Fecteau: Kennedy is Wrong on Weed

Sunday, March 12, 2017
Matt Fecteau, GoLocalProv Guest MINDSETTERâ„¢

Patrick Kennedy
I support marijuana regulation and legalization. This isn’t about being a rebel; it is the right thing to do for Rhode Island and the rest of the country. While I am not a user myself, an adult should have the ability to make up his own mind, and there are additional fiscal incentives. With that being said, I oppose Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s position on the issue. In an interview with GoLocalProv, Mr. Kennedy said it is like “adding fuel to the addiction fire.” In a nutshell, Kennedy is concerned regulating marijuana would become the next industry (“big marijuana” as he calls it) influencing people to buy it – including young people. 

Full disclosure: I worked for Mr. Kennedy and respect him very much, but friends can have disagreements on public policy. Despite what Mr. Kennedy says, we need to legalize and regulate marijuana just like we regulate alcohol. It’s insanity to repeat the mistakes of the 1920s alcohol prohibition on marijuana today, yet that’s just what we have done since the 1960s. 

Kennedy has a strong influence over both the Rhode Island General Assembly and federal delegation. He was a state representative and a Congressman. His political clout runs deep in Rhode Island and is part of the reason Congressman David Cicilline switched from supporting marijuana regulation to wanting further investigating. 

Mr. Kennedy is a member of a group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana or SAM. This group is dedicated to allegedly finding smarter approaches to address marijuana usage. SAM’s approach seems to be simply prohibition with a different name. Instead of regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol, their approach means marijuana would remain an illegal substance federally and there would be civil penalties such as mandatory drug testing in even for people caught with a small amount of marijuana. People selling marijuana would face stiff jail sentences, sometimes even worse than what they would be given under current law. 

Kennedy and SAM are not entirely wrong. People can grow dependent on marijuana use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse calls this “marijuana use disorder.” According to their website, 30% of those who use marijuana develop a marijuana use disorder, and those who use marijuana before they reach the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop marijuana use disorder. 

However, the evidence on dependence is far from conclusive. A rival group called Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) takes a more liberal position. This group advocates for marijuana to be regulated like alcohol. They want it regulated and taxed while ensuring it stays out of the hands of children. If it is regulated like alcohol, only individuals 21 years or older would be able to purchase it – a reasonable policy that has worked well with liquor stores. 

If Kennedy and other marijuana legalization opponents are concerned about keeping marijuana out of the reach of children, why don’t they support regulation? Regulating marijuana – either at the federal or state level – would keep it illegal for those under 21 to purchase marijuana. Isn’t this exactly what opponents want? To keep marijuana far from “developing brains,” as Kennedy mentioned in past interviews. This is best accomplished by the very regulation he opposes because it redirects resources away from prosecuting adults and towards preventing teen marijuana use. 

The threat of “big marijuana” means little if there are laws in place that keep it from children. In fact, large companies would be under heavier pressure not to market to children than current drug dealers are, especially in the shadow of the big tobacco scandals. This is what groups like SAM seem to miss. 

Critics argue, as Kennedy does, that regulating marijuana would ensure easier access for children but evidence disagrees. Let’s take Colorado as a prime example. Colorado regulates marijuana similarly to alcohol. If Kennedy were correct, marijuana use by teens in Colorado would be skyrocketing. Federal data proves that hasn’t happened. Instead, teen marijuana use fell sharply. 

While I sincerely like Mr. Kennedy, he and SAM are wrong on this issue. MPP has a commonsense approach that works for everyone while keeping marijuana out of the reach of the children in the process. It is long past due to legalize and regulate marijuana.   

Matt Fecteau ([email protected]) of Pawtucket, Rhode Island was a Democratic candidate for office in 2014 and 2016. He is a former White House national security intern and Iraq war veteran. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewFecteau

  • Supports

    RegulateRI

    Jared Moffat with RegulateRI pointed to Colorado’s regulated marijuana system generating more than $135 million in revenue in 2015 -- as well as potential competition from Massachusetts if they legalize marijuana first -- as reasons for Rhode Island lawmakers to act on the legislation this year. 

    “Vermont and Massachusetts, we should be well aware of the fact that they're moving seriously towards legalization,” said Moffat. “We've had the debate for five years now -- and it's coming. The question is now do we want to get ahead of the curve. Our hope is that now that tolls vote happened, that this will be the next thing that fills the void."

     
  • Opposed

    Rhode Island Medical Society

    "Legislatively, we have nine point policy on drugs, and the last one is we don't support legalization.  It's not specific to marijuana, but it's the closest the [American Medical Association] comes to policy," said Steve DeToy, RIMS Director of Public Affairs.

    "We support medical marijuana. Taxing the patient isn't something we'd support, but if it's for regulating an unregulated supply system, we support that," said DeToy. "Rhode Island has two types of suppliers, one is the compassion centers that have had strict oversight, and the other is the caregivers' side which hasn't had the same level of protections and oversight at this time."

     
  • Supports

    NAACP Providence Branch

    NAACP Providence Branch President Jim Vincent serves on the RegulateRI coalition -- and offered the following:

    "The New England Area Conference [of the NAACP] voted in favor of the legislation.  It continues to be an issue that tears apart our community, this war on drugs. It's a key factor why our community is suffering, when we can be keeping people out of jail for something that can be regulated," said Vincent. 

    "Legalization is many issues -- it's social justice. for others its medicinal, they for others its a tax raising issue," said Vincent. "I'm staying on the social justice."

     
  • Opposed

    RI Taxpayers

    "Marijuana will be the next great debate.  With leadership unwilling to address their broken culture of inefficiency and questionable ethics, they will look to any source for future funds that will not impact the current culture," said RI Taxpayers' Larry Girouard. "Tolls, pot, gambling and other initiatives do not require leadership to change anything. They just tap new funding sources."
     
    "When you have the most hostile business climate in the continental US, one would think there would be ample examples of things leadership might initiate to improve our business climate. Of course this would mean that leadership would need to make a few unpopular decisions, something that they seem unwilling to do. Name one thing that leadership has done over the last 5 years that demonstrates that they are really serious about changing Rhode Island’s abysmal anti-business brand. It is easier to create new sources of income, like tolls," said Larry Girouard.

     
  • Neutral

    Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity

    "Our statement is we're not 'pro' or con until we do more research," said Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse. "Our question is, if it's a lot like alcohol, and supporters say why don't we just tax it like that, then do we think more 'alcohol' for young Rhode Islanders is a good or bad thing?"

    "When government in its voracious appetite for new revenue considers legislation that could arguably provide great societal or individual harm, you have to consider the pros and cons," said Stenhouse. "We'd have to look at Colorado and other states for the impact there."

    "As for [taxing] medical marijuana, if we're taxing it simply as a revenue source, it's government out of control," said Stenhouse. "And if we try and overregulate, we know there's a huge black market for cigarettes already in Rhode Island."

     
  • Supports

    RI Progressive Democrats

    "We support a legalize, tax, and regulate approach," said Sam Bell with the RI Progressive Democrats."

    As for the Governor's proposal to tax medical marijuana caregivers and patients?

    "We have not taken a formal position, but I would imaging the majority of our group would be opposed," said Bell. 

     

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