Pubdate: Fri, 19 Sep 2014
Source: Boston Herald (MA)
Copyright: 2014 The Boston Herald, Inc
Note: Prints only very short LTEs.
Author: Kevin Sabet
Note: Kevin Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the 
University of Florida, is the co-founder with former U.S. Rep. 
Patrick Kennedy of Smart Approaches to Marijuana and served as senior 
adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy 
from 2009 to 2011. This originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News.


Proponents of legalization and other drug policy reforms make some 
important points. It is true that most people who try drugs do not 
get addicted --- they stop after using a few times. It is also true 
- --- and regrettable --- that America's incarceration rate is 
embarrassingly high and that blacks and Latinos bear the brunt of 
harsh arrest policies. And, finally, despite our best efforts, fully 
eradicating drug use and its consequences remains a distant dream.

But placing faith that legalization will help any of these issues is 
misguided. In fact, legalization threatens to further contribute to 
disproportionate health outcomes among minorities, all the while 
creating a massive new industry --- Big Tobacco 2.0 --- intent on 
addicting the most vulnerable in society.

For example, with much fanfare, and alongside ex-president of Mexico 
Vicente Fox, former head of Microsoft corporate strategy James 
Shivley announced this year that he was creating "the Starbucks of 
marijuana." His plan? To buy up marijuana stores in Colorado and 
Washington state, "mint(ing) more millionaires than Microsoft in this 

And so, in the midst of America's great debate about marijuana 
legalization, Big Marijuana is born. Pot legalization is no longer 
about a few friends calmly sharing a joint on the weekend in their 
own living room. Inevitably --- and ever so swiftly --- it has become 
about big business and big bucks.

Shivley isn't the only one preparing to cash in. At least three 
marijuana vending machine companies, already earning millions of 
dollars in revenue from medical marijuana "patients," have announced 
giant expansion plans. A couple of Yale MBAs recently created a 
multimillion-dollar private equity firm dedicated solely to financing 
the marijuana business.

To a student of history, none of this should come as a surprise, of 
course. Tobacco executives in the 1900s wrote the playbook on the 
reckless and deceitful marketing of an addictive --- and therefore 
hugely profitable --- substance.

Like Big Tobacco, the large-scale commercialization of marijuana will 
require consistently high use rates and increasing addiction rates to 
keep shareholders and investors happy. We've seen this horror movie before.

First, we know that addictive industries generate the lion's share of 
their profits from addicts, not casual users. In the tobacco 
industry, 80 percent of the industry's profits come from 20 percent 
of smokers. So while most marijuana users try the drug and stop, or 
use it very occasionally, the brunt of the profits --- and problems 
- --- come from the minority of users. That minority causes enormous 
problems to our roadways, educational system, workplace and health care system.

This means that creating addicts is the central goal. And --- as 
every good tobacco executive knows (but won't tell you) --- this, in 
turn, means targeting the young.

The poor and otherwise vulnerable are also prime targets. They suffer 
the highest addiction rates of any group.

That doesn't mean we have to be content with the status quo. We need 
much better science-based prevention, early intervention and 
treatment. We need to make sure our laws are equitable and fair. 
Specifically, even as marijuana remains illegal, low-level marijuana 
offenses should not saddle people with a criminal record that hurts 
their chances at education, housing or other assistance. Drug 
treatment courts and smart probation programs must also be taken to scale.

But under legalization, big business and big lobbies peddle 
pseudoscience and stop at nothing to protect their profits.

Some say that it doesn't have to be this way. We could establish a 
safer form of legalization by setting up measures that prevent the 
emergence of another Big Tobacco. History and experience show, 
however, that even the best of intentions are easily mowed over in 
the name of big profits. This will be American-style legalization. 
Unless we repeal the First Amendment --- which declares commercial 
speech as free speech --- and unless we quickly do away with our 
long-standing Madison Avenue culture of hypercommercialization, legal 
marijuana will lead down an all-too-familiar path. We are seeing this 
play out in Colorado with abandon.

It will be the Yale MBAs, the established addictive industries and 
the new Mad Men of marijuana who will benefit most from legalization.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom