Largest National Coalition of Public Health, Family, Substance Use Education Groups to Oppose Developing Federal Marijuana Legalization Policy, Launch Parent Action Network

Key reasons for opposition include unregulated THC concentrations, impaired driving, youth-targeted marketing and marijuana-induced mental health concerns

What: SAM to hold day long Summit at annual Rx Summit on marijuana policy issues

Who: Patrick J. Kennedy; Kevin Sabet, Co-Founders of SAM; Head of Illinois NAACP Teresa Haley; Nora Volkow, Director of NIDA; Washington State Rep Lauren Davis (Interviews available with all names listed)

When: Thursday, April 21, 2022 9am Georgia World Congress Center, International Ballroom Section A-D (Omni), Click here for schedule

Topics Available to Media: Pending marijuana policy perspective, expert opinion on the state of cannabis, pot myths that thrive unchecked, concerned and bereaved parents to discuss anecdotal experience with marijuana dependence

Official Release:

(April 21, 2022, Atlanta, GA) Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization co-founded by former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, will lead a broad coalition of health, safety, and other national organizations and experts to announce their opposition to the current momentum of marijuana commercialization in Washington, specifically regarding the recently House-passed MORE Act and upcoming bill that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to bring to the floor at some point this session. The passage and combination of both into one congressional act would fully commercialize and legalize the non-medical use and sales of unlimited THC potency across the US. The group emphasized that similar state-level policies have had catastrophic results and is calling on Congress to prevent these issues from becoming a national health crisis.

Among the key risk factors that the bills fails to address are:

  • Lack of data on how marijuana use impacts people with underlying mental health issues, particularly among youth
  • Lack of public information, education, or regulatory solutions around the impact of increased THC concentrations
  • Increased usage among minors
  • Increase in marijuana-related traffic fatalities
  • Big Tobacco takeover of the marijuana industry which is primed by Altria’s recent billion-dollar investment in the industry

While SAM supports removing criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession and recognizes people of color have been disproportionately impacted, full legalization opens the door to the mass commercialization of marijuana and marketing efforts that will distort the public’s understanding of the harm it poses to public safety and health.

“No one should go to jail for a joint, but Chuck Schumer and the MORE Act in the House are creating a commercial addiction industry overnight with a blank check to Big Tobacco stapled to the bill,” said Kevin Sabet, founder of SAM. “Weed has been supercharged by this industry to a level we have never seen before. To hastily legalize the drug with few safety measures is certain to produce the same failures we have seen in California, Colorado, Oregon, and other states. If we allow it to become commercialized, we’ll see the industry follow Big Tobacco’s example of suppressing information about health and safety risks, and profiting from the most vulnerable communities.”

Patrick Kennedy, the former congressman from Rhode Island and founder of the Kennedy Forum is a co-founder and honorary chair of Smart Approaches to Marijuana and a leading advocate for mental health and addiction policy. Kennedy will give a keynote address Thursday April 21 with SAM Co-Founder Kevin Sabet and Nora Voklow, Executive Director of the National Institute for Drug Addiction (NIDA) on Clinical Outcomes of Marijuana Use”.  The schedule and content of SAM’s summit on 4/21 can be viewed here.

“The marijuana industry is targeting our families and our youth, in the midst of a mental health crisis. The candies, ads, and elixirs all targeting children show us the road to legalization takes us to a place irreparably harmful to our future. I’m proud to stand with the new Parent Action Network and the health professionals at the SAM Summit to fight for public health and safety,” said Kennedy about the launch of the Parents Action Network.

In Colorado, the percentage of traffic fatalities in which drivers tested positive for marijuana  has increased more than 75% since legalization. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates federal legalization will lead to nearly 7,000 stoned driving deaths a year. Marijuana use among people ages 18-25 is 14% higher in Colorado than the national average, and cases of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) in people over 18 is 3.2% higher. In all states in which marijuana has been legalized, there has been a 25% increase in Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) among 12-17 year olds.

States that have legalized marijuana have not enforced regulations strongly (the Oregon Liquor Control Commission reported that it had only one inspector for every 83 marijuana licenses) and have not imposed potency limits. While marijuana grown in the 1970s typically had THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) of only 1-3%, today’s marijuana typically has 17.1%, and edibles have an average concentration of 55.7%; many marijuana retailers have products available with THC potency of 95-99%.

This trend, and the lack of regulation, is particularly alarming for mental health officials given the link between high THC marijuana and psychosis. According to a study published in psychiatric journal The Lancet, daily users of high-potency marijuana had four-times the odds of developing psychosis compared with those who have never used marijuana.

“Marijuana is now more dangerous and life-threatening than ever before,” said Aubree Adams, a parent from Colorado. “Due to the increased accessibility of dabs, vape pens, and candies, the industry can easily make products that disguise usage from parents and hook our youth. These toxic products are addictive and can cause severe mental illnesses like episodes of psychosis.”

Another parent, Sally Schindel, said, “My son Andy left a warning in his suicide note: My soul is already dead. Marijuana killed my soul + ruined my brain. Cannabis can kill kids: Andy’s note told us how it can do that. Several years of diagnosed severe Cannabis Use Disorder, paranoia, depression and severe mental illness killed my son’s soul, ruined his brain and led him to many suicide attempts before he succeeded at taking his life at age 31.”

“When our lawmakers talk about legalizing marijuana, they talk about it like it’s chamomile tea and that it has no side effects and there’s no downside to using it,” said Heidi Swan, a board member for Parents Opposed to Pot. “But have they told us about the physical side effects, the mental side effects and the increased problems to society?”

SAM has convened an advocacy group of parents whose children have experienced mental health issues due to marijuana use. They are pushing legislators to gather more data and research on marijuana’s mental health impacts before considering legalization. Among them are the parents above and others like Laura and John Stack, whose son Johnny battled with psychosis and schizophrenia as a result of using marijuana, which he started after it was legalized in Colorado, and ultimately died by suicide.

The Parent Action Network (PAN) can be found online at ParentAction.Network.

About SAM

Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) is an alliance of organizations and individuals dedicated to a health-first approach to marijuana policy. We are professionals working in mental health and public health. We are bipartisan. We are medical doctors, lawmakers, treatment providers, preventionists, teachers, law enforcement officers and others who seek a middle road between incarceration and legalization. Our commonsense, third-way approach to marijuana policy is based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety.