Smart Approaches to Marijuana chapter takes root in Vermont
By Julia Purdy
At the start of 2012, both Colorado and Washington State voters legalized recreational marijuana. However, the votes amounted to nothing like a landslide, as many expected, with about half the counties in each state voting against it — a push-back has been building since.
As a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in Vermont appears likely this legislative season, Vermonters are now also organizing opposition under the umbrella of the grass-roots organization SAM-VT (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), a Vermont affiliate of a national network, Project SAM.
SAM was co-founded by former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy and Kevin Sabet, a former senior White House drug policy advisor, to develop a “third way” of dealing with the proliferation of marijuana use in this country, and the push to legalize recreational use. Former George W. Bush speechwriter and Newsweek/Daily Beast columnist David Frum, Harvard Professor Sharon Levy, Denver Health’s Chris Thurstone, University of Kansas tobacco cessation specialist Kimber Richter, and Kevin Sabet also serve on the board of SAM.
SAM is a bipartisan organization of lawmakers, knowledgeable professionals, and concerned citizens advocating for “smart marijuana policies grounded in neither incarceration nor legalization,” according to a press release posted to the organization’s website by Sabet.
The concern, which began with medical marijuana, has been the need for coherent, science-based understanding of how marijuana works in the body, how it affects public health and safety, and how to keep usage from spreading beyond safe limits. An equally compelling concern is the cost-benefit equation, which is already proving to have social costs that outweigh the revenues garnered by state fees and taxes, many claim. The federal government’s lenient approach worries many, who foresaw two years ago “more drugged driving accidents, more school drop-outs, and poorer health outcomes as a new Big Marijuana industry targeting kids and minorities emerges to fuel the flames,” in the words of Patrick Kennedy.
Project SAM, along with the American Society of Addiction Medicine and other groups, launched its national campaign with a full-page ad in the Aug. 2, 2014, edition of the New York Times, laying out SAM’s four primary goals:
To inform public policy with the science of today’s potent marijuana;
To prevent the establishment of “Big Marijuana”—and a 21st-Century tobacco industry that would market marijuana to children;
To promote research of marijuana’s medical properties and produce non-smoked, non-psychoactive pharmacy-attainable medications; and
To have an adult conversation about reducing the unintended consequences of current marijuana policies, such as lifelong stigma due to arrest.
SAM-VT began last summer with George Merkel, Vergennes Chief of Police, among those leading the charge. The organization started as a discussion of concerned Vermonters who knew the dangers of marijuana and were concerned we were headed towards legalization. After reviewing the research literature, they found legalization was a big mistake.
Anyone can join in the discussion. SAM-VT holds regular conference calls with members to share the research that is cutting edge, brainstorm public information strategies, and support each other in the campaign to educate Vermonters to the potential social, health, economic, and public-safety ramifications of marijuana legalization.
Debbie Haskins is the volunteer executive director of SAM-VT. Haskins has met with the Principals’ and Superintendents’ Association as well as several local school principals and superintendents. Several members have spoken to business groups and local churches.
On Jan. 9, 2015, SAM-VT will hold a Legislative Day at the State House to show our opposition to legalization and to educate the legislators. SAM-VT representatives have already met with individual legislators.
Other actions include writing editorials and letters to the editor in the weeks to come, poster campaigns and blogs, and some folks will be taking steps to take the issue before Town Meeting. The thrust is to educate Vermonters with facts regarding the public health and safety issues surrounding legalization of recreational marijuana in Vermont.
SAM-VT is one of 21 local SAM affiliates, including Alaska, Ariz., Calif., Colo.,Conn., Hawaii, Ind., Iowa, Maine, Md., Mass., Minn., Missouri, Nev., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, R.I., Wash., and Wisc.
For more information visit www.sam-vt.org, or http://learnaboutsam.org, or call 802-456-1479.