California senator and 2020 presidential candidate Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris slams DOJ decision not to charge police in Eric Garner's death Harris vows to 'put people over profit' in prescription drug plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet MORE admitted during her recent appearance on “The Breakfast Club” radio show that she smoked pot in college. In an apparent effort to seem ‘cool’ for the hosts and audience, and making references to popular rap music, she went on to say, “I think it [marijuana] gives a lot of people joy. And we need more joy in the world.” Few would criticize Harris for smoking a joint in college, but her clear misunderstanding about the differences between today’s high-potency, commercialized marijuana and her college joint, are alarming. It demonstrates just how effective ‘Big Marijuana’ lobbyists have been at convincing politicians that legalizing weed is no big deal.

The senator is surely not alone in her misperceptions about weed. For most people marijuana conjures up images of carefree Woodstock hippies. They say, “I tried it and I turned out fine. Legalizing a little pot won’t hurt anyone.” However, there is strong scientific evidence demonstrating today’s pot brings greater risk of mental illness, increased youth use and more drugged-driving deaths.

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Before any candidate expresses support for legalization and commercialization of marijuana, especially those seeking the presidency, they should learn more about the significant health, fiscal and other societal impacts. Don’t be blind to the fact that today’s pot, with THC levels more than ten times what it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s big business.

Today’s marijuana is an industry, funded by billions from alcohol, Big Tobacco and Wall Street hedgefunders. Their goal is increased, regular use of gummies, candies, sodas, ice creams and concentrates containing up to 99 percent pure THC, the mind-altering chemical found in marijuana. That’s a far cry from the 5 percent THC of yesteryear.

Studies on low-potency marijuana, have shown that prolonged marijuana use can affect the human brain. For instance, we know it can severely impact young people’s ability to learn, can lower IQ, and impairs memory. The causal link between regular pot consumption and serious mental illness, such as psychosis, depression and schizophrenia also becoming increasingly clear. We also know that pot can impair judgement, motor skills, and reaction time, making it incredibly dangerous to use prior to getting behind the wheel or performing at work.

That’s low-potency THC. We should assume commercialized products that are as much as 90 percent THC will have significant long-term effects on the brain, body and society.

Joy certainly isn’t what Corinne LaMarca Gasper feels of when she thinks of weed. Her 22-year-old daughter, Jennifer, was killed by a driver under the influence of marijuana.

Andy Zorn, was a courageous veteran who served our nation in Iraq. Pot didn’t bring him joy. His suicide note read in part, “My soul is already dead. Marijuana killed my soul + ruined my brain.”

One would think Harris and other national politicians would also realize that the pot industry, like the big tobacco and alcohol industries before it, is preying on the low-income and communities of color. One need only look at the clusters of pot shops in minority neighborhoods in Denver to see that.

Before she was running for president, Harris stated that, “we need to research the impact of weed on a developing brain” and institute standards for impairment to address and enforce marijuana impaired driving. What happened?  

The scientific data and the first-hand accounts show that marijuana is indeed a harmful substance and numerous lives have already been irrevocably changed by this industry. If Harris and other 2020 candidates want to show leadership, they should be honest with Americans about the dangers of another Big Tobacco, rather than send mixed messages to our young people or ignore science. 

Lawmakers, especially the 2020 presidential candidates, should learn the real science about today’s marijuana, instead of glamorizing its use to the very youth we need to engage.

Dana Stevens is the Director of Local Affairs and “High Means DUI” for Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national organization advocating against commercializing marijuana.