Fecteau: Kennedy is Wrong on Weed
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Full disclosure: I worked for Mr. Kennedy and respect him very much, but friends can have disagreements on public policy. Despite what Mr. Kennedy says, we need to legalize and regulate marijuana just like we regulate alcohol. It’s insanity to repeat the mistakes of the 1920s alcohol prohibition on marijuana today, yet that’s just what we have done since the 1960s.
Kennedy has a strong influence over both the Rhode Island General Assembly and federal delegation. He was a state representative and a Congressman. His political clout runs deep in Rhode Island and is part of the reason Congressman David Cicilline switched from supporting marijuana regulation to wanting further investigating.
Mr. Kennedy is a member of a group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana or SAM. This group is dedicated to allegedly finding smarter approaches to address marijuana usage. SAM’s approach seems to be simply prohibition with a different name. Instead of regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol, their approach means marijuana would remain an illegal substance federally and there would be civil penalties such as mandatory drug testing in even for people caught with a small amount of marijuana. People selling marijuana would face stiff jail sentences, sometimes even worse than what they would be given under current law.
Kennedy and SAM are not entirely wrong. People can grow dependent on marijuana use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse calls this “marijuana use disorder.” According to their website, 30% of those who use marijuana develop a marijuana use disorder, and those who use marijuana before they reach the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop marijuana use disorder.
However, the evidence on dependence is far from conclusive. A rival group called Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) takes a more liberal position. This group advocates for marijuana to be regulated like alcohol. They want it regulated and taxed while ensuring it stays out of the hands of children. If it is regulated like alcohol, only individuals 21 years or older would be able to purchase it – a reasonable policy that has worked well with liquor stores.
If Kennedy and other marijuana legalization opponents are concerned about keeping marijuana out of the reach of children, why don’t they support regulation? Regulating marijuana – either at the federal or state level – would keep it illegal for those under 21 to purchase marijuana. Isn’t this exactly what opponents want? To keep marijuana far from “developing brains,” as Kennedy mentioned in past interviews. This is best accomplished by the very regulation he opposes because it redirects resources away from prosecuting adults and towards preventing teen marijuana use.
The threat of “big marijuana” means little if there are laws in place that keep it from children. In fact, large companies would be under heavier pressure not to market to children than current drug dealers are, especially in the shadow of the big tobacco scandals. This is what groups like SAM seem to miss.
Critics argue, as Kennedy does, that regulating marijuana would ensure easier access for children but evidence disagrees. Let’s take Colorado as a prime example. Colorado regulates marijuana similarly to alcohol. If Kennedy were correct, marijuana use by teens in Colorado would be skyrocketing. Federal data proves that hasn’t happened. Instead, teen marijuana use fell sharply.
While I sincerely like Mr. Kennedy, he and SAM are wrong on this issue. MPP has a commonsense approach that works for everyone while keeping marijuana out of the reach of the children in the process. It is long past due to legalize and regulate marijuana.
Related Slideshow: The Highest Marijuana Prices in New England by State
The "crowdsourced" website, The Price of Weed, uses consumer input to show how much an ounce of marijuana costs -- by location.
Below are the rankings of New England states, from lowest price reported for "medium grade" marijuana, to highest, along with the number ("n") submitting data.
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