The Joker and The Riddler to my Batman – Kevin Sabet and Patrick Kennedy of Project SAMUEL - are back on the opinion pages of Washington Post peddling the only fear they’ve got left in an age of 60 percent public support for marijuana legalization: conjuring the menace of Big Marijuana as the reincarnation of Big Tobacco.
Many marijuana advocates have one goal in mind: to get rich. What we need, therefore, is a federal enforcement strategy that not only promotes human rights and social justice, but also actively targets and deters the special interests driving Big Marijuana.
Almost all marijuana advocates have one goal in mind: treating marijuana consumers like we treat alcohol consumers. Most of us have been marijuana advocates long before any money could be made legally from it.
This smoke screen is all a part of Sabet’s long-term strategy to obstruct and repeal reforms of state marijuana laws. He’s lost the battle on medical marijuana; 93 percent of the public now believes cannabis is a safe medicine when recommended by a physician. He can’t convince people that marijuana is terribly dangerous; 87 percent of the public finds it no more dangerous than alcohol, with 74 percent finding it safer.
Sabet and Kennedy make the argument that the federal government needs to intervene in the states that have legalized adult-use marijuana, because “the consequences of legalization are not confined by geographic borders.” They note the complaints of Nebraska and Oklahoma that legal marijuana from Colorado is streaming across their borders. They insist that marijuana is not a states’ rights issue for this reason and that the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Gonzales v. Raich regarding medical marijuana empowers the feds to begin reining in the recreational states.
While it is true the feds reserve the right to prosecute any state marijuana operations, appealing for federal intervention is a gambit that is going to backfire on the dastardly duo.
Already, 71 percent of the public opposes the federal government interfering in the states that legalize marijuana. Even the 83-percent Republican pot-hating Idaho Senate rejected a call for federal intervention in neighboring Washington. America believes marijuana is a states’ rights issue.
Furthermore, for the conservatives who hew to a states’ rights ideology, the argument that one state’s policies cross another state’s borders is exactly the argument progressives use to counter conservative arguments rejecting federal gun control legislation. Just as Nebraska can’t stop Colorado pot from pouring over the border, Illinois can’t stop Indiana guns from pouring over the border. Similar arguments get made when states claim the right to set their own environmental and immigration policies. The conservatives that hear Sabet & Kennedy’s anti-federalist messaging on marijuana are going to reject it.
But Sabet has also built this message to appeal to liberals. By invoking the specter of Big Tobacco, a whipping boy of the left, Sabet hopes to play his “kinder, gentler drug war” cards of reduced penalization for the pitiable cannabis consumers and increased opposition to the contemptible cannabis capitalists.
Issues of federalism aside, federal enforcement would serve as a needed check against an exploding for-profit marijuana industry that often prioritizes profits over public health and safety. In states with legal marijuana, special interests have built industrial-scale growing and dangerous THC extraction operations and are looking to advertise the product on television. They’re targeting minority communities to sell their products and — increasingly — financing politicians to do their bidding. There are now more pot shops concentrated in poor communities of color in Denver than anywhere else.
Of course, Sabet & Kennedy neglect to point out that the NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitudes of city councils and zoning commissions often relegate pot shops to industrial areas of town that are predominantly where poor communities are situated. Nor have they ever bothered to ask people of color what they prefer on the street corner: the regulated pot shop paying taxes and checking IDs or the weed dealer for the violent gang who’ll sell to anybody?
Sabet & Kennedy lament the hundreds of millions of dollars marijuana tax revenue has brought to Washington and Colorado, because it isn’t as much as was promised. That’s supposed to distract the public from the fact that those states have brought in infinitely more tax revenue from marijuana than before they legalized.
Sabet & Kennedy produce numerous claims about marijuana causing crashes, more youth to use marijuana, employers suffering deficits of “clean” workers, and more addiction to marijuana. These despite the facts that legal states’ roads are safer than their neighbors, failed piss tests for marijuana tell employers nothing, and the rate of marijuana dependence in America has remained steady for over a decade.
Without action, the marijuana industry is poised to become the next Big Tobacco — a profit-hungry special-interest group looking after profits, not public health. We need to acknowledge that marijuana comes with its own set of health risks, including a strong link to psychosis and schizophrenia, memory loss and low academic achievement.
Here is the ultimate failure of the Sabet & Kennedy Big Tobacco 2.0 argument. Big Tobacco had to lie about its product because it is extremely harmful and powerfully addictive. Marijuana is neither.
Big Tobacco had to market to kids, because an adult who first tries a cigarette will cough, choke, and recognize there’s no value and great harm in that activity, but a kid will power through the coughing and choking to conform to peer pressure and ape an adult activity to be cool.
But an adult who first tries marijuana will usually enjoy the experience and gain some benefit from it. The medicinal properties of cannabis are beneficial to all consumers, regardless of their reason for consumption. This is corroborated in the explosion of people over age 50 who are taking up marijuana post-legalization.
Big Tobacco had to lie to adults, because adults who continued to use their product were experiencing great health problems and dropping dead from lung cancer.
All of the detriments Sabet & Kennedy list about mental health and academic achievement come from studies of adolescents, not adults. Nobody is suggesting legalization for teenagers. We’re suggesting taking as much of the marijuana market as we can away from criminals who sell untested product to kids and turning that over to state-regulated businesses that pay taxes and only serve adults.