Marijuana flower is placed in an indoor room where light, temperature and humidity are controlled.
Young marijuana flowers are placed in an indoor room at the CTPharma in Rocky Hill. Yehyun Kim /

Lawmakers and their constituents are not served by the same old scare tactics.

Brendan Ruberry

Contrary to the organization’s name, (“Smart Approaches to Marijuana”) what it advocates is not a smarter approach at all: it’s a paranoid, puritanical one — couched in clever but unsound reasoning — that is not far from old-school prohibition.

Will Jones writes that “Heavy users of today’s 99 percent THC concentrates, edibles, and vaping oils were found to be five times more likely to develop psychosis.”

This is a half-truth. What he fails to mention is that the study in question is examining the effect of marijuana on teenagers, who have developing brains. No one on either side of this debate would deny that marijuana is potentially bad for teenagers. What he also fails to mention is that teenagers will smoke (and drink) almost anything they can get their hands on: which, under federal prohibition, might happen to be the ‘moonshine’ analog to marijuana, a 99% THC product that is exceedingly rare. In fact, it’s been referred to as “the strongest concentrate on the planet.”

A 99% THC concentrate actually looks nothing like typical marijuana; it resembles crystal meth. To ingest it, one first needs to melt it with a blowtorch.

How could a process that requires melting crystals with a blowtorch be mistaken for smoking a joint? In other words, how could someone mistake Everclear for Bud Light?

What Jones again fails to mention, from the same article, is that “Those most at risk are youths who already have a mother, father, or sibling with schizophrenia or some other psychotic disorder.” So, at its worst, it can only be associated with expediting in teens a mental illness that had a strong genetic likelihood of occurring anyway. Otherwise, the author notes, “That’s not the same thing as saying that marijuana causes psychosis.” Similar evidence for adult use does not exist.

And besides, it is extremely unlikely that teenagers in a regulated cannabis market would get hold of such a potent and scarcely available (not to mention luxury-priced) product. This doesn’t prevent Jones from conjuring the image anyway. He cites a number of other studies, but declines to include links.

Some people find that marijuana improves their quality of life. The conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan, a daily user, drew the distinction between “dependence” and “addiction,” something groups like SAM would rather ignore. Sullivan also notes “Teen use of weed is now at its lowest since 1994, and has dropped by a statistically meaningful amount since 2014, when the first states legalized it for recreational use.” Adult use has marginally risen over the same period, while alcohol use has fallen slightly.

That Connecticut should oppose legalization because Big Pot only pretends to care about social justice is spurious as well, if only because marijuana illegality is one of America’s oldest tools for racist policing according to the Brookings Institution, who argue not for prohibition (like SAM) but for “comprehensive drug reform” which includes recreational legalization.

Top Nixon aide John Erlichman revealed to journalist Dan Baum in 1994 that the president’s so-called “War on Drugs” was designed specifically to target “Blacks and hippies.”

“Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did,” the former domestic affairs aide told Baum.

As Brookings Senior Fellow John Hudak writes, “The history of cannabis policy demonstrates that racism was institutionalized and enforced in specific communities, and it is now legalization that must institutionalize the means for their recovery.”

If SAM wants to argue for racial equity in commercial marijuana, then fine. Illinois lawmakers and large marijuana interests should absolutely be held to account for reneging on their promises of commercial opportunities for BIPOC communities, but regurgitating age-old myths and half-truths about the drug itself does nothing to further this aim. It doesn’t improve equity, and it certainly doesn’t contribute to a more meaningful conversation about how the drug might be responsibly introduced to a public that wants it legalized.

The SAM organization founder Patrick Kennedy (son of the late and former Sen. Edward Kennedy, and cousin to anti-vax champion Robert Kennedy Jr.)  told The Washington Post in 2013 that marijuana “Destroys the brain and expedites psychosis.”

One of the organization’s largest individual donors, Julie Schauer, blamed mass shootings and terrorist attacks (including the Boston Marathon bombing) on the perpetrators’ marijuana use.

Whether anyone but the organization’s most zealous benefactors and employees are served by this kind of hyperbole remains to be seen, leaving one to wonder whether this is truly a “smarter” approach to marijuana, or simply the same old reefer madness.

Brendan Ruberry lives in Ridgefield.

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