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.