Kevin Sabet is not one of the more than 70 percent of Floridians who want Amendment 2 to pass in November.
Sabet -- director of the drug policy institute at the University of Florida and a professor at the college of medicine there too -- is one of the few experts who's been outspoken in opposition to the medical marijuana movement. Originally from California, he witnessed the effects of legalization there and claims it's one of the reasons he's so passionately against medical marijuana. He's worked in the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations, so he insists that he comes at the issue with a nonpartisan point of view. He's cofounder and director of Smarter Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and works closely with Patrick Kennedy on the left and David Frum (former speechwriter for George W. Bush) on the right.
Sabet spoke up to explain his side of the medical marijuana debate.
10. People have misinterpreted Dr. Sanjay Gupta's stance on medicinal marijuana. In 2009, Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, wrote an article for Time magazine called "Why I Would Vote No on Pot." He thought the movement was a cover for people who really wanted to get high. But last year, he publicly changed his stance, apologizing and explaining that he'd read more medical research and was now supportive of the potential to use weed as medicine. Says Sabet: "Sanjay Gupta I think has been misinterpreted by a lot of folks. He is saying we need to study marijuana for medicinal purposes. He isn't coming out and saying everyone should smoke marijuana. He isn't coming out for legalization. I think what he said -- unfortunately the headline producers have put on it -- have been more about gaining controversy than even really representing 100 percent of his views. I have spoken with him. He isn't in favor of legalization at all. I don't think he prefers smoking as a delivery system, and yet what would happen in Florida is de facto legalization via smoking smoking, and it's a problem."
9. Softening attitudes toward marijuana put children at risk. "The science shows us that one out of every six kids who starts using marijuana will become addicted. That's not a controversy; that's a scientific fact. If you start in adulthood, one in ten or one in 11 adults [will become addicted to marijuana]. The adolescent brain is under construction until about age 25 or 28. Anything that comes into contact with your brain has the potential to stay with you your whole life -- good things and bad things. One of those bad things are drugs. Marijuana has that distinction going in one in every six 16-year-olds will become addicted. I don't think writers of the petition want kids to become addicted, but when we increase the acceptability and normalization [of marijuana] -- look at what's happening in Colorado and California. Do Floridians want their state to look like that? That's the question the needs to be asked. That's all it comes down to in November."
8. There are alternatives to medical marijuana legalization. "There are clinical trials and scientific programs [those who are suffering or have loved ones suffering from a debilitating disease] can enroll in. If you have cancer or uncontrollable muscular spasticity or your child has Dravet syndrome, there are scientific programs to enroll to get marijuana-derived medications in a safe way. Those are being sanctioned by the FDA. On the other hand, I don't begrudge anybody from getting anything that they want to make themselves or their loved ones feel better. But this is the right way to do it in Florida."
7. Marijuana possession arrests are higher in lower-income neighborhoods where African-Americans and Hispanics are unfairly targeted. But passing medical marijuana will not solve social injustice. "I would say that all crimes are focused too much on minorities. So the idea that you can legalize marijuana and solve social justice and move forward is laughable, I think. Secondly, more importantly, the alcohol model shows us that alcohol is much more prevalent. There are eight times as many liquor stores in poor neighborhoods than upper-class neighborhoods. You want to look at rates, look at any form of drug. If you wanna look at what the lottery does, it targets the poor. Those are legal and addictive things. Legalization of marijuana is going to contribute more disparity, not less."
6. CBD is fine, but Amendment 2 is not just about passing CBD. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a component in marijuana and is said to offer medically beneficial properties without the psychoactive properties of THC. Some growers in states where weed is legal are specifically growing strains heavy on CBD. Says Sabet: "[CBD] would be for a very small population. I do think that would be a good example of a medicine at a pharmacy that's CBD-derived. That's fine. That's good. We have to do more research and have it available at pharmacies. Passing this initiative is not going to be putting CBD into people's hands. We aren't going to know what we're getting. There is no oversight. There isn't going to be any independent body looking to see what's actually in the medication."
5. Just because alcohol and tobacco are legal doesn't mean marijuana should be. "Those are the last models we would want to use. We are stuck with those models. That's why we aren't arguing for prohibition even though [it would prevent] hundred of thousands of deaths a year. [Alcohol and tobacco industries] make up a multibillion-dollar machine. Why would we want to mimic that with marijuana? We would want to do something much better than that with marijuana."
4. Passing medical marijuana will lead to de facto legalization. "It doesn't matter what the intent [of the amendment] is. The effect is going to be de facto legalization. The way it is written, the law, the way it is being [carried out] in other states is de facto legalization. I'm not going to have an argument about their intent; the effect is going to be de facto legalization. If you want to make it a medical model, we need to make it a medicine. Smoking a joint and growing it in your home is not what a medicine is."
3. Florida's pain pill mills will become pot mills. "What we worry about in Florida is that the infamous pill mills will become pot mills. It's going to be a similar problem with marijuana instead of prescription drugs. And today's marijuana is not your marijuana of the '60s -- it's ten to 30 times stronger, often concocted by combusting butane and often consumed in cookies, brownies... and they are marketed to kids.
2. Medical professionals did not craft the petition. "What we are really worried about is creating the next tobacco industry, except this time it would be the marijuana industry. There is a right way to do marijuana as medicine, but, not surprisingly, the way it is written by a trial lawyer and Democratic pollster is not the right way. We need it done by doctors and public health officials. And that would be in the context of a pharmacy, and that's not what this initiative is about at all."
1. There is a medicinal value in opium too. "There is a medical value in marijuana; the question is how do we deliver that value? Just like there is a medical value in opium, we wouldn't ask someone to smoke opium; we would ask them to take morphine. The same thing should be the case with marijuana. We need to have marijuana-derived medications at pharmacies under direction of a doctor."
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