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Ex-Rep. Patrick Kennedy brings marijuana-education effort to Denver

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 10, 2013 at 10:42 pm •  Published: January 10, 2013
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Before former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy Jr. could introduce his national initiative to educate the public and policymakers about the health risks of pot use, he was taken to task as head of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

"If Patrick Kennedy and his new organization want people to be educated about marijuana, he should start with himself," said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project and a leader in the successful campaign to legalize recreational pot use in Colorado . "The evidence is clear — marijuana is far less addictive and less harmful to the body than alcohol."

Tvert held an inpromptu press conference outside the Denver Press Club on Thursday morning about an hour before Kennedy and other members of the SAM coalition made their pitch.

Tvert said that anyone attempting to be a public educator about the health risks associated with marijuana must openly and honestly address how much more dangerous legal controlled substances like alcohol and tobacco are to public safety.

Inside the club, Kennedy, backed by a panel of doctors and politicians, disagreed.

Dr. Christian Thurstone, a Denver psychiatrist who conducts federally funded research on marijuana addiction, rattled off statistics about teenage marijuana use and addiction that contradicted claims of the drug's supposed harmlessness.

"Fifty-eight percent of all new users are under 18," he said. "And one in six who try it become addicted."

Thurstone said two-thirds of adolescents referred to his substance abuse clinic at Denver Health are there because of marijuana. High school expulsion rates for use or possession of weed is up 40 percent, he said.

As described by former drug policy adviser to the White House Kevin Sabet, SAM aims to spur a discussion of topics around marijuana use and misuse that he said were largely ignored during debates last year.

According to a news release from SAM, these topics include: the science of "today's marijuana;" the unintended consequences of pot policies, including the stigma of arrest; the possibility that the tobacco industry will morph into "big marijuana" and market to children; the understanding of marijuana's medical properties and research to produce "pharmacy-attainable medications."

Kennedy said marijuana legalization "slipped under the radar" and happened so quickly in Colorado and Washington that a counter organization had no room to speak and people "didn't know what their stake was in the debate."

He said SAM will give those groups a voice, finally.

Amendment 64, which legalized recreational use of marijuana in Colorado, passed with 55 percent of the vote. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2000.

During the campaign to legalize recreational pot use, the No on 64 campaign raised just shy of $700,000 to fight the measure, about a quarter of the $2.5 million two main campaigns backing Amendment 64 raised.

"Like everyone else who woke up after Election Day and saw that (marijuana legalization) was moving fast in states like Colorado, I realized it looked as though the domino effect could move to other states quicker," Kennedy said. "I want to slow this train down and begin a discussion before other states rush to judgment."

Megan Mitchell: 303-954-1223, mmitchell@denverpost.com or twitter.com/megs_report


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