“Legalizing pot is a catastrophic mistake,” says self-proclaimed marijuana expert Kevin Sabet in an opinion piece in Newsweek. The fact that thirty-three states have legalized the medical use of marijuana and eleven states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, all without catastrophic results, says otherwise. The only thing catastrophic is the misconception and omission in Sabet’s article.
Sabet is the president, CEO, and co-founder (with former congressman Patrick Kennedy) of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). The organization “envisions a society where marijuana policies are aligned with the scientific understanding of marijuana’s harms, and the commercialization and normalization of marijuana are no more.” Its mission “is to educate citizens on the science of marijuana and to promote health-first, smart policies and attitudes that decrease marijuana use and its consequences.”
Despite his many scientific, medical, and public-health pronouncements, Sabet has no formal education in any relevant field that qualifies him to make such pronouncements. (His undergraduate degree is in political science, followed by an MS in comparative social policy and then a PhD in social policy.)
Sabet worked in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and is the author of Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths about Marijuana (2nd ed., 2018). He claims to have appeared “in hundreds of forums and discussions promoting the ideas” outlined in his book and to have been “featured on the front page of the New York Times and in virtually every major media publication and news channel on the subject of drug policy.” He has been termed a “moral entrepreneur” for his crusade against marijuana that “demonizes marijuana use and ignores scientific research that contradicts his drug warrior claims.”
Sabet maintains that “decades of harm have been experienced by communities of color” because of the government’s marijuana laws. Yet he opposes the legalization of marijuana because “this policy approach will greatly exacerbate existing social justice issues, bring about further health and safety harms, and enrich overwhelmingly white investors and corporate funders.” He supports “removing criminal penalties for low-level marijuana use — essentially treating marijuana more like a traffic ticket” and expunging “previous records for low-level offenses.” So even though he believes that “substance abuse and addiction should be a public health issue, not solely a criminal justice issue,” he still opposes the legalization of marijuana.
He opposes marijuana legalization because he thinks it “means the corporatization and commercialization of an industry aimed at increasing profits.”
He opposes marijuana legalization because today’s marijuana is “chemically altered,” “highly potent,” and “much more addictive” than the marijuana that “some may have experimented with in the past.”
He opposes marijuana legalization because “fewer than one percent of the marijuana storefronts in the country are owned by African-Americans,” “less than 19 percent of marijuana businesses in the country have investors who are minorities,” and “social equity applicants for marijuana licenses are more often than not left to whither on the vine while multi-state, corporate-backed operators snatch up the premium licenses and corner the markets.”
He opposes marijuana legalization because “people of color are still far more likely to be arrested than are whites” and “arrest disparities increased in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts and Oregon following legalization.”
He opposes marijuana legalization because “a study released last month found that if marijuana were to be legalized at the federal level, some additional 6,800 people would die each year due to marijuana-impaired driving.”
He opposes marijuana legalization because “recent peer-reviewed studies have found concerning links between marijuana use and severe mental illness.”
He opposes marijuana legalization because it “increases youth marijuana use.”
He opposes marijuana legalization because “in states such as Oregon, California, Colorado and even the District of Columbia, where marijuana is now ‘legal,’ there are currently efforts underway to legalize psychedelic mushrooms.”
He opposes marijuana legalization because groups “who forcefully push marijuana commercialization also tend to support the legalization and commercialization of all drugs, including heroin.”
He opposes marijuana legalization because “legalization is all about money — and money for those who are already making plenty of it, not the underserved.”
He opposes marijuana legalization because “the goal of the marijuana industry is converting young, casual users into life-long, heavy users.”
Sabet is voicing a catastrophic misconception about marijuana legalization. The legalization of marijuana does not have to, and should not, entail government licenses, government regulation, or government oversight. The legalization of marijuana is not a social justice issue. No one is concerned about the race, color, or nationality of the owners of, or investors in, coffee shops, food trucks, or fruit and vegetable stands. No one is concerned that any of those owners or investors makes a profit or plenty of money. Marijuana should be just as legal and unregulated as coffee, tacos, and bananas.
Sabet is also making a catastrophic omission about marijuana legalization. The legalization of marijuana should not be based on whether it has health and safety concerns; whether today’s marijuana is “chemically altered,” “highly potent,” or “much more addictive” than marijuana in the past; whether there is a link between marijuana use and mental illness; or whether marijuana sellers want to turn casual users into heavy users. Marijuana legalization should be based on freedom. Every individual should have the freedom to decide whether he wants to partake of something that might be unhealthy, unsafe, chemically altered, highly potent, addictive, or cause mental illness (assuming for the sake of argument that marijuana is any of those things). It should not be thought of as more unusual for every seller of marijuana to want his customers to buy more of his product than for every seller of coffee to want his customers to buy more of his product.
No one should ever receive a ticket for using, possessing, or selling marijuana.
No one should ever receive a fine for using, possessing, or selling marijuana.
No one should ever be required to undergo treatment for using, possessing, or selling marijuana.
No one should ever be arrested for using, possessing, or selling marijuana.
No one should ever be forced to participate in a drug-awareness education program for using, possessing, or selling marijuana.
No one should ever have to submit to random drug testing for using, possessing, or selling marijuana.
No one should ever be compelled to perform community service for using, possessing, or selling marijuana.
No one should ever be put on probation for using, possessing, or selling marijuana.
No one should ever be sentenced to prison for using, possessing, or selling marijuana.
Contrary to Sabet, marijuana abuse and addiction should not be a criminal justice or a public health issue. It should be an individual health and freedom issue.