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Debunking Kevin Sabet’s Anti-Marijuana Arguments

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(via wikipedia)

Yesterday, while I was taking a break from pushing paper in my cubicle, I was checking Facebook on my phone and saw a link that was posted by two of my friends. The link was to an article that marijuana opponent Kevin Sabet wrote for the Heritage Foundation. In the article, Kevin Sabet lays out his arguments against marijuana reform, which are the same arguments that he has been saying over, and over at his speaking engagements. Below are my rebuttals to his arguments. There are many, many links in both his text and mine, but I think it’s good to provide as many references as possible. Kevin Sabet’s statements are in bold font, and mine are in plain font:

“This increased potency has translated to more than 400,000 emergency room visits every year due to things like acute psychotic episodes and panic attacks.”

Doesn’t say how those visits were determined. Did they literally ask the question, ‘Are you here because you are having a psychotic episode or panic attack due to smoking marijuana?’ Or did they see that the person was there for a psychotic episode or panic attack, asked them if they had smoked marijuana in the last month, and then made the leap that the two are directly correlated? Did they take into account people’s past mental health history? It’s impossible to accept a statistic like that at face value. Sure, it sounds good when you are trying to spread propaganda, but anyone who is smart is going to want to know more.

“Mental health researchers are also noting the significant marijuana connection with schizophrenia, and educators are seeing how persistent marijuana use can blunt academic motivation and significantly reduce IQ by up to eight points, according to a very large recent study in New Zealand. Add to these side-effects new research now finding that even casual marijuana use can result in observable differences in brain structure, specifically parts of the brain that regulate emotional processing, motivation and reward. Indeed, marijuana use hurts our ability to learn and compete in a competitive global workplace.”

After reading Kevin Sabet’s claims, make sure to also read this Harvard study which found that marijuana does not cause schizophrenia, and for an equally worthy read, check out this study that found that marijuana actually helps those suffering from schizophrenia. As far as how marijuana affects the brain, check out this article by Paul Armentano of NORML. If you read that article and still believe Kevin Sabet’s claims, you should probably see a doctor about your own brain health. Marijuana use does not hurt our ability to compete in a global workplace. For evidence of that, you should read this article by the Huffington Post which offers up numerous examples of people that are extremely successful and consume marijuana.

“Additionally, marijuana users pose dangers on the road, despite popular myth.”

This is a favorite argument for marijuana opponents. They act like there will be a small army of stoned drivers on the roads the instant that marijuana is legalized. To debunk this claim, I offer up an article that lists numerous links showing that marijuana and dangerous driving are not associated, a link to a video with Russ Belville breaking down how the ‘stoned driving’ claims are false, and a link to a Time article highlighting how medical marijuana laws lower traffic fatalities in the states that passed them. The only myth being spread around is that marijuana reform results in a crisis on public roads, which is clearly not true.

“While the marijuana plant has known medical value, that does not mean smoked or ingested whole marijuana is medicine. This position is in line with the American Medical Association, American Society of Addiction Medicine, American Glaucoma Foundation, National MS Society, and American Cancer Society.

If something has medical value, how is it not medicine? Marijuana or otherwise? If marijuana is not medicine, than why does the federal government have a patent on it? Why does the federal government supply smokable medical marijuana to four patients every month, and has been for many, many years? What about the people that use medical marijuana and successfully find relief, are they liars? The National Epilepsy Foundation has called for increased access to medical marijuana, the American Academy of Neurology has endorsed medical marijuana, and a survey of 1,446 doctors from 72 countries found that medical marijuana is an effective treatment for breast cancer patients. To say that marijuana isn’t medicine is a slap in the face to science, logic, and compassion.

“But legalizing marijuana will not make a significant dent in our imprisonment rates. That is because less than 0.3 percent of all state prison inmates are there for smoking marijuana. Moreover, most people arrested for marijuana use are cited with a ticket—very few serve time behind bars unless it is in the context of a probation or parole violation.”

There is quite a bit of debate as to how many people are serving jail/prison sentences for marijuana only offenses. However, I would ask the question ‘why is ANYONE serving jail time for a marijuana only offense?’ .3, 3.3, 33.3, does it really matter? No jail bed should be reserved for a marijuana offender when so many dangerous, violent criminals go free due to lack of jail space. The punishment simply doesn’t fit the act, whether it’s one day, or in the case of Jeff Mizansky in Missouri, a life sentence.

To claim that most people just get a ticket is a just plain wrong. Some people get tickets, but others get misdemeanors and felonies. Most lose their driving privileges for a time. Most lose their ability to get financial aid in college. Many lose their right to own a firearm. In a case of a close friend, he couldn’t even coach his son’s soccer team because he had a felony on his record for marijuana cultivation. How is that right? Getting the ‘scarlet letter’ for a marijuana offense is far from simply getting a piece of paper instructing you to pay a fine. It can, and often does, ruin your life. How is that OK Mr. Sabet?

“Marijuana is safer than alcohol, so marijuana should be treated like alcohol” is a catchy, often-used mantra in the legalization debate. But this assumes that our alcohol policy is something worth modeling. In fact, because they are used at such high rate due to their wide availability, our two legal intoxicants cause more harm, are the cause of more arrests, and kill more people than all illegal drugs combined. Why add a third drug to our list of legal killers?

No one has ever died from a marijuana overdose. Also, no one is saying ‘regulate marijuana like cigarettes’ so why is that even included in Mr. Sabet’s argument? Marijuana does not cause more arrests, aside from being arrested for marijuana obviously.  Marijuana as a ‘legal killer?’ Seriously? Repeat – no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose. Ever. In the history of the world.

Unfortunately, we can’t expect  societal financial gain from marijuana legalization. For every $1 in revenue the U.S. receives in alcohol and tobacco taxes, we spend more than $10 in social costs.

I have heard Mr. Sabet repeat this argument over, and over, and over. It’s almost as if he believes that if he repeats it enough, people will equate the social and physical harms of alcohol and tobacco with marijuana. The problem with that being MARIJUANA IS NOT ALCOHOL OR TOBACCO. For the love of mankind Mr. Sabet, quit using this argument. Throwing out statistics about how much it costs society for alcohol and tobacco is irrelevant. Marijuana has never killed anyone. Marijuana doesn’t rot your liver. Marijuana does not increase crime, specifically violent crime. Marijuana is safer than tobacco. Marijuana is not associated with the pulmonary complications that are associated with tobacco use.

Mr. Sabet is comparing apples to oranges. Statistics are not available yet out of Colorado as far as social costs, but I guarantee the state does not spend/receive at the same ratio as alcohol or tobacco. In January alone, Colorado brought in 3.5 million dollars in marijuana related taxes. Show me 3.5 million dollars for the entire year in social costs to Colorado and I’ll gladly shut up. Mr. Sabet, please, please, for the sake of sanity, academics, and common sense, quit using this argument.

“Portugal and Holland provide successful models of legalization.”

No American, other than marijuana opponents, uses this argument anymore. I don’t know anyone right now that is pointing to Portugal or Holland. Everyone I know and work with points to Colorado. Inconveniently for Kevin Sabet, a poll was just released that shows majority of people in Colorado think ‘marijuana legalization is good for the state.‘ No need to look to other countries for examples Mr. Sabet, just look to the State of Colorado, which is clearly a success.

Less than 8 percent of Americans smoke marijuana versus 52 percent who drink and 27 percent of people that smoke tobacco cigarettes. Coupled with its legal status, efforts to reduce demand for marijuana can work. Communities that implement local strategies implemented by area-wide coalitions of parents, schools, faith communities, businesses, and, yes, law enforcement, can significantly reduce marijuana use. Brief interventions and treatment for marijuana addiction (which affects about 1 in 6 kids who start using, according to the National Institutes of Health) can also work.”

Most of that statement I actually agree with. Yes, lets build a coalition. I’m not all for the treatment part, but if people want to voluntarily go to treatment, by all means, let them go if you want to. But lets be clear – forcing someone into rehab and having them voluntarily attend treatment are two different things. We can’t take the approach of ‘if you use marijuana, than you are an addict, and therefore you need treatment.’ Not everyone who uses marijuana needs treatment, just as not everyone that uses alcohol needs treatment.

***

In summary, Kevin Sabet is incorrect with most of his anti-marijuana arguments. He relies on examples from the tobacco and alcohol industries, both of which are far more harmful than marijuana. That’s not a matter of opinion, or spin. It’s a fact. Science and studies clearly prove that. I will agree with him that marijuana policy is not easy, but locking even one person in jail and/or ruining even one person’s life for marijuana use is wrong on many levels. Saying that marijuana isn’t medicine, knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of examples of people successfully using it instead of other substances that are more harmful, is ridiculous at best.

Marijuana prohibition is an extremely racist public policy, and there is no place in America in 2014 for racism. Police and jail resources are limited, and should be dedicated to REAL crime. Kevin Sabet cannot refute those arguments directly. Instead, he continues to play the ‘public policy three card monte’ which is not constructive for anything. Marijuana legalization works, and someday future generations will wonder why Kevin Sabet was given a platform to spread his propaganda by the Heritage Foundation and others that support his current work.

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  • reefer

    My favorite is when he says”we don’t let people smoke opium, so we shouldn’t let them smoke MJ” and then walking past someone’s flowerbed FULL of opium poppies! So, I guess Kevin is saying that we SHOULD just let everyone grow in their backyard, and look the other way.(if my droid had enough memory, I’d post a picture of this.)

  • informl

    The lame will walk, the blind will see. This plant is made for you and me.

  • Jenn Soley

    This is why I’m in school for Political Science w/a minor in Communications! I want to see Prohibition end once and for all! I especially love the argument of “anyone who smokes is lazy, unmotivated and unproductive!” I smoke everyday, have 3 kids (16,9 & 2), working on my degree (pulling straight A’s) work full time, take care of a home, participate in my daughters softball team, and take care of all my other Motherly obligations! When I look back at my childhood and I realize that I was lied to, it pisses me off! I had my picture taken in the 5th grade for our local town newspaper because of my work with the D.A.R.E. Program! I wrote a paper and won because of what I learned through the program! “How drugs are bad, mmm, K!” Looking back on that, I want to yell and scream at my parents, teachers and police officers that were involved in shaping my Young Mind to believe the propaganda that MJ was the worst of all these drugs! As I entered high school and realized every one of my friends were smoking and if caught with Pot we were a domed generation, however we had parents handing us bottles of beer! What hand did they have in setting up the new generation of bing drinkers, beer pong lovers, flip cup kings and queens and ultimately the untimely death of many young people my age who lost their lives in car accidents or alcohol overdose! The time has come for this to be over, enough is enough! Start educating your kids, get out there and start a protest, call your congressmen and women and make them earn the paycheck your hard earned money goes to pay them…..START A REVOLUTION!! The time has come, the time is now…LET’S DO THIS!

  • wowFAD

    Wow — the Heritage Foundation. If there was ever any doubt about which team Sabet is batting for, we can put them to rest. A man who frequently sells ideas to that socially conservative crap factory only cares about one thing: the paycheck.

    I’ve repeated this many times, and I’ll continue repeating it until he’s unemployed. Kevin Sabet is not a scientist. He’s never been a scientist. He wasn’t educated to be a scientist. His degrees are in public policy — he was educated to be a political actor, a policy wonk, and a paid shill. His inroads with the drug warrior crowd go back to his teen years, as his first job at the tender age of 19 was with the NIDA, having drawn their attention by forcing his local school board to ACCEPT funds for an anti drug program the school did not need and did not want. After his stint at the NIDA, his education was 100% paid for and his future guaranteed. Sabet’s PhD in public policy (as well as the faculty position at the University of Florida medical school that was bought for him) now allows him to play the role of scientist, to pose as an “expert” on the subject of cannabis.

    Kevin Sabet is a complete fraud.

    Frankly, his official position at a medical school is a slap in the face to every other member of the faculty, there — they’re all medical doctors and lab researchers who actually had to WORK HARD for the credentials that put them there. Sabet is not even remotely qualified to be faculty. He teaches no classes, he has no students, he conducts no research. That prop piece for Heritage is the only type of crap he publishes — not a single reputable, scientific, peer-reviewed journal publication to his name, but he’s FACULTY at a medical school? Total nonsense!

    My favorite descriptor of Sabet? He’s a rehabitionist. He likes the idea of forcing people into treatment programs they don’t need (but must pay for, or go to jail). That’s the brave new direction he sees the drug war taking, and the clown show he puts on has always had that spin — “they’re not criminals, they’re ADDICTS.” Just swapping one negative label for another??? No thanks, Mr. Sabet. He’s already on the wrong side of history. Unfortunately for Kevin, he started playing this game at such a young age, he will probably live to hear his name spoken casually with the same reverence we give to gas station urinal tablets — just something to piss on.

    • Reynaldo Neggle

      Politicians are nothing but con men. Every characteristic of what it takes to be a good con man is the same as what it takes to be a good politician. Our country is being run by con men who are being paid by corporations that have no empathy and no compassion. This is why our civilization is doomed. I hope I can at least be stoned when it implodes under its own mountain of greed and corruption.

  • Sarijuana

    Thanks for the ammo, Johnny. It isn’t enough that WE all know the crap coming out of his head is bunk and refutable, we all need to are ourselves with the facts, make cheat sheets of the sources we can have at hand, on paper or in our electronics, any time, anywhere to give to people who hear this shit and actually believe it. The truth will set them free.

  • Bob and Kneel

    We all told pooh to practice safe sex, but he just laughed with 2 in his backdoor and 1 in his mouth and 1 in each hand, its sad that he did not get treatment and now the syphilis has totally rotted what little brains he had years ago. Pooh as we call him really should come out if the closet, but he has always been afraid of what his parents and his church would think. I will choose to remember him slurping away on his knee’s with that stupid smile, remember all the blow and poppers and weed we used to do? Man after you flipped out on acid and got on this crusade I just don’t know who you are. We miss you at the gangbangs and the sauna parties and dosing and staying up all night on the beach. You never return our calls? WTF? Its cool if you don’t want to use but you could stay in touch, guess your too important now. We still have the video’s Don’t worry we have too much class to leak them.So sad to see what you have become :(

  • moses

    So many words and so much emotion, I’m proud to read your opinions. It’s good to know not everyone is corrupt. His motivation to make income off the suffering of people should be exposed.
    Why don’t we smoke opium ? I’ve not found a detriment, we don’t boil willow bark for headaches, for ease of use. After hearing about the toxic outcome of prolonged nsads use. I’m begaining to wonder. We have doubted the natural world and accepted this chemical answer way too long.
    It sickens me to think this guy lives in my state, and the heritage foundation. Shame on republicans, what did Mr. Obama get for employing him? Didn’t win him any points.

  • mike1188

    This guy has a lot of facts from unsubstantiated publishing. Il will tell you a fact in my life I never met somebody who smoked to much marijauna and got Sick. Yes some inexperienced people do get dizzy some problely get sick (being dizzy ) say that if your not use to drinking and you decide to power drink your going to puke if you drink way to much you got alcohol poisoning. Make smart choices build up a tolerance befor you try to be king shit. Duh. One more thing I never saw some get sick from pot. But I know people who have died from prescription pills and they did not smoke pot. One O.D on oxy and Vicodin up to 25-30 pills a day. It started from a broken arm. He used to give me crap because I smoked pot at that time. Another pills became heroin which became a grave. .o3% marijauna of fences in prison not in Michigan get your facts strate buddy. Better yet what give you the right to decide what is ok and what isn’t.?

  • mike1188

    Johnny Green, I just wanted to say keep up the great work and thank you for everything you do and for providing actual facts and not just a bunch of propaganda .

  • Great job Johnny. I vote for science. We need to rid ourselves of policies based on fear, hatred and racism. Thank you for moving us in that direction. You know, Sabet just keeps trotting out the same old drivel. Fortunately people are waking up, and not buying it anymore.
    @mjverite

  • Rikkie Chambers

    Awesome job on this article !!! Saw him talk one time and wanted to throw something at the screen!! It’s almost as if he believes that stuff and I can not wait for the day that this guy and all those like him are seen as they really are a paid off puppet for the prohibition machine … Spewing racism and division and most of all lies!! All the while lining their pockets with our money!! What a great day that will be ! And I think it is soon!!

    • Sarijuana

      The money behind the Heritage Foundation and others like it is phenomenal, which means we all – everyone of us, have a lot of work to do spreading the word one-on-one to anyone willing to listen. I don’t know whether to be happy or sad that the corporate world that supports these “foundations” hasn’t figured out how much money legalization can put in their pockets, but when they do it will be good bye Kevin.

  • Denny

    Sabet is one of those people who doesn’t want to be confused with the facts, his mind is welded shut along with his misguided conceptions.

  • Jim

    I wonder how history will perceive marijuana prohibition? The irreconcilable system that the federal government has set up is proof that something is being manipulated. Entire government agencies have been set up over simple fear mongering. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens have had their live destroyed. And for what?

  • Sharon12345

    I am in chronic pain from a botched surgery. I am on a fentanyl 50 mg patch, exalgo 12 mg, and a pain machine. Marijuana probably would help me. BUT I can’t get it. I have to remove the machine at night. I don’t feel I deserve this at 66 years old. What is this government so afraid of? Let the drug companies grow the MJ, distribute it to me in NYS. I am at the end of my rope. I am also on medication for depression now. Is there any wonder? I had hoped my senior years would be much happier than this. Instead I cry alot. Thanks, government. The problem is that it is a weed that can be grown without supervision. The government would then be losing revenue and we all know how the government feels about revenue. They learned nothing from prohibition.