Marijuana: Project SAM touts public-health approach to pot in fighting legalization

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In his release, the MPP's Tvert claims Project SAM wants to "force marijuana consumers into treatment and marijuana 'education' classes." But Sabet puts it differently.

"There should be public-health assessments on people," he maintains. "Nobody's knocking down doors to get to marijuana users, but pot is incidental to other crimes that may be going on -- and we want to make sure that what's going on in a person's life isn't directly related to a marijuana problem."

As for Project SAM's third focus, Sabet pinpoints a desire "to really educate the public about the potential pitfalls of legalization. There's a 300-miles-per-hour freight train heading toward legalization right now, and we want to remind Americans that there are a lot of obstacles, including the influence of Big Tobacco and the possibility of marijuana becoming Big Marijuana. We've actually seen that the tobacco industry is already interested in marijuana, and we want to make sure that doesn't happen.

"And the fourth thing is the rapid development of non-smoked, cannabis-based medication that derives from other active ingredients in the plant. Not just THC -- the ingredient that makes people high. The terminally ill should be allowed to use components of marijuana legally, in a non-inhaled way."

Despite the involvement of Kennedy, a member of a large, wealthy and politically powerful family, Sabet stresses that Project SAM "doesn't have any funding. We're all volunteers." But after Reuters published an article about the organization over the weekend, he says the group has been flooded with "an outpouring of letters from moms and dads and kids who have problems with marijuana and want to contribute."

Partnerships are also planned with other similarly intentioned outfits, including Smart Colorado -- not the organization that worked against Amendment 64, Sabet says, but a new effort associated with longtime anti-tobacco activist Bob Doyle.

By the way, Sabet says Project SAM's use of the word "smart" is in no way a nod to the previous iteration of Smart Colorado. Rather, it simply conveys the group's goal to tackle the marijuana issue with what it sees as intelligence and balance rather than responses that tilt to either extreme.

"We don't want our ideas to be able to fit on a bumper sticker," he emphasizes. "'Legalize Pot' and 'Lock 'Em Up' both fit on a bumper sticker, but what we're doing doesn't. There's an appetite among public-health professionals who work on this every day for straight talk. They know we shouldn't saddle someone with an arrest record and incarcerate them -- but neither should we legalize and make more available a drug that's addictive for 10 percent of its users, and 15 percent, if you start in adolescence."

In regard to the arguments of Tvert and others that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, Sabet readily admits that the latter substances are killers, using language that suggests he'd be happy if they were illegal, too. But in his view, "that horse is out of the barn.

"Alcohol has a long, widespread history in our country. And while cannabis -- not the version that's available today -- has been around for 3,000 years, it's never been accepted in as widespread a fashion as alcohol. And we're certainly paying the price for alcohol's accessibility: $200 billion in lost social costs and twice as many alcohol offenses as for all illegal drugs combined. It's more addictive than crack cocaine, and tobacco is more addictive than heroin. So I would argue that we don't want to follow the same path for marijuana that we did for alcohol and tobacco. We need to do the best we can in our current, realistic circumstances."

Continue to read the Marijuana Policy Project release about Project SAM, plus a petition calling for Patrick Kennedy to drop out of the group.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts