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Research counters marijuana myths

Today's marijuana 10 times stronger than that of the 1970s

by: Photo by Susan Matheny - Dr. Kevin Sabet, a drug policy advisor to both the Obama and Bush administrations, was a keynote speaker at the statewide Marijuana Summit held last week in Madras.


   Marijuana legalization issues were discussed by keynote speaker Dr. Kevin Sabet, Ph.D., at the Statewide Marijuana Summit held in Madras Oct. 18.
   Sabet has served as a drug policy advisor to both the Obama and Bush administrations and, a consultant to the United Nations, is currently the director of the Institute on Drug Policy at the University of Florida and an assistant professor in the College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry.
   During his 18 years of working on drug policy issues, he has had articles published in the New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and has made appearances on CNN, CNBC and many other media outlets.
   "There are lots of myths and urban legends about marijuana, and the pro-marijuana folks have been really brilliant on their promotion. They present it as an all or nothing issue -- either legalize or prohibit it," Sabet said.
   Those in favor of legalizing marijuana, Sabet said, portray it "as medicine for the elderly, when in reality it's not elderly patients using it."
   Becoming increasingly organized, marijuana legalization backers have major donors funding their campaign; have legislative champions at the local, state and federal levels; have gotten the attention of editorial boards in TV, print and social media; and have mobilized student supporters, Sabet said.
   Meanwhile, he said prevention agencies "scrap around for funding" and as public employees, are not allowed to lobby about their views.
   And that's despite the fact that marijuana contains more carcinogens than cigarettes and today's marijuana is 10-15 times stronger than the marijuana of the 1970s, his presentation noted.
   "It's more potent today, and there are more health harms to those who keep smoking it. It's not the marijuana of Woodstock," Sabet said.
   His statistics showed that one out of six kids who try marijuana will become addicted, because their brains are still forming. For adults, the addiction rate is one out of 11 who try marijuana.
   "If used regularly before 18, new research shows that IQ drops by 8 points at age 38, even when that person has stopped using marijuana," Sabet said of a study that followed the same group of people for 20 years.
   In the upcoming election, Oregon, Washington and Colorado are voting on whether to legalize marijuana, while four other states have medical marijuana measures on the ballot.
   It's not too late to turn around the momentum to legalize marijuana, he said, noting there was a similar situation 35 years ago, when several states decriminalized marijuana.
   "The tactic for the past 34 years has been to classify marijuana as medicinal," he observed.
   To turn things around, Sabet said, prevention workers and others need to recruit more youths and give them leadership roles to get the message out.
   Legalization is being framed as a sensible alternative to regulate the drug and get it out of the hands of cartels.
   Sabet refuted that idea, saying, "Cartels won't just pack their bags and go home." Marijuana is only 15-25 percent of cartels' revenue, and they will still be around dealing in human trafficking, piracy, kidnapping, and extortion, he noted.
   If legalized, the price of marijuana will drop 80 percent, consumption will increase, and tax evasion will be a major concern, he said.
   As for regulation, he said kids can easily get alcohol and cigarettes now, and retailers won't be able to keep it out of their hands.
   "Legalization exposes us to unknown risks. Is your right to get high worth the risk of the safety issues and health costs?" he asked.
   A chart on long-term health-related costs of alcohol and tobacco, which he called "legal drugs," showed $185 billion associated with alcohol, and $200 billion associated with tobacco.
   People often cite the Netherlands when talking about legalizing marijuana. But Sabet said, "The Netherlands hasn't legalized marijuana; they just don't enforce the laws."
   He also noted youth use in The Netherlands has tripled since they allowed marijuana to be sold in coffee shops, and next year those sales are being stopped.
   "We can turn this around if we stick to science, evidence, and education," Sabet said in conclusion.