July 19-20 at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
Preceding the CADCA Mid-Year Training Institute
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Dr. Kevin Sabet
The 50 states are sometimes called “laboratories of democracy”. Although the expression is intended to highlight in flattering terms how innovative they can be, it also suggests that the states’ political experiments can and do fail. In the event of failure, the hope must be that damage can be stopped at the state line. Today, the experiment of state-by-state marijuana legalization is failing before our eyes—and failing most signally where the experiment has been tried most boldly. The failure is accelerating even as the forces pushing legalization are on what appears to be an inexorable march.
In November 2012, the states of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the sale of marijuana to any adult consumer. Advocates of legalization carried the vote with a substantial campaign budget, a few million dollars, and a brilliant slogan: “Drug dealers don’t ask for ID.” The implied promise: Marijuana legalization would be joined to tough enforcement to keep marijuana away from minors. After all, persistent and heavy marijuana use among adolescents has been shown to reduce their IQ as adults by 6 to 8 points. An Australian study of identical twins found that a twin who started using cannabis before age 17 was 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than the twin who did not.People in Colorado had good reason to worry about teen drug use. Colorado voters had approved a limited experiment with medical marijuana in 2000. A complex series of judicial and administrative decisions in the mid-2000s overthrew most restrictions on the dispensing of marijuana. Between 2009 and 2012, the number of dispensaries jumped past 500, and the number of medical cardholders multiplied from roughly 1,000 to more than 108,000.
With so many medical-marijuana card-holders walking about, it was simply inevitable that some would re-sell their marijuana to underage users. A 2013 study of Colorado teens in drug treatment found that 74 percent had shared somebody else’s medical marijuana. The number of occasions on which they had shared averaged over 50 times. According to a report by the Rocky Mountain High-Intensy Drug Trafficking Area, Colorado teens, by 2012, were 50 percent more likely to use marijuana than their peers in the rest of the country.
Debates about marijuana tend to travel pretty fast into the domain of libertarian ideology: I’m a consenting adult, why can’t I do what I want? Yet the best customers for the marijuana industry are not adults at all. The majority of people who try marijuana quit by age 30. Adults in their twenties are significantly less likely than high school students to smoke; 14 percent of twentysomethings say they smoke marijuana, while 22.7 percent of 12th-graders smoke at least once a month, and 6.5 percent say they smoke every day.
Why do people quit using marijuana as they mature? Your guess is as good as anybody else’s, but whatever the reason, the trend presents marijuana sellers with a marketing problem. Yet there is promising news from the emerging marijuana industry’s point of view: People who start smoking in their teens are significantly more likely to become dependent than people who start smoking later: about 1 in 6, as opposed to 1 in 10. Start them young; keep them longer. Very rationally, then, the marijuana industry is rolling out products designed to appeal to the youngest consumers: cannabis-infused soda, cannabis-infused chocolate taffy, cannabis-infused jujubes.
The promise that legalization will actually protect teenagers from marijuana is false. So, too, are the other promises of the legalizers. It is false to claim that marijuana legalization will break drug cartels. Those cartels will continue to traffic in harder and more lucrative drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Criminal cartels may well stay in the marijuana business, too, marketing directly to underage users. Public policy is about trade-offs, and marijuana users need to face up to the trade-off they are urging on American society. Legal marijuana use means more marijuana use, and more marijuana use means above all more teen marijuana use.
Proponents of marijuana legalization often question why the law bans marijuana but not alcohol or tobacco. One important difference is that alcohol and tobacco are drugs on the decline. Since 1980, per capita consumption of alcohol has dropped almost 20 percent. One-third of Americans smoked tobacco in 1980; fewer than one-fifth smoke today. The progress against drunk driving is even more remarkable: Fatalities caused by drunk drivers have decreased by more than half since 1982.
The reduction in tobacco and alcohol use has been hastened by increasingly restrictive laws that govern where and how these products may be consumed. Tobacco-smoking has been banned on planes, in restaurants, and in almost all public places. The drinking age, reduced in the 1970s from 21 to 18 in most states, was restored to 21 by federal action in the 1980s. Tobacco taxes have been steeply hiked. Bars that served intoxicated patrons face rising tort risk.
With marijuana, however, the law is heading in the opposite direction, and has been for some time. Since 1996, 20 states and the District of Columbia have approved “medical marijuana” laws, whereby people who obtain a prescription from a doctor can legally use or purchase marijuana. As in Colorado, many of these supposed medical regimes are degenerating into legalization by another name. Oregon, for example: At the end of 2012, it was home to 56,531 medical-marijuana patients. The majority of these 56,000-plus permissions were approved by only nine doctors. One doctor—an 80-year-old retired heart surgeon in Yakima—approved 4,180 medical-marijuana applications in a span of 12 months. Only 4 percent of Oregon’s medical-marijuana patients, as of the end of 2012, suffered from cancer. Only 1 percent were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. The large majority, 57 percent, cited unspecified “pain” as the ailment for which treatment was sought. Yet none of the nine doctors who wrote the majority of the marijuana prescriptions was a pain specialist.
Fewer than 2 percent of California card holders have HIV, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, or cancer: One survey found that the typical California medical-marijuana patient was a healthy 32-year-old man with a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Here, too, some doctors are signing thousands of recommendations after only the scantiest examination—or none at all. An NBC news investigator in Los Angeles visited one dispensary, was examined by a man who later proved to be an acupuncturist and massage therapist, and then received a prescription signed by a doctor who lived 67 miles away.
In the words of Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck, most dispensaries are “for-profit businesses engaged in the sale of recreational marijuana to healthy young adults.” By early 2012, Los Angeles contained almost eight times as many dispensaries as Starbucks coffee shops. The city became alarmed that the customers who congregated at these dispensaries were active in crimes from robbery to murder. By July, the City Council voted unanimously to shut down all of the nearly 800 known dispensaries in the city. The marijuana lobby succeeded in preventing that ban from going into effect, so the next year, the city government tried a different approach: a local referendum called Proposition D to cap the number of dispensaries at 135, raise taxes on marijuana sales, and forbid dispensaries to locate near primary, middle, and high schools.
The proposition was approved, but this approach also proved ineffective. In the words of Medical Marijuana Business Daily (yes, it exists):
Officials have actually only forced about 70 dispensaries to close so far. While some other dispensaries shut down on their own to avoid legal troubles, most did not. That means at least 700—possibly more—illegal shops are still open.
“What happened is that we’re really trying to put a Band-Aid on some crazy open wound, and it’s not big enough to stop the bleeding,” said Adam Bierman, who runs the consultancy MedMen. “Prop D as a concept is half decent, but there’s really no way to enforce it.”
Marijuana does possess certain medicinal properties. So does opium. But we don’t allow unscrupulous quacks to write raw opium prescriptions for anyone willing to pay $65. And if we did, would anybody be surprised that the vast majority of opium buyers were not recovering from surgery—and that many of them shared or resold some of their opium to underage users?
Some older adults have a hard time crediting the dangers of marijuana use because they imagine the marijuana on sale today is the same low-grade stuff they smoked in college. The marijuana sold in the 1980s averaged between 3 and 4 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient. Today’s selectively bred marijuana averages over 12 percent THC, with some strains reaching 30 percent. Hundreds of YouTube videos will show you how to combust a marijuana wax with butane, to boost the THC content to 90 percent. As marijuana consumers shift from smoking to ingesting marijuana, they can ingest larger and larger doses of THC at a time. Since 2006, Colorado emergency rooms have seen a steep rise in the number of patients arriving panicked and disoriented from excess THC, including a near doubling of patients ages 13 and 14.
It’s said that nobody ever died from a marijuana overdose. Nobody ever died from a tobacco overdose either, but that doesn’t prove tobacco safe. Of all the dangers connected to marijuana, the most lethal is the risk of automobile accident. Marijuana-related fatal car crashes have nearly tripled across the United States in the past decade.Marijuana legalizers may counter: Can’t we just extend laws against drunk driving to stoned driving?
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy. What exactly defines marijuana impairment remains fiercely contested by an increasingly assertive marijuana industry. It took Colorado four tries to enact a legal definition of marijuana impairment: five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Yet even once enacted, the standard remains very difficult to enforce. Alcohol impairment can be detected with a Breathalyzer. Marijuana impairment is revealed only by a blood test, and long-established law requires police to obtain a search warrant before a blood test is administered.
More important than catching impaired drivers after the fact is deterring them before they get behind the wheel. In the absence of a blood-testing kit, marijuana users themselves will find it difficult to know how much is too much. Time recently quoted a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation: “It’s not like alcohol. People metabolize it differently. There are different potencies,” the official said. “So there’s really no solution in terms of saying ‘you’re now at the limit.’ I just don’t think there’s enough research that we can say, ‘Wait x amount of hours before getting on the road.’ I don’t know whether it’s five hours or 10 hours or the next day. We just don’t know.”
Back in 2007, a survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that on any given Saturday night, about 12 percent of drivers tested positive for alcohol; about 6 percent for marijuana. Since then, 10 more states and the District of Columbia have adopted medical-marijuana regimes, which surely means even more buzzed drivers on the roads.
Yet the most pervasive harm of marijuana may be psychic rather than physical. A battery of studies have found regular marijuana use to be associated with worse outcomes at school, social life, and work. I use the cautious phrase “associated with,” because it’s far from clear whether marijuana use is a cause or an effect of other problems—or (most likely) both cause and effect. An isolated, underachieving kid starts smoking marijuana. That kid then descends deeper into isolation and underachievement. Marijuana may not have been the “cause” of the kid’s malaise, but it intensifies the malaise and may inhibit or even prevent his emergence from it.
The negative spiral of despondency leading to marijuana use, leading to deeper and more protracted despondency, makes the present moment a particularly unpropitious one for marijuana legalization. The United States is currently recovering feebly from the gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Prospects for young people especially have narrowed. Are we really going to say to them: “Look, we haven’t got jobs for you, your chances at marriage are dwindling, you may be 30 before you can move out of your parents’ place into a home of your own, but we’ll make it up to you with pot, video games, and online porn”? They want to start life, but they are being offered instead only narcotic dreams.
As human beings, our judgment is not only imperfect, but is prone to fail in highly predictable ways. Insert a recurring charge onto our phone bill, and we will soon cease to notice it. We evolved under conditions where sugars and salt were scarce, and so we will eat far more than we need if given the chance. We overestimate our luck and will gamble our money in ways that make no mathematical sense. Our brains are wired for addictions. If a substance can trigger that addiction, it can overthrow all the reasoning and moral faculties of the mind.
Lucrative industries have arisen to exploit these weaknesses in ways highly harmful to their customers. And the bold irony is that when their practices are challenged, they’ll invoke the very principles of individual choice and self-mastery that their industry is based on negating and defeating. So it was with tobacco. So it is with casino gambling. So it will be with marijuana.
Proponents of marijuana legalization do make a valid point when they worry that marijuana laws are enforced too punitively—and that this too punitive approach inflicts disparate punishment on minority users as compared with white users. Ordinary marijuana users should receive civil penalties; repeat users belong in treatment, not prison; communities should experience law enforcement as an ally and supporter of local norms, not an outside force stamping young people with indelible criminal records for mistakes that carry fewer consequences for the more affluent and the better connected. It’s also true, however, that these alternative methods can succeed only if the background rule is that marijuana is illegal. It’s very often the threat of criminal sanction that impels users to seek the treatment they need, while still young enough to turn their lives around.
The illegal U.S. market for marijuana is already twice as big as the market for coffee. As that market is legalized, it will expand, and the industry that serves the market will be emboldened to hire lobbyists to promote its continued expansion. The vision offered by some academics of a legal but noncommercial marijuana market shows little realism about American government. American legislatures exhibit notoriously poor resistance against checkbook-wielding special interests.
The resistance will be all the weaker since the costs of marijuana legalization will be borne by people to whom American legislatures pay scant attention anyway. Marijuana retailers will be located most densely in America’s poorest neighborhoods, just as liquor and cigarette retailing is now. Out of whose pockets will the marijuana taxes of the future be paid? Whose addiction and recovery services will be least well funded? In a society in which it is already sufficiently difficult for people to rise from the bottom, who’ll find that their rise has become harder still?
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Ben Knight
Watch here: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2014/s3972278.htm
The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 192-140 on Wednesday not to legalize one ounce of recreational marijuana, demonstrating that legalization is not inevitable.
Concord, NH – On Wednesday March 26, the House voted 192-140 against legalizing one ounce of marijuana for recreational use in New Hampshire.
“This is a victory for public health advocates across the state,” remarked Linda Saunders Paquette, executive director at New Futures, an organization that seeks to reduce alcohol and drug problems in New Hampshire, which also serves as the New Hampshire affiliate for Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), “Full legalization of marijuana would lead to lower work place productivity, expose our children to an increasingly potent substance, and increase the amount of intoxicated drivers on New Hampshire roadways.”
SAM’s chairman, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, stated, “Maine and New Hampshire wisely rejected Big Marijuana and the drug’s commercialization that will inevitably accompany such a policy. Lawmakers should be commended for resisting the powerful lobbies and special interests behind marijuana promotion.”
With New Futures as the anchor organization, New Hampshire became the 20th state affiliated with the national public health alliance, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Project SAM). This came as an effort to ground the marijuana policy debate in New Hampshire in science. Members of Project SAM appreciate the opportunity to continue the conversation on a sensible approach to marijuana.
Paquette further remarked, “Maine and New Hampshire prove that legalization is not inevitable, despite the rhetoric of activists. These states are wise to learn from Colorado’s already bad experience with such a policy.”
About New Futures
New Futures is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that advocates, educates and collaborates to reduce alcohol and other drug problems in New Hampshire. It envisions a State and local communities where public policies support prevention, treatments and recovery oriented efforts to reduce alcohol and other drug problems.
About Smart Approaches to Marijuana
Project SAM is a nonpartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens who want to move beyond simplistic discussions of “incarceration versus legalization” when discussing marijuana use, and instead focus on practical changes in marijuana policy that neither demonizes users nor legalizes the drug. SAM supports a treatment, health-first marijuana policy.
March 12, 2014 – [Washington, DC] – Today, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Co-Founder, Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy released the following statement about “Weed 2,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN Documentary that featured Congressman Kennedy:
“As shown on Dr. Gupta’s documentary, SAM believes that marijuana contains medical value. We know that the plant’s non-smoked components, whether in synergy or in isolation, can be medically beneficial for those with serious illnesses. I stand by my remarks. But I also stand by the remarks that did not make the final cut of CNN’s piece. Nothing was included by CNN that discussed the new Tobacco industry emerging in Colorado via commercialization and legalization.
“It’s hard to fathom that a one-hour documentary on marijuana did not go into more detail about the problems in Colorado with increased positive workplace marijuana tests, driving accidents, child hospitalization, and new 90% THC wax consumption.
“Furthermore, Dr. Gupta should be much clearer about his opposition to full legalization, which he has expressed to my colleagues and me several times recently, and he should also make a sharp division between the research separating smoked marijuana plant material and the data showing the medical efficacy of marijuana’s non-smoked components.
“For years, legalization advocates have admitted that they would ‘use medical marijuana as a red herring to give marijuana a good name.’ And today’s state-based medical marijuana system is broken and not endorsed by respected bodies like the American Medical Association. Peer-reviewed research shows that the average medical marijuana user is a 30-something white male without cancer, HIV, glaucoma, MS, or any terminal illness. In the states with the biggest programs – Colorado and California – “medical” marijuana candies and cookies are very cheaply sold and widely available.
“We should not be fooled into thinking marijuana will simultaneously cure cancer, end seizures, fund our government through revenues, and end crime. Yes, there are components contained in marijuana that have medical value, but it is not a panacea for all of our problems.”
March 11, 2014 – [Denver, CO] – Today, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Co-Founders, Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy and Executive Director Dr. Kevin A. Sabet, released the following statement about marijuana tax revenue in Colorado:
“It appears that Colorado is falling well short of the state’s revenue projection from marijuana sales. Instead, the number from January is less than $2 million, far below estimates claimed by both the Governor and legalization advocates. Of course, just like alcohol and tobacco revenue, we know that the sales of this intoxicant will bring in far less than the costs of its use. In fact, every $1 in alcohol and tobacco revenue the state gains comes at a price of $10 in lost social costs. Already, legalization in Colorado has been characterized by children visiting hospital emergency rooms for marijuana poisonings from ‘pot cookies,’ increased marijuana use in schools, and a 40% increase in workplace and school drug tests, according to Conspire!, an independent testing company.
“Legalization in Colorado is turning into a very bad idea – a massive, for-profit business has boomed, with rampant advertising and commercialization abound. Colorado is now known for its pot more than for its mountains. And drug dealers are as prolific as ever. Is this a reputation anyone can be proud of?”
Mr. Kennedy, continued:
“I have devoted my life to mental health awareness and the establishment of a modern health system that recognizes the importance of preventing and treating mental illness. That is why I am extremely concerned about how America’s current rush toward marijuana legalization, however, could increase our health problems by allowing a permissive environment for addiction.”
SAM, medical associations, anti-drug coalitions call on DOJ for marijuana to remain Schedule 1 & and for more government research of the drug
Over ten major organizations join Smart Approaches to Marijuana in pressing the DOJ not to reschedule marijuana; coalition calls for the government to increase research on the drug’s medical components
WASHINGTON, DC – On the heels of a House Subcommittee hearing on marijuana that took place yesterday, The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASAColumbia), the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), the Institute for Behavior and Health, the Partnership at Drugfree.org, and many others joined Smart Approaches to Marijuana today in a letter (attached below) addressed to major federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services. The letter reiterates the group’s united stance against the rescheduling of marijuana, but also calls for renewed efforts to vigorously study marijuana’s components for the development of non-smoked, marijuana-based medications.
“We don’t need to reschedule marijuana in order to facilitate research,” remarked SAM Executive Director Kevin A. Sabet, who formerly served as a senior adviser in the Obama Administration. “But the government should do a better job at promoting and facilitating unobstructed research into components of marijuana. Particularly for seizures and cancer pain, we must open new avenues for people to enter research programs and get standardized medications immediately.”
The signatories maintain that rescheduling marijuana would do very little to directly improve criminal laws affecting marijuana-related offenses, since marijuana already carries lighter sentences than any other illicit drug, both federally and on the state level, and that it is unnecessary for facilitating research on the drug.
Instead, the letter calls for breaking down other barriers to research, for instance by relaxing storage requirements for components of marijuana used in the context of an FDA Investigational New Drug (IND) program.
The letter expresses deep concern about the rapidly increasing normalization of marijuana among children and adolescents, and about recent statements made by Members of Congress diminishing the harms and dangers of marijuana use. The letter was also sent to Members of Congress.
By Gene Sapakoff, February 22, 2014
Never mind that Roger Goodell didn’t officially open the door to medical marijuana use within a National Football League beset with concussion controversy. The drive-by mention by the NFL commissioner at the Super Bowl struck a chord. Pro football players, agents and media types continue to chime in, most without scientific input.
Before this goes too far – indeed before the notion of pot as concussion treatment trickles into a serious college football discussion – it might be beneficial to seek actual medical facts.
Evaluate real research.
That way Goodell, NFL players and others will know things about marijuana before they think seriously about chasing football’s head injury crisis with another health problem as bad or worse.
“Marijuana indeed has medical value, but we don’t need to smoke it any more than we need to smoke opium to receive the benefits of morphine,” said Dr. Kevin A. Sabet, Director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida.
Sabet is a board member for Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a physician-heavy organization aiming to shape public policy with science.
“Marijuana’s medical utility lies, according to the Institute of Medicine, in its ‘components,’ ” Sabet said this week. “As such, components should be turned into properly dosed, standardized, replicated medications – a standard that smoked marijuana could never achieve.”
THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, has already been synthesized into a pill called Marinol that is available in pharmacies.
“Other medications are on the horizon,” Sabet said.
A recent Northwestern University study shows the marijuana-related brain abnormalities are correlated with a poor working memory performance and look similar to schizophrenia-related brain abnormalities. That’s not what we want for ex-football players likely to have enough physical problems.
The authoritative American Medical Association thinks medical marijuana research is incomplete, a spokesperson said this week. It officially calls for “well-controlled studies of marijuana and related cannabinoids.” But the AMA stresses that is does not endorse “state-based medical cannabis programs, the legalization of marijuana, or that scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis meets the current standards for a prescription drug product.”
Football pain, drugs
Goodell’s marijuana comments were quite cautious.
“We will follow medicine, and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that,” the commissioner said. “Our experts are not saying that right now.”
Some NFL players already use pot for medical purposes, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark said on ESPN’s “First Take.”
“A lot of it is stress relief. A lot of it is pain and medication,” Clark said. “Guys feel like, ‘If I can do this, it keeps me away from maybe Vicodin, it keeps me away from pain prescription drugs and things that guys get addicted to.’ ”
Not a huge surprise within a league heavily populated by guys in their 20s.
No question, pain is a very serious issue among current and, as importantly, former NFL players. America’s rampant painkiller addiction problem is something the NFL and NCAA have shamefully ignored. The immediate issue – a hurting player looking for relief – must be addressed with more attention than the NFL gives its Pro Bowl format.
But the league and its coaches walk a thin line between a legitimate concern that’s been in short supply and pandering to an audience including young people delighted to find good excuses to get high.
That didn’t keep Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll from saying medical marijuana is something the NFL should consider.
“I would say that we have to explore and find ways to make our game a better game and take care of our players in whatever way possible,” Carroll said when asked about the issue during Super Bowl week. “Regardless of what other stigmas might be involved, we have to do this because the world of medicine is doing this.”
More pot, less IQ
Carroll knows a lot about football, and how to prepare a team to dominate the Super Bowl.
But what “world of medicine” is he talking about?
The world in which a 2013 National Institute of health survey found that only 39.5 percent of 12th graders thought marijuana was harmful?
Studies from experts such as Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)?
She says <URL destination=”">IQ points drop with regular pot use.
</URL>NFL management and players rarely agree. But they can probably agree that safer is better, particularly when treating brains already knocked around in Super Bowls and elsewhere.
Sometimes mixing alphabet organizations spells progress. The NFL should start working with SAM, NIDA and the AMA on sound pain-relief policy.
“I would love to work with the hard working people who make the NFL what it is,” Sabet said.
The football folks should expect helpful straight talk.
“I don’t think anyone serious about football has truly considered marijuana use as a solution to anything,” Sabet said. “Marijuana addiction – and concussions – are both brain injuries that require proper medical attention. No one sensible would want to treat one tragedy – of concussions – with something else that also harms the brain, like marijuana.”
A little over a year after Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, more than half the states, including some in the conservative South, are considering decriminalizing the drug or legalizing it for medical or recreational use. That has set up a watershed year in the battle over whether marijuana should be as available as alcohol.
Demonstrating how marijuana is no longer a strictly partisan issue, the two states considered likeliest this year to follow Colorado and Washington in outright legalization of the drug are Oregon, dominated by liberal Democrats, and Alaska, where libertarian Republicans hold sway.
Advocates of more lenient marijuana laws say they intend to maintain the momentum from their successes, heartened by national and statewide polls showing greater public acceptance of legalizing marijuana, President Obama’s recent musings on the discriminatory effect of marijuana prosecutions and the release of guidelines by his Treasury Department intended to make it easier for banks to do business with legal marijuana businesses.
Their opponents, though, who also see this as a crucial year, are just as keen to slow the legalization drives. They are aided by a wait-and-see attitude among many governors and legislators, who seem wary of pushing ahead too quickly without seeing how the rollout of legal marijuana works in Colorado and Washington.
“We feel that if Oregon or Alaska could be stopped, it would disrupt the whole narrative these groups have that legalization is inevitable,” said Kevin A. Sabet, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which is spearheading much of the effort to stop these initiatives. “We could stop that momentum.”
Despite the drug still being illegal under federal law, the Obama administration has said it will not interfere with the rollout of legal marijuana in the states for several reasons, including whether the state is successful in keeping it out of the hands of minors.
At least 14 states — including Florida, where an initiative has already qualified for the ballot — are considering new medical marijuana laws this year, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports legalization, and 12 states and the District of Columbia are contemplating decriminalization, in which the drug remains illegal, but the penalties are softened or reduced to fines. Medical marijuana use is already legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia.
An even larger number of states, at least 17, have seen bills introduced or initiatives begun to legalize the drug for adult use along the lines of alcohol, the same approach used in Colorado and Washington, but most of those efforts are considered unlikely of success this year.
The allure of tax revenues is also becoming a powerful selling point in some states, particularly after Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado said last week that taxes from legal marijuana sales would be $134 million in the coming fiscal year, much higher than had been predicted when the measure was passed in 2012.
In Rhode Island, which is struggling financially, national and local advocates for legalization say the Colorado news is sure to help legislation introduced in February to legalize the drug.
“Some feel it’s not an appropriate issue for an election year, and others want to wait and see what happens in Colorado,” said State Senator Joshua Miller, a Democrat who is sponsoring the Rhode Island legalization law. “But a lot of other people are very anxious to take the revenue part of this very seriously.”
Opponents of legalization, meanwhile, are mobilizing across the country to slow the momentum, keeping a sharp eye on Colorado for any problems in the rollout of the new law there.
“Legalization almost had to happen in order for people to wake up and realize they don’t want it,” Mr. Sabet said. “In a strange way, we feel legalization in a few states could be a blessing.”
California had been considered a possibility to legalize marijuana this year through a ballot proposition — one to do just that failed in 2010 — but the Drug Policy Alliance, which had been leading the effort, decided this month to wait until 2016.
While much of the recent attention has focused on these legalization efforts, medical marijuana may also cross what its backers consider an important threshold this year — most notably in the South where Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are among the states considering such laws.
John Morgan, an Orlando lawyer whose firm includes former Gov. Charlie Crist, has spent $3.6 million of his own money to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot in Florida, where a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in November showed that eight in 10 Florida voters support medical marijuana. State law requires 60 percent to pass.
Mr. Morgan insists that his initiative is not intended to help Mr. Crist, a Republican turned Democrat, reclaim the governorship.
Election data, compiled by Just Say Now, a pro-marijuana group, showed that the percentage of the vote that came from people under 30 increased significantly from 2008 to 2012 in states that had marijuana initiatives. This youth vote, predominantly Democratic, rose to 20 percent from 14 percent in Colorado, and to 22 percent from 10 percent in Washington, both far above the 1 percent rise in the national youth vote.
“If it benefits Charlie Crist, it’s certainly an unintended consequence,” Mr. Morgan said.
Mr. Sabet said his conversations with Democratic leaders around the country convince him that there is little enthusiasm for being high-profile on the issue. “For the moment, I think by and large, Democrats are uncomfortable with that,” Mr. Sabet said.
In Maryland, though, the marijuana issue is already playing a role in the governor’s race, where all three leading Democratic candidates are talking about how much and how fast to ease marijuana laws, not whether to do it at all.
A narrow majority of Americans — 51 percent — believe marijuana should be legal, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last week, matching the result in a CBS News poll the previous month. In 1979, when The Times and CBS first asked the question, only 27 percent wanted cannabis legalized.
There were stark differences in the new poll, though. While 72 percent of people under 30 favored legalization, only 29 percent of those over 65 agreed. And while about a third of Republicans now favored legalization, this was far below the 60 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents who did so.
In Alaska, sufficient signatures have been collected to get the legalization initiative on the ballot.
“Alaska is a red state, but with a heavy libertarian streak,” said Taylor Bickford, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska. “The idea of personal freedom and responsibility is uniting Alaskans on both sides of the aisle.”
Under state law, however, the vote will occur during the Aug. 19 primary, not in the general election.
“The support in Alaska is very strong, but how do you poll on an issue like this for a low-turnout primary election?” asked Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. That is why he thinks Oregon really has the better chance this year.
Anthony Johnson, the director of New Approach Oregon, a coalition that is leading the drive there, said advocates are trying to persuade state legislators to put the issue on the November ballot while simultaneously preparing to collect the roughly 88,000 signatures that would be needed to force it onto the ballot if the legislators demur.
“At the moment, I’d say the odds are no better than 50 percent that the Legislature will act,” Mr. Johnson said. “But if they don’t, we will just gather the signatures. I am pretty confident we will be able to get them.”
Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, a leading advocate for legalizing marijuana, said campaigns were already underway to stage aggressive legalization drives in several states over the next couple of years, including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and possibly Montana.
“It is certainly important to maintain the momentum,” Mr. Tvert said, “But I don’t think we can look at any one election cycle and see what the future holds. This is going to be a multiyear effort.”
By Rick Lyman, New York Times
February 26, 2014
By Tony Dokoupil, NBC News
As a hard-partying teenager, Patrick Kennedy met President Reagan at a fundraiser for the JFK Library, a meeting captured in a photograph that the former Rhode Island congressman now hangs in his home office. He used to think of it as a funny episode, a collision of Camelot’s cocaine kid and America’s foremost opponent of illegal drug use. But Kennedy took his last hit of anything in 2009, and he’s since honed an anti-drug message that sounds a bit like Reagan with a Boston brogue.
Kennedy believes there is “an epidemic in this country of epic dimensions when it comes to alcohol and drugs.” He’d like to treat it all, but he’s convinced that the single biggest threat to America’s mental health is free-market marijuana. So even as Democrats favor the legalization of pot—by a 34-point margin, according to the latest WSJ/NBC News poll—the scion of America’s most famous Democratic family has broken ranks, criticized the White House, and aligned with the likes of Newt Gingrich to warn voters against trying to tax and regulate today’s psychoactive chlorophyll.
“I don’t think the American public has any clue about this stuff,” says Kennedy, after welcoming guests with a choice of Gatorade or bottled water.
The “stuff” in question is modern marijuana, of course, which gets pumped into snack foods and candies, and carries more THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that gets you high) than the ditch weed used by the hippie generation. Kennedy calls legalization “a public health nightmare” because he believes it will warm more people to a dangerous drug, and lead inevitably to “Big Marijuana,” a blood-sucking vice industry dependent on converting kids and selling to heavy users—same as the tobacco and alcohol industries.
“The science tells the story,” he says, breaking into an attack on the idea that marijuana is safer than alcohol. He ticks through studies showing that smoked marijuana is “associated with” or “linked to” IQ loss, psychosis, and self-reported dissatisfaction with life. “It takes you to the same place as cocaine or heroin,” he often adds. “It just takes longer.”
Last January Kennedy went public with his beliefs, launching Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or Project SAM, a campaign to keep marijuana illegal and address the failings of the drug war through other means. But what other means? Kennedy has sometimes been vague, promising “a fresh approach that neither legalizes, nor demonizes marijuana,” but never quite clarifying what makes him different from Reagan-era prohibitionists.
Not anymore. In a series of interviews, Kennedy and his cofounder Kevin Sabet—a former senior advisor to the Obama administration on drug policy—previewed SAM’s aggressive new posture for 2014. It’s not a new War on Pot, but it might be the most potent campaign since Nancy Reagan made marijuana the centerpiece of her “Just say no” tour three decades ago.
As Kennedy and Sabet cut a path between the poles of legalization and prohibition, they seem to list toward the status quo. They would make the simple possession of marijuana a civil infraction, like jaywalking, which could take 750,000 annual marijuana arrests down to zero, and alleviate the disproportionate burden that prohibition puts on people who are nonwhite and poor.
But instead of handcuffs, Kennedy and Sabet propose a mandatory screening for marijuana addiction, according to the “Legal Reform” section of their website. That could lead to “marijuana education,” and ultimately a year in a “probation program to prevent further drug use.” And if the pot smoker still insists on getting high? It’s handcuffs time.
“Incarceration is a powerful motivator,” says Kennedy, who after a prescription drug-related car crash in 2006 spent a year urinating in front of a probation officer three times a week. He faced a jail term if he relapsed. “That does it for a lot of people,” he added. “That’s the turning point: hearing that judge say treatment or jail.”
Kennedy and Sabet can also sound old-school on medical marijuana. As a member of Congress, Kennedy voted in favor of allowing patients access to pot but now says he was wrong. He’d like to repeal every law that treats smoked marijuana as medicine. Instead he hopes to see pharmaceutical-grade cannabis satisfy an FDA approval process and sell as a patch or pill. “We don’t smoke opium for morphine,” as Sabet explains, “we don’t need to smoke pot for medicine.”
SAM’s opponents argue that legalizing weed would raise tax revenue, allow law enforcement to chase more serious crime, and undercut Mexico’s violent drug cartels. Kennedy and Sabet sharply dispute all this—and so much more—but they’re particularly unapologetic about championing the continued existence of a black market. They say it’s mostly nonviolent on the American side, and will create fewer public health problems than allowing advertisers to flog for Big Marijuana.
“There is no way to minimize the greed and profit motive in promoting a dangerous substance,” says Kennedy. When it comes to pushing a product, adds Sabet, “I think Madison Avenue has proven that it can get around more rules and be more ruthless than any Mexican drug cartel.” He calls the black market, “better than having Joe Pot, heir to Joe Camel, on a bus-stop where I’m going to be hanging out with my kids before school.”
When Project SAM launched, opponents mocked the effort as foolhardy, and they had a point. Voters had just legalized marijuana by a landslide in Colorado and Washington. Polls showed that a majority of Americans supported doing the same nationwide, and Kennedy could do little at first but appear on TV as the token voice of dissent.
Now, however, SAM is poised to launch a serious counter-offensive. It began this month with a billboard outside the Super Bowl.“Marijuana kills your drive,” read the carefully-calibrated text, which picked up national coverage, spreading on a tide of the opposition’s howls and guffaws.
It was crafted by Sabet, a 34-year-old prodigy of drug politics, who launched his first anti-drug campaign (Citizens for a Drug-Free Berkeley) while in college and is now, in the opinion of Rolling Stone, the number one national “enemy of legalization.”
“Yep,” he emailed after the ad launched. “Game on.”
The game continues this spring, with SAM planning a response to “We Are the Marijuana Majority,” a web compendium of legalization’s best and most famous friends, launched with a grant from the Drug Policy Alliance, a leading advocate for reform. The SAM answer will be a directory of—you guessed it—the anti-marijuana majority.
The precise URL and title is still under discussion, but the webpage will feature opponents of legalization, an infinite scroll of head shots and quotes from the likes of Tina Brown, David Brooks, and Barack Obama (whose tangled statements on the subject appear to have landed him on both sites at once).
SAM’s second website will take aim at Colorado and Washington, the world’s first state-approved markets for marijuana, and to Kennedy and Sabet a slowly unfolding disaster that will prove them right in the end. The Justice Department has said it will shut down the state experiments if the regulations fail or public health falters, which is why SAM will use this site to track every known example of pot gone wrong.
The third website is tentatively titled “The Other Side of Marijuana” and it will collect stories from people who believe marijuana damaged their lives. It’s a counterpoint to the notion that marijuana is a safe, non-addictive substance. Based on a sample of entries, it’s also likely to draw more fire than anything SAM has done yet.
“My name is John and marijuana ruined my life,” begins one note from a young man who says that marijuana took “the gifts and potential I was born with.” “Most of my daughter’s former friends are in jail or dead,” adds the mother of an 18-year-old in residential treatment for marijuana addiction. She is “sickened” by the idea that marijuana will be the next big business in America.
In another note a therapist quits her practice in despair after a rise in marijuana-related patients. “I witnessed first-hand too many of the problems,” she writes, ticking off “anxiety, depression, irritability and psychosis.”
Not every pot smoker goes crazy or brainless, as Kennedy admits, but SAM is about minimizing the risk to those who—like him—start drugs young and are predisposed to break bad for life. After he got married in 2011, in his early 40s, he moved to his wife’s hometown of Atlantic City, N.J. Now he is the father of three kids under 5 (one is a step-child), and he worries they will inherit his addictions. He can aslo see the casinos from his backyard.
“The appetite for Americans to lose themselves is just…” Kennedy shakes his head and seems too pained to finish the thought. His six-week-old daughter was fussy the night before, and it was his turn to shush and pace. In the hallway, near a stairway to where his 20-month-old son is napping, there’s a toy fire engine and Kennedy’s eyes return to it again and again. Suddenly, he seems to be on the brink of tears.
“This is the stuff of life,” he says, trying to explain his passion for drug policy, “so you bet I’m emotional about it.”
The rollout of the new SAM continued this month at a conference in Washington, D.C., where Kennedy and Sabet held a standing-room-only rally for supporters. They celebrated 25,000 media mentions, and 22 states with SAM affiliates. They aired footage of Kennedy telling CNN’s Sanjay Gupta that his ballyhooed endorsement of marijuana was “shameful,” a ratings ploy that “history will not remember well.”
So far, however, the legalization side seems to have an edge in the war of ridicule. They charge Kennedy and Sabet with 21st century reefer madness, which the duo bats away as a sign that the opposition is afraid to engage with the facts. But while they can sometimes be unpopular at parties, they keep going, fueled by those letters from the public, and enthusiastic notes from past drug advisors.
“SAM is doing what no one else has done and doing a darn good job of it,” wrote Robert DuPont, Richard Nixon’s head of drug control, in a recent email to Sabet. “Absolutely brilliant presentation,” Clinton-era drug czar Barry McCaffrey added in a different note.
In a sense, nothing has changed since a teenage Kennedy gave President Reagan a sly smile. To make the world a healthier place, the anti-drug crowd wants to protect people from their most dangerous appetites. The reform side supports the same vision of health but wants to make drug use itself safer, believing that insobriety is normal and indulgence inevitable.
Neither side appears to be winning, because there’s no such thing as an “objective” position on marijuana policy. Would legalization really be so bad? Or is it the panacea its proponents claim? The honest answer is: nobody knows for sure, because no modern nation has ever tried legalization before—until now.
“Life isn’t really in our control,” says Kennedy, as another sober day fades to night. “There’s a mover in the universe, a higher power, so to speak, and we can’t imagine what we’re going to find in our universe if we let go and just let God lead us.”
First published February 17th 2014, 10:48 am