repeal California’s death penalty? Should California tax and regulate marijuana? Is a college education worth the money? and the Santa Monica Pier are bringing together advocates, elected officials, and district attorneys to debate these hot-button topics just weeks before the November election where voters will weigh in on ballot initiatives to decide how California wants to address these issues. These upcoming initiatives will not only change the lives of 40 million Californians but will set a precedent for other states and countries.

“People around the country have been struggling to make sense of complex issues like marijuana legalization, college affordability, and the death penalty,” said Kamy Akhavan, president and managing editor of “They don’t have time to spend weeks researching the issues themselves. The consequence is that many people don’t feel confident in their opinions or their ability to make informed decisions. We want to fix that.”

This election season has been cringeworthy at best and brought with it a tidal wave of political disillusionment. With the state of political dialogue at an embarrassing low, we can set a better example in a grassroots way by bringing back the lost art of civil discourse and helping people make more informed choices. 

PRO/CON @ The Pier - The Return of Civil Discourse is an attempt to bring civility back to the public sphere and help voters get informed on the issues they care about.  

For years, has tracked the issues people search for most and provided the best Pro and Con research to help them get smart fast. Through that research, has assembled some of the best PRO and CON subject matter experts on key issues and brought them together with a neutral moderator. 

The iconic Santa Monica Pier provides a scenic backdrop and can also be a great forum for dialogue since it's open to the public and invites people of all backgrounds and incomes. This way, we foster empathy and mediate the effects of silo'ing, i.e., people's tendency to only consume media and engage in discussion with people of similar views.  

Think of this as an election boot-camp for your brain. Here's what we're tackling in the coming weeks:

Tues, Oct 18 PROP 62:  Death Penalty - Time to Repeal?

PRO - Gil Garcetti - Former LA DA and father of current Mayor

CON - Michele Hanisee - Current Deputy DA of LA

Moderator - Senator Ben Allen

Tues, Oct 25 COST OF EDUCATION:  Is College Still Worth it?  

PRO - Michelle Herczog - LA County Office of Ed

CON - Dale Stephens - Founder of

Moderator - Maureen Langan

Tues, Nov 1  PROP 64:  Marijuana - To legalize or not? 

PRO - Karen O'Keefe - Marijuana Policy Project

CON - CALM - California Against Legalizing Marijuana

Moderator - Alan Thicke

The format of the debates are an hour-long energetic discussion between experts with audience Q&A with the intent of providing clear practical information. People should feel that they have recieved a nonpartisan, full-spectrum understanding of the issue when our hour is over.  

This is an experiment, but what we're hoping is that people remember that decisions should be based on sound reasoning and the best information, and the more of both, the better. Additionally, we hope, this reminds people that seeking out the best information is an exercise that can bring us together instead of divide us.  

An educated electorate is critical, especially now, and we believe change starts at home.

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