Kevin Sabet, PhD, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), proposed a call to action for the addiction-treatment community: Challenge the commercial marijuana industry on its data and its tactics.
“Two-thirds of communities in Colorado have banned the sale of marijuana because the reality of it is a lot more grim than what you see on TV,” Sabet said, speaking at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders in Denver Saturday.
Marijuana is the “Big Tobacco” of our time, he said, and drug policies are significantly out of alignment with science. Instead, the power of private equity and Wall Street continue to drive the perception that marijuana is a harmless substance that Americans are entitled to buy and consume. And large amounts of money are behind the “propaganda” messages, drowning out objective data.
“This is Wall Street, not Haight-Ashbury,” he said.
The two sides of the legalization debate create a false dichotomy in which the only two options are legal marijuana use or incarceration for use or possession. Sabet said there is a spectrum of other options that could include legal use combined with enforced restrictions and the opportunity for treatment, screening and early intervention.
“Most of the time, the way this issue has been brought up is: Which camp are you in?” he said.
Only good science on the effects of use—something that is lacking—and effective communication about how such research translates into the lives and health of consumers will help recast the debate.
It’s especially concerning considering that in the case of medical marijuana, policy is often created by special interests and voted on by consumers, while other medical treatments must demonstrate efficacy, receive FDA approval and be dispensed by licensed pharmacists with advanced training, Sabet said.
In his own investigations, Sabet visited a pot dispensary and noted that a person with no medical training offered to “diagnose” customers and provide medical marijuana that had dubious labeling. And it was all quite legal.
“It is everyone’s duty here not to say marijuana is more harmful than another drug—that’s not the point,” he said. “We have a duty now that we know what is happening to stop what is turning into, in front of our eyes, the next Big Tobacco.”