Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy points to flavored alcohol, liquor ads in warning about marijuana
An employee waters pot plants inside a grow house, later to be harvested, packaged and sold at Medicine Man marijuana dispensary, which is to open as a recreational retail outlet at the start of 2014, in Denver.
Colorado will make history Wednesday as the first American state allowing stores to sell marijuana for recreational use – eliciting fear and predictions of doom from anti-drug campaigners.
On a Tuesday conference call hosted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said Colorado and Washington state – where stores will open later in 2014 – are “canaries in the coal mine.”
“There are a lot of ‘unintended consequences’… that will make them ponder whether this was the right decision,” Kennedy said, predicting more traffic accidents, increased school truancy, higher drop-out rates and a general decrease in public health.
Kevin Sabet, who co-founded SAM with Kennedy after advising the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations on drug policy, said “we see tomorrow as the dawn of big marijuana in Colorado. … In Denver it seems like it’s going to be going hogwild.”
“We’ve gone through 80 years of defeat by an industry – big tobacco… [that] perpetuated this myth that smoking was safe, for a time smoking was medicine, and we’re seeing it again with marijuana,” he said.
Sabet predicts marijuana shops will attempt to create addicts to bolster their bottom line.
“The only way to make money is from addiction,” he said, comparing future marijuana sales tactics to casinos luring in gamblers. “They have to produce addiction in order to increase their profits and in order to do that they need to start young.”
Sabet said it’s “unhealthy and unhelpful” to compare alcohol use to marijuana – a frequent comparison made by supporters of legalization, who point out that violence and death associated with alcohol is vastly greater.
“Alcohol, unlike marijuana, has a very long, widespread history in terms of the vast majority of the populations of Western culture before the Old Testament,” Sabet said. Because of that cultural legacy, he said, “we’re stuck with alcohol whether we like it or not.”
Kennedy, whose grandfather purportedly bootlegged alcohol during Prohibition in the 1920s, said “money corrupts” and the “power and money behind the alcohol industry” makes alcohol policy reform impossible.
But with the marijuana industry, he said, “if we can catch it early enough we can prevent some of the most egregious adverse impacts.”
Liquor companies “promote alcohol use to young people, they’ve got flavored alcohol, the regulations are minimal, [they are] advertising hard liquor on cable,” Kennedy said. “It illustrates the problem we’re going to have with marijuana.”