Pot, meet kettle. Many lawmakers are letting Big Marijuana follow in the footsteps of Big Pharma
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The news of former Rep. Tom Marino’s (R-Pa.) complicity with the pharmaceutical industry amidst our Nation’s addiction epidemic sent shockwaves across the country last week. It also torpedoed Marino’s chances to become President Trump’s first drug czar.

People from both sides of the political aisle rightfully expressed their anger at the idea of Congress making it easier for an industry to profit from human suffering. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) office, for example, said through a spokesperson that this “is another example of corporate greed.” Most people echoed those sentiments.

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They are right, but they may also want to look in the mirror. 

At the same time members of Congress are bashing the pain pill industry for their destructive practices done in the name of getting rich, some of those same members are encouraging, and even receiving campaign donations from, yet another drug industry’s quest for wealth.

Experts have called Big Marijuana our version of Big Tobacco for good reason. Today’s pot industry looks nothing like anything Cheech and Chong could ever envision. Pot mascots harken back to Joe Camel; celebrity endorsements come from the same Philip Morris playbook of the 1960s. Private equity giants have teamed up with billionaires (does the name Sean Parker ring a bell?) to pursue a policy of pot legalization at any cost.

And they’re not interested in selling Woodstock Weed. The kind of marijuana being promoted today would make even the Dutch blush – the market is swamped with THC candies, cookies, gummi bears, sodas, and joints 10 times stronger than the stuff some Americans used to stash in their college dorm. Industrially-produced THC “dabs” can reach 99 percent purity – that’s scary when one considers that marijuana with less than 10 percent THC have been shown to increase one’s chances of losing 8 IQ points, quadruple the risk of schizophrenia, and double the risk of a car crash. What’s more, teen use is connected to higher rates of anxiety, paranoia and depression.

Today’s THC is actively advertised, normalized, and promoted for one reason only: to make a few people rich. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that, unless halted, a few companies with the capital and advertising strength will dominate the market and become the next Big Pharma. It doesn’t help that a string of recent studies show the connection between early marijuana use and later opioid abuse – including pain pills.

Rejecting legalization does not mean embracing criminalization or other antiquated policies. We can reform our laws to allow for more medical research on the components of marijuana (for kids with epilepsy, for example), get rid of punitive and unfair arrest practices that can mark someone for life, and spread science-based education on the real harms of today’s high-THC marijuana.

But let’s not pretend the legalization of marijuana isn’t about money. Corporate fat cats – some of them now funding our own elected officials like Gillibrand, who took money from the pot industry just last year – see marijuana as their opportunity to cash in.

Big Pharma encouraged opioid use and abuse for decades, and funded efforts to get government to look the other way. Let’s not let Big Marijuana follow their footsteps—or let those who take pot money be the pot that calls the kettle black.

Kevin A. Sabet is the president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which advocates against marijuana legalization and also against harsh marijuana prison criminal sentencing. He worked in the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) for presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Follow him on Twitter @KevinSabet