Pubdate: Sun, 13 Apr 2014
Source: Asbury Park Press (NJ)
Section:  2014 Asbury Park Press
Author: Kevin Sabet
Note: Kevin A. Sabet is director and co-founder, with former 
Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana).
Note: OPED 2 of 3


[Asbury Park Press Editor] A bill to legalize marijuana in New Jersey 
has been introduced by Democratic lawmakers in both the Senate and 
the Assembly, even though Gov. Chris Christie has indicated he would 
veto it. The sponsors argue that taxing marijuana would help raise 
badly needed revenue. Christie says legalization would "send the 
wrong message" at a time when the state is faced with a heroin 
epidemic and widespread abuses of prescription drugs.A Monmouth 
University/Asbury Park Press Poll released last week showed a nearly 
even split among those who favored and those who opposed legalization 
of marijuana. Below are essays presenting the cases for and against 


Gov. Chris Christie was right to once again express his disdain for 
proposals that would legalize the use and sale of marijuana. His 
position is in line with that of the American Medical Association, 
American Society of Addiction Medicine, National School Nurses 
Association and other prominent groups and individuals.

Legalization is a simplistic solution to an incredibly complex 
program. Indeed, legal marijuana is poised to become the Big Tobacco 
of our time, ushering in a massive, profit-hungry industry, promoting 
addiction by commercializing and marketing the drug to our most vulnerable.

In Colorado, which began retail marijuana sales on Jan. 1, Big 
Marijuana has already begun to emerge. Pot purveyors are selling 
candies, Ring Pots, cookies and brownies. They are creating networks 
for investors and entrepreneurs in the marijuana industry, holding 
special "Shark Tank" fundraising sessions. A former Microsoft 
executive recently announced enthusiastically that he intends to 
create the "Starbucks of marijuana," ultimately "mint(ing) more 
millionaires than Microsoft." Another investor promises to become 
"the Philip Morris of marijuana."

And now these various venture capitalists have come together to hire 
a Washington lobbyist to advocate for marijuana businesses in our 
nation's capital.

The Big Marijuana playbook takes its cue from Big Tobacco: hire 
doctors to promote cigarettes as medicine, downplay its negative 
effects, infiltrate political leadership and target kids - since they 
will be your lifelong customers.

Why should the establishment of another for-profit industry like 
alcohol and tobacco, which relies on addiction and heavy use, be 
cause for concern? First, legalizing marijuana would completely 
normalize use, especially among kids. And this is something we should 
care about. The marijuana our kids use today is five to six times 
stronger than what it was in the 1960s and '70s (resulting in 
addiction for one in every six 16-year-olds who ever try it).

New methods of ingestion such as butane hash oil vaporization (or 
dabbing) are responsible for a growing number of hospital visits and 
overdoses. Though it is true that a majority of those who use 
marijuana will not become addicted, a significant number of users 
will suffer a great deal of harm in the form of IQ reduction, mental 
illness, poor learning outcomes, lung damage, car crashes, addiction, 
and emergency room admissions related to acute panic attacks and 
psychotic episodes. Is this the kind of New Jersey we want?

Second, because criminal gangs make the vast majority of their 
revenue from drugs like cocaine and heroin, and since legalization 
proposals would still prohibit kids from buying marijuana legally, we 
can expect an underground market to continue to thrive.

History suggests that the societal costs that accompany increased 
marijuana use will significantly outweigh any gains in tax revenue. 
Our experience with alcohol and tobacco shows that for every one 
dollar gained in taxes, 10 dollars are lost in social costs.

In Colorado, tax revenue from the first month of legal sales barely 
reached $2 million, falling well short of previous projections.

To maintain that marijuana should not be legalized, however, is not 
to say that low-level users should be arrested and/or incarcerated 
and saddled with criminal records that will stigmatize them for life.

Though lower than the number of alcohol-related arrests for 
non-violent crimes (2.7 million), hundreds of thousands of 
marijuana-related arrests yearly is still something we must address.

Pre- and post-arrest diversion programs, which exist in New Jersey 
now, need to be scaled up. But we need not legalize marijuana in 
order to tweak our sentencing and arrest practices.

New Jersey is far too smart for simplistic solutions that fit on a 
bumper sticker. Neither "lock 'em up or legalize" is an intelligent 
way to address such a complex issue.

Let's focus on strategies that work - drug prevention, justice 
reform, drug treatment courts and smart policing practices - and 
implement smart approaches to marijuana.

Kevin A. Sabet is director and co-founder, with former Congressman 
Patrick J. Kennedy, of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana).
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