Pubdate: Wed, 24 Sep 2014
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2014 Star Advertiser
Author: Kevin Sabet
Note: Kevin Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the 
University of Florida, is the co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
Page: A10


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 the 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 

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.

"It is like a gold rush," remarked one vending executive.

A couple of Yale MBAs recently created a multimillion-dollar private 
equity firm dedicated solely to financing the marijuana business. As 
one of them explains, the firm has become inundated with pitches from 
businesses who plan to become the "Wal-Mart of marijuana."

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. Indeed, Big Marijuana creates unique 
problems that neither the status quo (with all its deficiencies), nor 
a grow-your-own approach to legal marijuana presents. 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 very occasionally, and 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. Internal company memos released as a 
result of the great tobacco settlement tell us as much: "Less than 
one-third of smokers start after age 18," says one, and "if our 
company is to survive and prosper, we must get our share of the youth 
market. ... (That) will require new brands tailored to the youth 
market." Such memos were circulated even as the tobacco industry was 
publicly rejecting youth cigarette use.

The poor and otherwise vulnerable are also prime targets. They suffer 
the highest addiction rates of any group. It's no wonder that 
peer-reviewed research has concluded that tobacco and liquor outlets 
are several times as likely to be in poorer communities of color, and 
that the tobacco industry has cozied up with homeless shelters and 
advocacy groups as part of its downscale marketing strategy

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. Before it 
was ordered to disband due to deceitful practices, Tobacco Institute 
Inc. was the industry's lobby group, challenging studies linking 
smoking with cancer and rebutting surgeon general reports on 
cigarettes before they were even published.

It is true that marijuana is not as addictive as tobacco (in fact, 
tobacco is more addictive than even heroin). And marijuana and 
tobacco differ among other dimensions of harm. Tobacco, though 
deadly, is not psychoactive. And unlike marijuana, one can drive 
impairment-free while smoking tobacco. That means that when someone 
is high, their ability to learn, work and become an active member of 
society is threatened. That is the last thing young people need today 
as they try to get a quality job or education.

Indeed, education and public health professionals, including groups 
like the American Medical Association, National School Nurses 
Association, American Society of Addiction Medicine, American 
Psychiatric Association, American Pediatrics Association and American 
Lung Association, regard today's high-potency marijuana as harmful.. 
Can we afford decades of deceit from an industry that depends on 
addiction and heavy use for profits all over again?

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. 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.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom