Kevin Sabet co-founded advocacy group Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) with former congressman Pat Kennedy Jr., is the director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida and has a host of other titles solidifying him as one of the most influential cannabis legalization opponents in the U.S.
So how does Sabet view Tuesday’s midterm elections that saw Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. legalizing recreational marijuana?
“It is a very long way to broad legalization,” he told The Cannabist on Wednesday, “and I remain optimistic.”
A special report from The Cannabist
The decisions: Marijuana measures pass in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C.; Florida MMJ falls short
The other side: Legalization advocate Mason Tvert on pot’s big wins, losses on Election Day
Joining the new frontier: 6 things you need to know if weed is now legal where you live
By the numbers: How decisive were Tuesday’s results in state ballot measures? Washington D.C. had almost 70 percent approval for recreational marijuana
California 2016: Next big goal for marijuana legalization activists
More: National and Colorado election coverage
Sabet, who called the votes “a bit of a wake-up call before 2016,” said marijuana’s successes on Tuesday were a result of the money being spent by legalization advocates.
“We were outspent by something like 20 or 30-to-1,” Sabet said. “So in libertarian, independent Alaska, we only lost 48 percent to 52 percent, and in Oregon, we won the majority of counties but lost big in the Portland area. That made the difference.
“It is not very surprising when one looks at how much the pro-campaign outspent opponents. A silver lining, of course, was that voters in cities from California to Colorado to Maine rejected retail legalization outright. We will build on those gains.”
Sure enough, some towns in Colorado voted on Tuesday to keep recreational pot shops — and others voted against them opening inside their city limits. But of pot’s biggest battles at the ballot box on Tuesday, marijuana emerged a clear winner — even though Florida’s medical cannabis amendment failed to generate the necessary 60 percent of votes.
“This wasn’t about voters being turned off,” Sabet said. “It was about voters hearing only the legalizers’ message because they were the only ones with real money. What happened last night happened because of the millions of dollars the pro-campaign spent on campaigning.
“I am confident that when people hear more about the effects of a new tobacco-like industry, they’ll be turned off by legalization. It just may take some time for that to happen.”
Sabet, like others, can’t help but look ahead to the 2016 presidential election when behemoth California and other states are looking to pursue recreational legalization.
“We’re certainly going to put our best effort forth to defeat these (states) in 2016,” he said. “We already won once in California, and I think we can win again. Obviously we have a lot of work to do, but if we learned anything last night it is that we plan to redouble our efforts.
“We also are going to focus on the other vulnerable states, including Maine, Massachusetts, Arizona and Nevada. The stakes have just been upped, and we will be up to the task.”