DANBURY, Conn. – Drug policy adviser Kevin Sabet spoke about how legalizing marijuana in Connecticut could lead to the rise of a "Big Tobacco-like" industry during a talk Wednesday in Danbury.
Sabet worked in the Obama administration as a senior adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control policy and also worked in the Bush and Clinton administrations. He also is an author and one of the founders of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. He spoke at the Midwestern Connecticut Council of Alcoholism’s Annual Awards Dinner at the Ethan Allen Inn on the ramifications of legalizing marijuana.
“We really want to talk about this, not as a moral issue or a “Just Say No” issue, but really as an issue of warning people that if we don’t stop this, we will have another tobacco-like industry. So we’re very concerned that Big Tobacco is just morphing into Big Marijuana,” Sabet said.
“We know that the tobacco industry has long been interested in getting into the marijuana space. We also know that there are industry actors in the marijuana industry that are acting just like the old tobacco executives, downplaying the harms of the substance, promoting it to young people even though they’re saying they’re not and really relying on addiction for profit.”
He said there’s a disconnect between people’s understanding of marijuana and the science. He said though most people don’t see it as being as bad as alcohol, it is still a harmful substance and there is a risk in legalizing it, marketing it and making it more widely available. He is particularly concerned about the effects it can have on the brains of young people.
“Connecticut’s trying to reform its education, increase the positive education outcomes, why would you want to then increase the availability and normalization and acceptance of a substance that directly contradicts those education values that you’re trying to raise?”
He also has been studying data from Colorado, where marijuana was made legal two years ago. He said there have been increases in accidental ingestions, car accidents related to marijuana, and the economic benefits have not been as great as was promised.
“I don’t think the average voter, when they were voting to legalize this in Colorado, thought they were legalizing marijuana gummy bears,” he said.
Sabet is not saying everyone who uses marijuana will become addicted or should be thrown in jail. He said there should be reforms in the criminal justice component of marijuana so people who use it do not have a criminal record following them for the rest of their lives.
Yet, he doesn’t think that means it should be legalized because the effects can be much more harmful. He also believes there could be medical benefits, but that science needs to do more research so non-smoked medications based on marijuana’s components can be available to people who need it and not widely available for anyone who wants a loophole to smoke pot.
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