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  1. talltom
    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.

    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 (MPP) 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.

    Philip Smith
    Drug Wars Chronicle
    January 10, 2013



  1. talltom
    Here is a follow-up, criticizing what Frum and others at SAM are saying:

    Would Legalizing Marijuana Be Too Hard on Simpletons?

    At CNN, David Frum continues his anti-marijuana-legalization push with an argument that has a nugget of truth. "When we write social rules, we always need to consider: Who are we writing rules for?" he writes. "Some people can cope with complexity. Others need clarity .... Over the past three decades, and in area after area of social life, Americans have replaced simple rules that anybody can follow with complex rules that baffle large numbers of people."

    To illustrate what he means he talks about home mortgages.

    "Consider, for example, the home mortgage. Once the mortgage was a very simple product. Put 20% down, then sign up for a fixed schedule of payments over the next 30 years. In the space of a single generation, these 30-year fixed-rate amortizing mortgages turned what had been a nation of renters into a nation of homeowners. For more sophisticated buyers, however, the standard mortgage was a big nuisance. For them, bankers developed more flexible products: no money down, no documentation, interest-only, adjustable rate.

    These products met genuine needs. But as they diffused down-market, they became traps for people who did not understand the risks they were accepting."

    I don't know if that's an accurate history of the home mortgage, but it's enough to make his meaning clear. Says Rod Dreher, nodding:

    "Clever people who know how to negotiate a world of risky choices successfully tend to be libertarians who wish to maximize choice. They trust in their own ability to make the right choice. And they also trust in their ability, or their means, to absorb the consequences of a negative choice. I find that libertarians often fail to appreciate that there are many, many people in the world who aren't clever, who don't bring the same skill and temperament set to negotiating risky choices, and who have far less resilience if their choices result in failure."

    He goes on:

    "Traditional social rules of sex, marriage, and childbearing may strike sophisticated libertarian-oriented people as an onerous burden, or at least the sort of thing that ought not be taken terribly seriously. Less clever people, though, may have far less skill at handling sexual relationships in the absence of strong social norms -- with much more serious consequences."

    In my experience, libertarians are far more interested in people's capabilities than they are in people's frailties.

    This is a blind spot, I think.

    The common good may require limits on the freedoms of its most intelligent and capable members. The stupid ought to be able to count on a certain level of protection from the sophisticated.

    Again, I definitely don't want to endorse all of that, but let us grant that policymakers ought to be attuned to the fact that there are benefits to simplicity in social rules, and one of the benefits is the likelihood of better outcomes among people who lack sophistication in a given policy area.

    Does that insight have implications for the marijuana debate? I'll let Frum make his case:

    "Last week, I joined the board of a new organization to oppose marijuana legalization: Smart Approaches to Marijuana. The group is headed by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy and includes Kevin Sabet, a veteran of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama. The new group rejects the "war on drugs" model. It agrees that we don't want to lock people up for casual marijuana use -- or even stigmatize them with an arrest record. But what we do want to do is send a clear message: Marijuana use is a bad choice.

    "There are many excellent reasons to avoid marijuana. Marijuana use damages brain development in young people. Heavy users become socially isolated and perform worse in school and at work. Marijuana smoke harms the lungs. A growing body of evidence suggests that marijuana can trigger psychotic symptoms that otherwise would have remained latent.

    "It's possible to imagine a marijuana rule that tries to respond precisely to such risk factors as happen to be known by the current state of science. Such a rule might say: "You shouldn't use marijuana until you are over 25, or after your brain has ceased to develop, whichever comes first. You shouldn't use marijuana if you are predisposed to certain mental illnesses (most of which we can't yet diagnose in advance). Be aware that about one-sixth of users will become chronically dependent on marijuana, and as a result will suffer a serious degradation of life outcomes. As yet, we have no sure idea at what dosage marijuana will impair your ability to drive safely, or how long the impairment will last. Be as careful as you can, within the limits of our present knowledge!" Yet as a parent of three, two exiting adolescence and one entering, I've found that the argument that makes the biggest impression is: 'Marijuana is illegal. Stay away.' I think many other parents have found the same thing."

    There are several problems with his argument.

    Most obviously, under every proposal for legalizing marijuana, it would remain illegal for minors and perhaps even for adults up to age 21. Parents won't be deprived of the ability to say, "Marijuana is illegal, stay away," until their adolescents are in college or living in an apartment and working.
    Legalization advocates actually favor the simpler policy apparatus: Everyone understands that you

    Conor Friedersdorf
    The Atlantic
    January 10, 2013

    Marijuana .
    I believe that the users of pot are definitely a minority group that either suffer from pain and use medicinally but there are recreational users that prefer pot over alcohol with alcohol having a bad stigma surrounding assaults that many pot users do not want to associate themselves with.

    Many people that have not been associated with pot use assume that its related to robberies and drug users breaking into houses and all sorts of crime which is how authorities have always wanted it to be shown as .....a grass route to major crime which is untrue.

    I do believe that with marijuana being legalized we will see a reduction in heavy drug use among our younger generation and thus overdoses and deaths will be reduced as a result.

    Also the reduction of our younger generation going to jail will also reduce our kids association with persuading criminal influences.
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