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CASAColumbia recently sat down with Kevin Sabet, Ph.D., Director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida and Founder of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), to talk about how the U.S. can create smart and effective marijuana policy.
CASAColumbia: The recent marijuana legalization policy changes in CO and WA will make way for a new marijuana industry. How you think this marijuana industry will compare to our nation’s tobacco and alcohol industries?
Kevin Sabet: The problem with the marijuana industry, is that it will make the majority of its money off of very heavy users. This is exactly the same as it is for the alcohol, tobacco and gambling industries –they don’t make money off of casual users. So we are continuing to create major corporations and businesses with addiction as their incentive. And it’s really addiction for profit, for their bottom line, and I’m not sure if the American people truly understand that. I think that they imagine legalization as a couple of people smoking pot in the privacy of their own home, the Woodstock generation just wanting to get high once a week after work. They do not understand that this is a massive corporate entity.
CASAColumbia: Do you think there is a middle ground? Can marijuana be legalized to a certain degree without creating addiction issues? If so, what does that look like?
KS: I think there’s a middle ground, but I don’t think it involves legalization. I think the middle ground would be “you don’t want to lock people up and incarcerate them for small amounts of marijuana.” I think we want to reduce those levers and the criminalization of it, but we don’t need to say that “because we don’t like criminalization, therefore we should legalize it.” Even if you put controls on legalization, we can see how well those controls have been manipulated, and the loopholes exploited by the alcohol and tobacco industries. I just can’t imagine creating a legalization policy that won’t have those drawbacks.
CASAColumbia: How do we go about reducing the criminal charges and finding that middle ground?
KS: I think it has to happen at the state level. The federal prison system is not concerned with possession of drugs of any kind, let alone marijuana. I think on the state level we need to take a look at things like mass arrest policies, because those criminal records will stay with you when you’re looking for a job. We need to look at police practices. I think people who are repeat offenders and really have a health problem – they need to be referred to brief intervention or treatment. Not everybody that is using marijuana needs a brief intervention or treatment. Frankly, I think some people just need to pay a fine if they’re driving while high or operating machinery or at work. I think everyone thinks there should be stiffer penalties. I don’t think anyone would say a drunk driver should not face a penalty, so I think the same should be in place for a stoned driver.
This interview has been condensed and edited. These views are Keven Sabet’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of CASAColumbia.