New Group Seeks to Stop Marijuana Legalization

New Group Seeks to Stop Marijuana Legalization

CAMBRIDGE, MA — The passage of marijuana legalization measures by voters in Colorado and Washington in November has sparked interest in marijuana policy like never before, and now it has sparked the formation of a new group dedicated to fighting a rearguard action to stop legalization from spreading further.

The group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM or Project SAM) has among its “leadership team” liberal former Rhode Island Democratic congressman and self-admitted oxycodone and alcohol addict Patrick Kennedy and conservative commentator David Frum. It also includes professional neo-prohibitionist Dr. Kevin Sabet and a handful of medical researchers. It describes itself as a project of the Policy Solutions Lab, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, a drug policy consulting firm headed by Sabet.

Former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy

Former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy

SAM emphasizes a public health approach to marijuana, but when it comes to marijuana and the law, its prescriptions are a mix of the near-reasonable and the around-the-bend. Rational marijuana policy, SAM says, precludes relying “only on the criminal justice system to address people whose only crime is smoking or possessing a small amount of marijuana” and the group calls for small-time possession to be decriminalized, but “subject to a mandatory health screening an marijuana-education program.” The SAM version of decrim also includes referrals to treatment “if needed” and probation for up to a year “to prevent further drug use.”

But it also calls for an end to NYPD-style “stop and frisk” busts and the expungement of arrest records for marijuana possession. SAM calls for an end to mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana cultivation or distribution, but wants those offenses to remain “misdemeanors or felonies based on the amount possessed.”

For now, SAM advocates a zero-tolerance approach to marijuana and driving, saying “driving with any amount of marijuana in one’s system should be at least a misdemeanor” and should result in a “mandatory health assessment, marijuana education program, and referral to treatment or social services.” If a scientifically-based impairment level is established, SAM calls for driving at or above that level to be at least a misdemeanor.

Less controversially, SAM advocates for increased emphasis on education and prevention. It also calls for early screening for marijuana use and limited intervention “for those who not progressed to full marijuana addiction.”

For a taste of SAM’s kinder, gentler, neo-prohibitionist rhetoric, David Frum’s Monday CNN column is instructive. “We don’t want to lock people up for casual marijuana use — or even stigmatize them with an arrest record,” he writes. “But what we do want to do is send a clear message: Marijuana use is a bad choice.”

Marijuana use may be okay for some “less vulnerable” people, Frum writes, but we’re not all as good at handling modern life as he is.

“But we need to recognize that modern life is becoming steadily more dangerous for people prone to make bad choices,” he argues. “At a time when they need more help than ever to climb the ladder, marijuana legalization kicks them back down the ladder. The goal of public policy should not be to punish vulnerable kids for making life-wrecking mistakes. The goal of public policy should be to protect (to the extent we can) the vulnerable from making life-wrecking mistakes in the first place.”

Marijuana legalization advocates are having none of it. And they level the charge of hypocrisy in particular at Kennedy, whose family made its fortune selling alcohol. The Marijuana Policy Project has called on Kennedy to explain why he wants to keep “an objectively less harmful alternative to alcohol illegal” and has created an online petition calling on him to offer an explanation or resign as chairman of SAM.

“Former Congressman Kennedy’s proposal is the definition of hypocrisy,” said MPP communications director Mason Tvert. “He is living in part off of the fortune his family made by selling alcohol while leading a campaign that makes it seem like marijuana — an objectively less harmful product — is the greatest threat to public health. He personally should know better.”

Nor did Tvert think much of SAM’s insistence that marijuana users need treatment.

“The proposal is on par with forcing every alcohol user into treatment at their own cost or at a cost to the state. In fact, it would be less logical because the science is clear that marijuana is far less toxic, less addictive, and less likely to be associated with acts of violence,” Tvert said.

“If this group truly cares about public health, it should be providing the public with facts regarding the relative harms of marijuana and discouraging the use of the more harmful product,” Tvert said. “Why on earth would they want keep a less harmful alternative to alcohol illegal? Former Congressman Kennedy and his organization should answer this question before calling on our government to start forcing people into treatment programs and throwing them into marijuana re-education camps.”

Project SAM is out of step with current public opinion, said NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre.

“There really aren’t that many people publicly opposing marijuana law reform these days,” St. Pierre noted. “The fact that a liberal like Patrick Kennedy is joining with a conservative like David Frum speaks to a mainstream disconnect. Both these guys are seen as mainstream, but three-quarters of the population support medical marijuana and decriminalization, half the country supports legalization, and we know that in two states, 55% voted for legalization. I can’t speak to why they’re so politically tone deaf.”

“Kevin Sabet recognizes the old approach is just done for — just saying marijuana turns you into an addict is no longer working,” MPP’s Tvert told the Chronicle. “This is a thinly veiled attempt to maintain marijuana prohibition by appealing to the sensibilities of people who recognize it’s a failure. They are clutching at straws. If they truly think people shouldn’t have their lives ruined for marijuana, they shouldn’t be proposing it be kept illegal.”

“We are well past the epoch of the A.M. Rosenthals and the Joe Califanos,” said St. Pierre, referring to ardent drug warriors of yore. “The mainstream media has moved away from the type of Reefer Madness that Frum and Kennedy are trying to engage in,” he said. “Their advocacy is based on Kevin Sabet’s rhetoric, and it’s an extension of a failed policy. They’re trying to buy time and delay marijuana law reform.”

The political terrain has undergone a seismic shift with the November election results, and the rhetorical terrain has been shifting (reality not so much) away from drug war talk under the Obama administration. Now, Project SAM can join drug czar Kerlikowske is hoping talking more gently can thwart the progress of marijuana legalization.

  • Juegen

    We do not need any policy regarding Cannabis, in fact Cannabis must be taken out of the Controlled Substance Act and of course as well off the UN Single Convention:

    ISBN 9781902848204.

    Denial of cannabis by Prohibition ‘law’ premeditatedly inflicts suffering, blindness, and, in many instances, death. Those who maintain any use of life-saving cannabis to be “illegal” should be regarded and treated as perpetrators of the gravest of crimes, and deemed unfit to hold any public office in a democratic society.

    The Report collates Empirical Evidence and the Findings of Fact of official clinical studies which exonerate cannabis and vindicate all cultivation, trade, possession and use. The Report establishes massive ulterior money-motive and prejury behind prohibition; and indicts government.

    The Report presents irrefutable Legal Grounds for Restoration: Relegalisation, Amnesty & Restitution.

  • Mike D

    “Rhode Island Democratic congressman and self-admitted oxycodone and alcohol addict Patrick Kennedy”, soooo, you’re gonna stop virtually non-addictive MJ, and not Oxy or Alcohol? Kind of like outlawing screwdrivers when you have a problem with hammers.
    After John K. it seems the mold was broke.
    Alcoholism runs deep and wide through the Kennedys… and this guys contribution is something other than the addiction that has compromised his family?
    Regretably, ignoring the real problem for grabbing headline news is the standard for Politicians.

  • rob

    any marijuana program with dems as there leaders will not be for legalization no matter what they say. the dems are great at lying in smart ways just look at obama. he doesnt want to tax the middle class but let a 2 percent hike on every working american mainly middle class.he has done nothing to create any jobs other than goverment. and the recession is starting all over again. even according the us chamber of commerce.and now there taking our right to defend and speak for ourselves.





  • Chas Holman

    This Patrick Kennedy is a life long drunk and heavy narcotics abuser.

    He once got so loaded on oxycontin that he ran into a security checkpoint with his car in Washington DC.

    Forget his own family made much of their fortune running illegal hooch in alcohol prohibition. Patrick Kennedy has made some horrible choices in his privileged life (that would land someone like you in jail for a long long time) and has done some incredibly stupid things this 60 year old grass eater has nor never would do. The man isn’t safe, he’s a loose canon and he needs to stay away from me and my family and my life. Lord knows I want nothing to do with his miserable life. He’s not a good man.

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  • Nathan Walker

    This is a gift, an absolute gift for those of us against marijuana prohibition. Who the hell is going to take a team of a former (well maybe…I’ll take his word for it I guess) pill popping drunken Kennedy and a former Bush the 2nd speechwriter team seriously?

  • THChemist

    What I find curious is; these clowns aren’t advocating forced treatment for the obese; why not? Look up the data on the CDC web site and you will see the obesity epidemic is orders of magnitude worse than all other “epidemics” combined, so why not forced rehab? And what kind of message is sent with a clown, a king, and a ginger slinging poisons to our nation’s youth in every city and town across the country? These clowns at SAM are so far out of touch with reality it may border psychosis……..

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