Anti-legalization advocates are doubling down after the results of election 2016. Pictured: Kevin Sabet, middle, co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. (Bryan Bedder, Getty Images)

National anti-pot group SAM takes stock post-election: ‘No one’s closing up shop over here’

The leader of Smart Approaches to Marijuana looks to local level as more states join ranks with recreational marijuana

California’s vote in favor of legal recreational marijuana and the success of marijuana-related measures in seven other states put wind in the sails of some advocates who said broader — perhaps even nationwide — legalization may be on the horizon.

However, one of the leading opponents of marijuana legalization said his side isn’t striking the colors and instead is, in fact, emboldened by activity around cannabis.

“I don’t think that legalizers can really look themselves in the mirror and declare total victory,” Kevin Sabet recently told The Cannabist. Sabet is a former White House drug policy senior adviser who heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an organization that opposes the legalization and commercialization of marijuana and advocates for public-health focused actions around cannabis.

Sabet said legalization backers likely will face uphill battles at the state legislature level as well as the federal level, which will have a Republican President Donald Trump, and a GOP-led House and Senate. The Republican-dominated government is the “worst outcome” imagined for marijuana advocates, he added.

“A Trump administration throws everything up in the air,” Sabet said. “Is it going to be ‘states’ rights Trump’ or ‘law-and-order Trump’?”

Federal government withstanding, Sabet said he’s feeling “strangely optimistic” after Election 2016 and saw silver linings in the outcomes of the marijuana measures that passed.

California’s Proposition 64, the recreational measure for which opponents were out-funded 20-to-1, received 3.99 million votes against, or nearly 44 percent, he noted. Maine remains a tossup, he said, adding that he and others are contesting the results.

Regardless of the Maine outcome, the tight vote may whet the appetite of the legislature there to curtail the laws, a move Sabet anticipates in other states with anti-pot governors such as Massachusetts and Arkansas.

SAM’s efforts in 2017 will extend beyond the state level to a municipality-based movement, he said. The objective of the new initiative, called the Marijuana Accountability Project (MAP), will be to provide “sensible oversight of the marijuana industry as it begins to take hold in states,” according to SAM’s website.

Some communities in Oregon voted against allowing recreational marijuana businesses and banned the sale or cultivation of marijuana, he said.

“It portends badly for California,” he said. “There is a lot of remorse and a lot of movement toward ‘not in my backyard.’ ”

Under MAP, Smart Approaches to Marijuana will throw its weight behind actions such as federal lobbying, public education, legal compliance research, development of model laws, community roundtables and organizations of municipalities concerned about marijuana.

“I think it’s a long and winding road,” Sabet said. “No one’s closing up shop over here.”