Former RI Rep. Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, has formed a group to lobby against laws legalizing marijuana, which have been passed in 17 states, despite a federal ban. Kennedy is going against the tide, at the same time that the White House is escalating its pro-legalization campaign.
Kennedy's group, Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) will lobby for expanded medical treatment for marijuana and drug abuse. Kennedy is reported to be skeptical about medical marijuana, which he says misdirects compassion for cancer sufferers and others into support for an extreme drug policy.
Kennedy's group has already been attacked by the Marijuana Policy Project, the top pro-pot lobby in Washington, which called SAM "extremist," in a petition it is circulating, and begs for donations with an image of Kennedy next to the words "Help Us Stop Him." The potheads accuse Kennedy's organization of planning to force marijuana consumers into treatment and marijuana education classes.
Kennedy's group is warning of a public-health crisis unless a science-based approach is taken to minimizing the harmful consequences of marijuana — especially among youth. According to the Globe, SAM supports making the medicinal properties of marijuana available to patients, and is in favor of decriminalizing recreational use and keeping users out of jail. But it says that marijuana should remain a controlled substance.
A leader of Kennedy's group, Dr. Sharon Levy, a top pediatrician at Children's Hospital Boston and a Cambridge-based drug policy expert, puts it straight: "There is a lot of messaging from those who support legalization that marijuana is a benign substance," in an interview to the Globe.. "People are voting on policy but they don't have the whole story here." Like Kennedy, she said she is most concerned with the welfare of children and teenagers.
"Marijuana is really bad for your brain, she said, citing depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline. "Research also shows it can be addictive for some and trigger psychosis in those genetically predisposed to it.... Like cigarettes, marijuana suppliers' most profitable customers are adolescents, who are the most vulnerable and will most suffer from long-term affects."
Kennedy, who retired from Congress in 2010, has suffered from mental illness and cosponsored legislation that required health insurance companies to treat mental illness in the same way as physical ailments.
[This intelligence comes from articles in the Providence Journal, AP, the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post Jan. 8-9.]
Meanwhile, the Obama White House, in the person of drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, has responded to three drug-legalization petitions posted on its website, one to remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substance Act and allow the states to decide how they want to regulate it, which has 66,000 signatures.
Kerlikowske, in a message recently posted on the White House website, said nothing about enforcing the law, but repeated the line that the U.S. is in a "national conversation" on the issue. He then referred people to Obama's interview with Barbara Walters, in which he said the same, and noted that Congress has not yet acted [to legalize drugs].