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January 9, 2013

"Pot opponents regroup following Wash., Colo. votes"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new AP article which highlights how the broader public policy conversation over marijuana is starting to transform as a result of the state initiative passed back in November. Here are excerpts:

Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy adviser and an outspoken opponent of legalizing marijuana, watched with dismay last fall as voters in Washington and Colorado did just that.

But the next day he got a call from former Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who has struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. The son of late Sen. Ted Kennedy was worried that the votes sent the wrong message about marijuana. "The level of his concern impressed me," Sabet recalled. "He said, `We have to do something that is not falling into this false dichotomy of prohibition versus legalization.'"

So began the regrouping of the anti-pot lobby, an effort which on Thursday launches a new organization, Project SAM, for "smart approaches to marijuana." Kennedy is the chairman, and other board members include Sabet and David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

"Our country is about to go down the wrong road, in the opposite direction of sound mental health policy," Kennedy said. "It's just shocking as a public health issue that we seem to be looking the other way as this legalization of marijuana becomes really glamorous."

The idea is to halt the legalization movement by arguing the U.S. can ease the ills of prohibition — such as the racial disparities in arrest rates and the lifelong stigma that can come with a pot conviction — without legalizing the drug.  Kennedy called marijuana a dangerous drug that lowers IQ and triggers psychosis in those genetically predisposed toward it; critics charged him with distorting the scientific evidence by cherry-picking studies that relate only to a tiny fraction of pot users.

"It's almost `Reefer Madness'-type stuff about marijuana he's saying," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance. "There's something remarkable about Patrick Kennedy deciding to go after users of a drug that is by almost all accounts less dangerous than the drugs he struggled with.  Where Patrick Kennedy could have made a really important contribution is by saying that we need a responsible public health model for dealing with legal marijuana."...

The organization hopes to raise money to oppose legalization messages around the country, shape the legalization laws taking effect in Washington and Colorado, promote alternatives to jail time for pot users and speed up scientific research on the effects of marijuana....

Kennedy served 16 years as a congressman from Rhode Island, during which he made mental health treatment and insurance coverage a legislative priority.  He revealed he had struggled with depression and alcoholism, as well as addiction to cocaine and prescription painkillers.  In 2006, Kennedy crashed his Ford Mustang into a security barrier on Capitol Hill. He agreed to a plea deal on a charge of driving under the influence of prescription drugs and received a year's probation.

Low-level marijuana offenders should pay a fine, not go to prison, Kennedy said, but it's a bad idea to make pot more accessible: More people will experiment, including young people whose still-developing brains seem to be most susceptible to addiction.  He said he fears the creation of a huge marijuana industry that might target teens the way the tobacco industry did....

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the Justice Department has not said whether it will sue to try to block the state-licensing schemes from taking effect.

Supporters of Washington's Initiative 502 raised more than $6 million. The measure was sponsored or endorsed by former top federal law enforcement officers in the state, as well as some former public health officials and a University of Washington addiction specialist.

Alison Holcomb, the drug policy director of the state's American Civil Liberties Union chapter and I-502's campaign manager, said she's as concerned as anyone else about the public-health ramifications of legal marijuana, and that's why the initiative requires new surveys of drug use among teens and earmarks money for substance abuse prevention and treatment.

I am glad to learn that Patrick Kennedy and the other high-profile persons involved with Project SAM are eager to ensure that we have a robust public-health conversation about marijuana. In particular, I am especially glad to hear from this piece that Project SAM (which does not yet appear to have a website) is going to work to "promote alternatives to jail time for pot users and speed up scientific research on the effects of marijuana." 

If speeding up scientific research on the effects of marijuana is going to be key part of the mission of Project SAM, I hope it will join other marijuana public policy reformers and activists in encouraging Congress and/or the Obama Administration remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.  It has long been my understanding that scientific research on marijuana by universities and other major research institutions has been virtually impossible because cannabis is listed by federal law as a Schedule I drug under the CSA (background here).  Whatever the other goals and plans of Project SAM, I sincerely hope it will join forces with the marijuana reform community on this critically important "public health" front.

A few recent and older related posts: 

January 9, 2013 at 06:55 PM | Permalink


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"Pot opponents regroup following Wash., Colo. votes"

Do pot backers need to regroup following Oregon, California votes?

"I am especially glad to hear from this piece that Project SAM (which does not yet appear to have a website) is going to work to 'promote alternatives to jail time for pot users and speed up scientific research on the effects of marijuana.'"

"Alternatives to jail time" are ALREADY the standard penalty for simple possession. I can't believe criminal lawyers don't know this.

"I hope it will join other marijuana public policy reformers and activists in encouraging Congress and/or the Obama Administration remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act."

No such broad measure is necessary. Congress need only adopt a statute providing that, notwithstanding any other provision of law, universities and hospitals designated by the Secretary of HHS and the Attorney General may conduct pot research. The proposal to eliminate pot from Schedule I is so obviously overbroad as to reveal its true purpose, namely, to legalize pot on the installment plan. "Research" is, at most, a secondary objective.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 10, 2013 2:54:14 AM


Posted by: Sandra | Jan 11, 2013 7:29:32 AM


Interview with Chief Judge
Cynthia J. Becker, DeKalb
County Superior Court
by Rebecca Crumrine
[email protected]

not only in the courtroom, but also in the community, and
Judge Becker’s example is one to emulate. She founded
and implemented “Challenges Facing the Single Parent,”
a judicial outreach program to help teenagers understand
the reality of being a single parent. She uses the courtroom
as a classroom, opening her child support calendar to
community school children, predominately middle school
age girls. Her philosophy is if you can keep one child in
high school and not pregnant, if the child happens to be a
girl and then that one child may go to college. Judge Becker
sends out a notice to all of the schools in DeKalb County
inviting them to schedule a date to come to her courtroom
to observe her child support calendar. The students sit in
the galley of the courtroom while Judge Becker presides
over child support enforcement and contempt hearings,
watching her issue bench warrants for failure to appear,
sentence jail time for failure to pay and hear sordid excuses
for failing to pay child support.
After the calendar, the Judge meets with the students

SEE PAGE 18-19


Posted by: Sandra | Jan 11, 2013 7:38:35 AM

You would think people would pay attention to statistics. My entire career is based around people making silly decisions and needing help. I agree this is just the beginning. I mean, look at Kennedy, convicted of a dui while at the capitol. People should learn from his mistakes, he seems to have learned something.

Posted by: Naegle Law Firm | Mar 5, 2013 8:39:08 PM

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