“Smart Approaches to Marijuana” (SAM) is the country’s leading prohibitionist propaganda organization focused on keeping marijuana in the contraband markets with hard drugs.

It was founded by a longtime Drug Czar employee Kevin Sabet, PhD, who now pretends to be ever so moderate, and claims to be in favor of “decriminalizing” marijuana and just opposed to “commercialization.” Was that what he believed when he worked for the Drug Czar? Was he lying then? Or now?

Well, right now SAM has a new campaign aimed at the African American community called “Decriminalize Don’t Legalize,” which is done “In Partnership with the NAACP of Illinois.”

The SAM website has discovered the racist impact of marijuana prohibition. It acknowledges:

“People of color are almost 6 times more likely to be arrested for all drugs, including marijuana, than white people. Substance misuse and addiction should be a health issue, not a criminal justice issue. Removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession as part of a comprehensive marijuana policy is a must, as are expungement, police reform, and other justice principles within a movement for higher standards of social justice. Legalization, however, goes too far by creating a multi-billion dollar industry whose impact exacerbates many of the underlying contributors to systemic injustice.” 

That is all very true, but they don’t tell you that Sabet has spent his whole adult life supporting the policies that caused precisely those injustices.

Now SAM says they want to “decriminalize” marijuana use, but…

“SAM advocates for civil penalties for marijuana use, along with mandated treatment, and supports maintaining misdemeanor and felony charges for production and distribution.”  

Mandated? Or else?

And, of course, they are in favor of helping sick people, but:

“There is an urgent need to support expanded research for medical marijuana, and we support those efforts, so long as they are studied and approved the way we do all other medications. The bottom line is that we encourage component treatments that are safely FDA-approved, prescribed by a physician, and dispensed by a pharmacy. Project SAM supports study of components of marijuana.[1] The organization supports FDA-approved, pharmacy-based cannabis medications.”

In short, they have always opposed medical marijuana, and threatened sick and dying people with arrest, which would be a death sentence.

The bottom line is that the Drug Czar’s office has opposed any change in the ability to do the research on the medical potential of marijuana. Over the decades that Sabet has been employed by the prohibitionist police state, he has never opposed arresting sick and dying Americans … until now, so they can be forced into rehab.

And just when did Sabet break with the Drug Czar? When did he decide he opposes arresting marijuana users? Oh, except to force them into rehab.

See: The Rank Hypocrisy of Marijuana Prohibition Advocates’ Taxpayer Funding

Ironically, in the midst of the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations, calling for “Defunding the Police,” SAM has now conned a group of African American leaders into supporting crack and heroin dealers by continuing their monopoly on marijuana.


Of course, that is not what they claim they are doing, but that is a more accurate description of what they are actually doing than SAM’s description of their supposed concern about medical users.

There are many reasons why contraband drugs (or any other products) are more dangerous than legal products. Legal products are subject to quality control for purity, package labeling for potency, and brand names so that the producers have a vested interest in the products’ reputation. Because marijuana has no effective lethal dose, it is far less dangerous than any other legal or illegal drugs, but it is always better to know what it is.

However, leaving marijuana in the contraband markets poses a real threat to the African American community, and everyone else, because it will be a subsidy and a promotional tool for hard drug dealers.

In the Netherlands, marijuana has been sold over-the-counter to anyone — 18 or over — for more than 40 years. And by any measure, Dutch public health policies are vastly more successful than the Drug Czar’s.

In a Dutch coffeeshop (there are about 700 around the country) no one will offer you hard drugs. They call it the “Separation of the Markets” and apparently it works, while U.S. drugs policies are a major disaster. “With a rate of 314.5 deaths per million and an estimated total of 67,367 drug-related deaths in 2018, the U.S. lost more lives to the use of drugs than the next 20 countries combined.” The Dutch lost 262 people to drug overdoses. (None to marijuana.)

And yet the Dutch have a lower rate of marijuana use than the US:32.9% of Americans aged 12 and above have experience with cannabis and 5.1% have used in the past month. These figures are twice as high as those in the Netherlands.

SAM’s party line is that legalization will mean that “Big Marijuana” is going to be a replica of the alcohol and tobacco industries, but tobacco and alcohol are very different from cannabis.

An estimated 88,0005 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually.”

Alcohol-related violence is a major problem in America, but it especially devastating in the poor urban communities of color. “On average, roughly 40 percent of inmates who are incarcerated for violent offenses were under the influence of alcohol during the time of their crime. Many of these criminals had an estimated blood alcohol content (BAC) level of more than three times the legal limit at the time of their arrest.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that nearly one-quarter of all public substance abuse treatment admissions in 2008 were African Americans. (African Americans make up approximately 13 percent of the population.)

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that this demographic suffers from more negative consequences of alcohol use, including more injuries, illnesses and negative social consequences that are alcohol-related.

Meanwhile, back in The Netherlands, the police are almost never called to deal with violent cannabis consumers. The only violence associated with marijuana is related to the contraband markets that SAM wants to perpetuate.

And as for tobacco…

Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day. On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.”

As for cannabis? Nothing is harmless for everyone at all doses and in all circumstances,  and harmlessness is not a criterion for the legalization of anything.

See: Weed: Can it kill you?

But is marijuana prohibition harmless? There have been more than 22 million arrests in the last 50 years. But now, with Covid-19 raging through our jails and  prisons, just being arrested can be a death sentence.

The Drug Czar’s little helper may say that he opposes jailing marijuana users, but in the real world, should the African American clergy trust narcs?

Richard Cowan is a former NORML National Director and author of the weekly syndicated column Marijuana Weekly News.


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