Pubdate: Wed, 03 Jul 2013
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News, The (VI)
Copyright: 2013 McClatchy
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON - Stung by momentum to legalize marijuana, opponents are 
fighting back with an unlikely leader: a recovering drug addict and 
liberal ex-congressman from Rhode Island named Patrick Kennedy, a 
member of the famous political clan.

"I cannot be silent, and I don't imagine anyone else could be silent 
if they knew the facts as I know the facts- and all I'm trying to do 
is get those facts to the broader public," said Kennedy, son of the 
late Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Spreading the word, Kennedy is traveling the country as chairman of 
Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), which he formed in 
January and which now has affiliates in five states.

No stranger to substance abuse, Kennedy long ago made public his 
battle with depression and alcohol and drug abuse, including an 
addiction to the pain reliever OxyContin. In 2006, he fell asleep 
behind the wheel and crashed his car into a barrier near the U.S. 
Capitol. His problems forced him to retire from the House of Representatives.

In an interview, Kennedy said he has smoked marijuana, but not much.

"In spite of the fact that I'm also an asthmatic, I did try and 
experiment with marijuana, but I quickly migrated to other drugs and 
alcohol," he said.

He also once backed using marijuana as medicine. "I now stand 
corrected by the science," said the 45year-old Kennedy.

After making a mark in Congress promoting mental health, Kennedy said 
he wasn't surprised by the legalization votes in Washington state and 
Colorado in 2012 or by polls showing increased acceptance of marijuana.

"They're votes and they're polls that reflect my early opinions and 
viewpoints, which were uneducated," Kennedy said. "When you don't 
have the facts and when you don't have the public policy experts, 
then what you have is a vacuum where anecdote and opinion become 
public policy and reality. And that's dangerous."

Kennedy said he's partly to blame for the rush to legalize because he 
didn't speak out sooner. But he said he didn't understand the big 
picture until he began working with the National Institute on Drug 
Abuse. Research now makes it clear that marijuana is a gateway drug 
that can induce psychosis and cause teens to lose IQ points they'll 
never recover, creating "devastating health consequences," he said.

Mason Tvert, spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy 
Project, called Kennedy a hypocrite.

"His family made millions off the sale of alcohol, and we hope that 
he and his organization recognize that marijuana is far less harmful 
and that adults should not face penalties just for using it," said 
Tvert, adding that Kennedy wants to force marijuana users into 
"education camps."

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for 
the Reform of Marijuana Laws, another pro-legalization group, said 
Kennedy is relying on arguments from a past generation: "Most of the 
stuff he's saying is about 20 to 30 years old."

"Over a 40- year period, there have been dozens to hundreds of 
anti-marijuana groups _ most of them don't really last very long and 
they don't have much success," St. Pierre said. "We have to see in a 
year or two or three if Project SAM is going to be around, or is it 
just a flash in the pan?"

Kennedy said he understands the shots.

"We're a truth-telling organization," he said. "Their biggest threat 
is that people will find out the truth. So it's not Patrick Kennedy 
they need to be worried about - it's the truth."

Kennedy called the legalization effort "a knee-jerk reaction" and 
said it will lead to more teens smoking pot, making more of them 
susceptible to addiction. And with marijuana use surpassing tobacco 
use among teens, Kennedy said they face a greater risk because of the 
rising potency of the drug.

"This isn't your Woodstock weed," he said. "This is genetically 
modified marijuana that is more closer to hashish. And its impact on 
brain development, especially if teenagers are using it, is profound 
and permanent."

In February, Kennedy asked Attorney General Eric Holder to enforce 
federal law and not allow Colorado and Washington to sell and tax marijuana.

"I woke up after the last election and saw there's kind of a wrinkle 
in the whole environment dealing with mental health and addiction. .. 
It was hard to ignore that we're moving in the opposite direction," 
said Kennedy.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom