Jan 5 Retired Rhode Island Congressman Patrick
Kennedy is taking aim at what he sees as knee-jerk support for
marijuana legalization among his fellow liberals, in a project
that carries special meaning for the self-confessed former
Kennedy, 45, a Democrat and younger son of the late "Lion of
the Senate" Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, is leading a
group called Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) that
opposes legalization and seeks to rise above America's culture
war over pot with its images of long-haired hippies battling
Project proposals include increased funding for mental
health courts and treatment of drug dependency, so those caught
using marijuana might avoid incarceration, get help and
potentially have their criminal records cleared.
Kennedy wants cancer patients and others with serious
illnesses to be able to obtain drugs with cannabinoids, but in a
more regulated way that could involve the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration playing a larger role.
The eight-term former congressman from Rhode Island and the
group he chairs will put forth their plan on Wednesday with a
media appearance in Denver.
Their efforts follow the November election that saw voters
in Washington state and Colorado become the first in the nation
to approve measures to tax and regulate pot sales for
recreational use. Kennedy's group is seeking to shift the debate
and reclaim momentum for the anti-legalization movement, in part
by proposing new solutions with appeal to liberals, such as
taking a public health approach to combat marijuana use.
Legalization backers have argued that the so-called War on
Drugs launched in 1971 by former President Richard Nixon has
failed to stem marijuana use, and has instead saddled otherwise
law-abiding pot smokers with criminal records that may block
their avenues to landing a successful job.
Kennedy faults the U.S. government for allocating too much
of its $25 billion drug control budget to law enforcement rather
than to treatment and prevention.
"Yes, the drug war has been a failure, 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 served in the
U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2011, said in a
The U.S. Department of Justice is still developing a policy
in regard to the new state legalization measures.
President Barack Obama said in an interview with ABC News
last month that it did not make sense for the federal government
to "focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already
said that, under state law, that's legal."
Conservative political commentator David Frum, a speech
writer for former President George W. Bush, is also a board
member on Project SAM, which lends it a bipartisan flavor.
For his part, Kennedy is aiming many of his arguments toward
liberals like himself. Polls show Democrats largely favoring
legalizing marijuana, and among the 18 states that allow medical
marijuana, several are in the West and Northeast and are heavily
"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 admits to having smoked pot but also said that, as
an asthma sufferer, he "found other ways to get high."
In 2006, he crashed his car into a security barrier in
Washington, D.C., and soon after sought treatment for drug
dependency. He said he was addicted to the pain reliever
Oxycontin at that time and suffered from alcoholism. He added
that he has been continuously sober for nearly two years.
Kennedy, who was married for the first time in 2011, said he
worries his 8-month-old son might be predisposed to drug abuse -
due to a kind of genetic "trigger" - and that is part of his
fight against legalization.
He also said he wants to "reduce the environmental factors
that pull that trigger," such as marijuana use being commonly
Meanwhile, another prominent figure from Rhode Island, the
newly crowned Miss Universe Olivia Culpo, is making waves by
also objecting to legalization. She told Fox News this week
there are "too many bad habits that go with the drug."
In Washington state, Alison Holcomb was campaign director
for the legalization measure, which billed itself as having a
public health element to help people dependent on marijuana.
The measure, which is not set to go into full effect until
after state regulators spend most of 2013 setting guidelines,
would allow adults 21 and older to buy marijuana at special
Holcomb argued that drug dependency courts are more geared
toward users of hardcore drugs, and that the approach her group
put forward is the sensible one.
"I don't know what a public health approach without
legalization looks like, if you're still arresting people," she
Taxes on marijuana sales would generate, at the high end of
estimates, over $500 million a year with $67 million of that
going to a state agency that provides drug treatment, said Mark
Cooke, policy adviser for the American Civil Liberties Union of
Washington state, which supported the campaign.
Also included in the tax revenue would be $44 million for
education and public health campaigns - including a phone line
for people wanting to quit using marijuana, Cooke said.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Daniel Trotta and