Pubdate: Fri, 05 Feb 2016
Source: Brattleboro Reformer (VT)
Copyright: 2016 Brattleboro Publishing Co.
Author: Patrick Kennedy
Note: Patrick J. Kennedy is a former member of Congress from Rhode 
Island and an honorary adviser to SAM, Smart Approaches to Marijuana. 
This oped originally appeared in the VTDigger.


The epidemic of drug addiction and overdoses gripping Vermont, and 
our country at large, cries out for reform.

We must change the perception that jail is an effective treatment for 
the disease of drug addiction, and give mental health issues the 
attention and funding they deserve, an opinion I know many Vermonters share.

But the legalization and commercialization of another addictive drug 
- - marijuana - is precisely the wrong way to address this critical 
problem. Legalization has nothing to do with whether we lock up pot 
users, and everything to do with making money.

Marijuana industry lobbyists that are pushing legalization to the 
Vermont Legislature disingenuously conflate the two issues, claiming 
that the only way to stop imprisoning marijuana users is to legalize 
the drug. They also make sweeping claims about how commercialization 
will control the black market and make the drug "safer."

But both claims are demonstrably false.

First of all, we can stop jailing marijuana users without letting big 
business sell marijuana at corner stores.

Vermont has already decriminalized marijuana use for adults, and will 
not arrest or jail you if you possess an ounce or less of marijuana 
for personal use. And our Congress is already debating broader 
criminal justice reforms that may reduce the burden of arrests and 
imprisonment for drug offenses, especially on minority and low-income 

Second, and more broadly, we know from other states' experiences that 
the billion-dollar marijuana industry - the folks behind the 
legalization effort - is more interested in profits than our health and safety.

Legalization means inviting a powerful lobby into Vermont that pushes 
hard against regulations. Pot lobbyists in Colorado defeated 
restrictions on pot ads aimed at children.

They have opposed restrictions on marijuana potency.

And they are fighting laws keeping pot shops away from schools, 
parks, and day care centers in Oregon. Vermont legislators may think 
they have cracked the code on how to implement legalization "safely," 
but it will not be long until industry forces expose and exploit any 
openings they see for the sake of profits.

Now, I put the call out to the Vermont Legislature: Please learn from 
the experiences of other states, and heed the warning signs - 
marijuana legalization does not reduce the toll drug addiction takes 
on our communities.

In other words, commercial marijuana behaves just like another large 
American industry peddling addiction - Big Tobacco. It may surprise 
Vermonters to know that the large tobacco companies have been 
studying the marijuana business since the 1960s, seeing it as a 
natural extension of their product line. And like tobacco, the 
marijuana business can only profit when it creates and cultivates heavy users.

Just 20 percent of pot users consume 80 percent of all marijuana. 
Those heavy users, many of whom are addicts, are the target market 
for the pot industry, not the casual smoker.

This profit motive is why legalization and commercialization has 
yielded more pot use, not less, among children and adults.

After legalizing pot, Colorado took the dubious honor of having the 
highest past-month marijuana use rates in the country in both age groups.

A host of related problems have accompanied this dubious honor, 
including a surge in marijuana poisonings - up 148 percent overall, 
and up a shocking 153 percent among children newborns to 5 years old 
- - and a 32 percent spike in marijuana-related traffic fatalities. 
Even without legalization, Vermont already ranks No. 2 in past-month 
consumption. Commercialization will only push those numbers higher.

Moreover, legalization has not blunted Colorado's black market.

The state's attorney general told the press last February that "The 
criminals are still selling on the black market. ... We have plenty 
of cartel activity in Colorado. ..." Colorado law enforcement 
officers have even indicated that black market activity may have 
increased, as people illegally export pot to other states.

Finally, like the tobacco companies, who once boasted that they 
targeted "the young, the poor, the black, and the stupid," the 
marijuana industry has had an outsized impact on poor and minority 
communities in Colorado. A recent expose showed that Denver's pot 
business was highly skewed towards poor areas, with one neighborhood 
having one marijuana business for every 47 residents.

A strategy of "profits before public health" is not the way to serve 
socioeconomic and racial justice.

Now, I put the call out to the Vermont Legislature: Please learn from 
the experiences of other states, and heed the warning signs - 
marijuana legalization does not reduce the toll drug addiction takes 
on our communities. It represents burning down the village in order 
to save it, by handing Vermont's public health over to Wall Street 
and the marijuana lobby.

Rather, I urge you to focus on solutions we know will work - sensible 
criminal justice reform and serious investments in drug prevention.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom