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7 of the Most Pathetic Arguments for Prohibiting Marijuana Appearing in a Newspaper Near You

Leading anti-cannabis advocate Dr. Kevin Sabet's new book 'Reefer Sanity' is used as ammunition by enemies of drug reform. Let's stop them now.
 
 
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Chronicle Book Review:  Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana by Kevin Sabet (2013, Beaufort Books, 198 pp., $14.95 PB)

Kevin Sabet, or "Kevin Sabet, Ph.D.," as he likes to be known, is becoming the go-to guy for arguments against marijuana legalization. A former senior advisor in the drug czar's office, he, along with former Congressman (and recovered pain pill popper) Patrick Kennedy, are the men behind  Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), an organization created to stem the tide toward marijuana legalization. His op-ed pieces now pop up with some regularity, and earlier this month, he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee as the lone witness to raise the alarm about looming legalization in Colorado, Washington, and beyond. (He was undoubtedly invited to testify at the behest of Chuck Grassley, the octogenarian Iowa Republican who appears to be the only Reefer Madness-style politician left on the committee.)

Now, Sabet has organized and expanded his arguments in book form, and people interested in changing the marijuana laws will be seriously remiss if they fail to read, understand, and address them. Not because they are necessarily correct, but because Sabet is this generation's gentler, kinder voice of marijuana prohibition. The arguments Sabet makes in Reefer Sanity are sure to be used as ammunition by the foes of reform; count on them being echoed across the land as the debate spreads from state to state.

The important thing to know about Sabet is that he generally approaches marijuana policy from a public health perspective. For him, policy is about preventing marijuana use in the first place and then reducing the harms of its use (see below) when prevention fails. Yes, he still wants to arrest you, but only for the kinder, gentler reason of getting you into forced drug treatment.

But his focus on harms exposes a curious lacuna in his thinking: he never addresses the benefits of smoking marijuana, or drinking booze, or whatever other drug is in question. An argument that says only that X number of teen potheads will go schizophrenic or that X number of marijuana users will get in car wrecks or that marijuana use will cost X dollars in increased health care costs, but that fails to note that 1000X pot smokers will endure sweet moments of bliss, hilarity, and camaraderie is an argument with half the equation missing.

Yes, we have a certain number of alcoholics. We also have tens of millions of people who derive pleasure from sipping a fine California cabernet sauvignon with dinner or enjoying a cold, cold beer during a hot summer ball game. And even someone beginning his day with a cup of coffee and a cigarette (addictive substances both) derives some small pleasure from doing so. It's hard to put a dollar figure on such positives, and even harder when you don't even consider them.

Before getting into specifics, my other major problem with Sabet's approach is his willingness to use the coercive power of the state to make us conform to his vision of the public health. As Ethan Nadelmann is fond of putting it, "absent harm to others" the state should just butt out. Sabet doesn't want people thrown in prison or jail for marijuana; he wants them thrown in coerced treatment. He doesn't want people to suffer the life-long consequences of a marijuana arrest; he just wants to arrest them to "help" them. (Sabet would like to see marijuana possession arrest records disappear so as to not hurt one's future chances, but he still wants to arrest you for your own good.)