A new era of accountability must follow marijuana legalization
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After millions of out-of-state dollars and corporate interests helped legalize recreational marijuana in three states this past Tuesday, some pundits have said the debate over legalization is finished.

Actually, the debate is just beginning.

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A new Congress and Administration are in Washington, and it’s unlikely they’ll be friendly to pot industry interests. You certainly won’t see Rudy Giuliani on the cover of High Times any time soon, and opponents to legalization are more emboldened than ever: Recreational marijuana lost big in purple Arizona last Tuesday, and almost two-thirds of localities in liberal Oregon with this issue on the ballot voted “no” to pot shops in their neighborhoods. 

In Maine, the legalization vote was so close that the state is recounting the ballots, and even if proponents win, they’ll face a hostile governor and legislature without an electoral mandate. In fact, newly-elected state legislators and governors across key states like Vermont have all but made legalization an impossible feat.

Furthermore, even states that have already legalized marijuana are becoming cautionary tales for future voters and current policymakers, stressing the importance of holding the commercial marijuana industry accountable for its actions and warning of the unintended but now-proven consequences of too little regulation.

Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, and has since become number one in the country for underage marijuana use. College-age marijuana use has also been steadily increasing in-state while declining on the national level. In this same timeframe, the rate of marijuana-related traffic fatalities and emergency room admissions has skyrocketed, with the most recent data showing that, out of all drivers involved in fatal crashes, one in every five tests positive for marijuana use. 

Additionally, scientific research has repeatedly proven that marijuana is especially harmful to the adolescent brain, and regular use directly contributes to both a decrease in IQ and an increase in the likelihood of developing a mental health condition like anxiety, depression or schizophrenia.

But the simple truth is that the industry doesn’t care about any of that. The earlier they get kids hooked, the more money they make.

The irony is that marijuana use is illegal under age 21, a fact the legalizers will be quick to point out when challenged. But if there were even a shred of social responsibility built into their business plan, they wouldn’t be selling kid-friendly, THC-laced candies and sodas in the middle of the highest concentration of underage users in the country.

Looking ahead, Nevada, Massachusetts and California have the opportunity to fight back against an industry willing to trade public health for personal profit by demanding a stronger standard for regulation. And they won’t be going into that fight alone.

Our organization, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, is spearheading the Marijuana Accountability Project (MAP), a credible and trusted resource for the sensible oversight of the recreational marijuana industry. It’s what our country was missing during decades of abuse at the hands of Big Tobacco, and it’s what our country needs to keep our communities and our children safe as we move forward.

A coordinated legal, legislative, and national strategy will empower organizations to push back against the interests of the marijuana industry.

The initiative draws on the knowledge of drug policy professionals, public health advocates, the medical community, and local activists to promote policy decisions that champion the public health without demonizing, or criminalizing, marijuana use.

The Marijuana Accountability Project will focus on bridging the gap between local legislators and their constituents, creating a dialogue that inspires progress based on science and reason.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana does not believe that criminalization and commercialization are our only two options when dealing with marijuana policy. There’s a third way -- and the Marijuana Accountability Project is committed to seeing it through, protecting public health and safety. 

Sabet is the president of SAM and a former White House Advisor. Follow him on Twitter @KevinSabet


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