Kennedy's New Crusade

Former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy has devoted much of his time, since stepping down in 2010, to mental health concerns. Now, Reuters reports, a new, related crusade: he's leading the liberal opposition to the legalization of marijuana.

Kennedy's new advocacy group is called SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). And it places a heavy emphasis on prevention and treatment, calling for the sort of public-health approach to the drug that might appeal to the left.

"Yes, the drug war has been a failure," he told Reuters, "but let's look at the science and let's look at what works. And let's not just throw out the baby with the bathwater."

Kennedy, who will formally launch  the effort Wednesday in Denver, suggested he's not interested in incarcerating offenders. And he thinks patients with cancer and other serious illnesses should have access to drugs with cannabinoids. But he wants a more regulated medical-marijuana system than what prevails today, with a heavier role for the FDA.

Kennedy, who has struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction, acknowledged the powerful cultural and ideological forces he's confronting.

"The fact is people are afraid on the (political) left to look like they're not for an alternative to incarceration and criminalization, and they're afraid they're not going to look sympathetic to a cancer patient" who might use marijuana, Kennedy said. As a result, he said the legalization position mistakenly comes to be seen as "glamorous."   

Kennedy has added a bipartisan patina to SAM by signing up former Bush speechwriter David Frum. But it his liberal bona fides that make him a compelling voice in the debate.

Still, if he is a bit lonely on the left, he's not entirely alone.

The most potent liberal argument against legalization to date comes from Ed Gogek, a doctor who serves on the board of Keep AZ Drug Free. He argued, in a New York Times op-ed after the November election, that Democrats should be wary of embracing the cause:

Take, for example, medical marijuana laws. They were sold to more than a dozen states with promises that they’re only for serious illnesses like cancer.

But that’s not how they work in practice. Almost all marijuana cardholders claim they need it for various kinds of pain, but pain is easy to fake and almost impossible to disprove. In Oregon and Colorado, 94 percent of cardholders get their pot for pain. In Arizona, it’s 90 percent. Serious illnesses barely register.

It’s possible that they all really do need pot to help them. But consider this: pain patients are mostly female, whereas a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that adult cannabis abusers were 74 percent male.

So which one do marijuana patients resemble? Though only two states release data on gender, a vast majority of medical-marijuana cardholders are male. In Arizona, it’s 73 percent, and in Colorado, it’s 68 percent. The best explanation for such skewed numbers is that most medical marijuana recipients are drug abusers who are either faking or exaggerating their problems.

No one should support this subterfuge, but especially not Democrats. It turns us into hypocrites. We fumed when President George W. Bush proposed gutting the Clean Air Act and called it the Clear Skies Initiative. That’s no more dishonest than calling pot “medical” when it almost all goes to recreational use.

Indeed, marijuana activists use phony science, just as global warming deniers do. For years they claimed pot was good for glaucoma and never apologized when research found it could actually make glaucoma worse. They still insist weed isn’t addictive, despite every addiction medicine society saying it is.

They’ve even produced their own flawed scientific studies supposedly proving that medical marijuana laws don’t increase use among teenagers, when almost all the evidence says just the opposite. How can Democrats criticize Republicans for disregarding science and making up facts when people on our side do the same?

Neither Kennedy nor Gogek, to my mind, has fully addressed costs of keeping a prohibition on marijuana - both in treasure and, for those unable to wipe their records clean of marijuana convictions, in the dimunition of life prospects.

But their advocacy - and their dissection of liberal psychology - demands notice from the left.


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