You may have never heard of the group “Smart Approaches to Marijuana” (SAM). The name sounds innocent enough, right? This group is led by former Democratic Representative Patrick Kennedy, conservative columnist David Frum, and Dr. Kevin Sabet (who is a Ph.D. and not a medical doctor). Sabet, SAM’s president, is also a former drug advisor to presidents Clinton, Bush II, and Obama. They are working very hard to protect you and your kids from the “killer weed” by making sure that the U.S. and Canada don’t continue to relax laws regarding possession and consumption of the drug. And just like so many others before them, they will tell any lie and distort any statistic to make their case.
Recently the group seized on a new report issued by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), to claim that legal weed in Colorado is leading the youth of the state down the primrose path to hell. To make their case, SAM blew up a meaningless change in the number of Colorado youth who reported using marijuana, and invented a brand new boogeyman: “Big Marijuana.” (Not to be confused with “Big Tobacco” which actually does exist and whose products kill more people in one year than marijuana has in all of recorded history.)
The SAMHSA report says that in Colorado, the number of teens who reported using marijuana within the past month went from 11.16 percent in 2012-13 to 12.56 percent in 2013-14. SAMHSA considers that change to be statistically insignificant. The report says:
Adolescent marijuana use remained unchanged in 48 states and declined in 3 (comparing 2013–2014 estimates to 2012–2013 estimates).
How did SAM spin that? A December 15 press release offers these comments from Sabet:
Now that Colorado has legalized and widely commercialized marijuana, their children use marijuana regularly more than children in any other state.
In Colorado especially, Big Marijuana has been allowed to run wild, and it appears that kids are paying the price more than in any other state in the country.
Other surveys have found that youth marijuana use was already high in Colorado before legalization, and is actually trending downward. That downward trend started in 2009, and has continued post-legalization. In fact, marijuana use among youth nationwide has been relatively flat since the mid-90’s.
The press release makes a big deal over other states that have relaxed marijuana laws, saying that several of them appear among the top states for teen marijuana use. But it doesn’t mention that in none of those states is the difference between the 2012-13 report and the 2013-14 report statistically significant, even though that information is in the report summary, and is marked right on the SAMHSA chart.
Of course, no anti-weed press release would be complete without a claim that marijuana increases the number of auto accidents caused by intoxicated drivers. The SAM press release cites an NPR story about smoking marijuana and driving in Washington state:
[A] 2015 report indicated that the percentage of DUIs linked to marijuana use in Washington state has almost doubled since legalization, from 18.6% in 2012 to 33% in early 2015.
But this is what NPR actually said:
Still, that 33 percent figure comes with a big caveat. It’s not a percentage of all drivers on the road. It’s just a measure of the drivers who’ve had their blood taken under suspicion of DUI. It could be that Washington state patrol and the police are just getting better at recognizing stoned drivers and pulling them over.
More fear from SAM:
That same report indicated that a full 85% of drivers involved in fatal accidents in Washington tested positive for recent marijuana use.
And the complete information from NPR:
Paul Armentano of the pro-marijuana group NORML cautions, ‘We must not conflate the detection of these compounds as evidence of impairment.’
Armentano says you actually can’t really tell how impaired someone is just by looking at THC levels in the blood, and other experts agree with him on this. [emphasis added] He also points to new research showing that even active THC can linger in the body long after the high — especially in people who use a lot of pot.
The motives of SAM need to be examined. In the case of Kennedy, he seems to be involved due to his own past issues with substance abuse. A noble mission, perhaps, but also a wrong-headed one. The ban on marijuana has worked about as well as the early 20th century ban on alcohol. That is to say, not very well at all. So why do groups like SAM continue to fight for maintaining a ban on a substance that has been determined to be far less harmful than alcohol? This is America after all, so you will probably find your answers if you just follow the money.
Featured image via Chuck Grimmett/Flickr