Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), speaks at a symposium titled “Marijuana’s True Impact on Colorado,” held Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood. (Alex Pasquariello, The Cannabist)

Legalization opponent Kevin Sabet takes on Colorado at anti-marijuana event

Marijuana has become a religion led by the false prophet money, the president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) told a symposium at Colorado Christian University.

Kevin Sabet, the leader of SAM, a nonprofit group opposed to marijuana legalization, was the keynote speaker Friday at the school’s inaugural symposium, “Marijuana’s True Impact on Colorado.”

Colorado is “ground zero” for a public health and public safety disaster that is not about legalization but instead about a small number of people getting very rich, Sabet said in his nearly hour-long speech that built on SAM’s thesis that the legal marijuana industry is a threat akin to that of “Big Tobacco” and also connected the drug to the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Tobacco wasn’t that deadly before the modern cigarette, he claimed. It became deadly as a result of the marketing, promotion, and new products developed by businesses that wanted to get rich.

“It took our country 90 years to wake up from our nightmare of tobacco,” he warned, pointing out that the “legal drugs” of tobacco and alcohol are still responsible for 11 times more deaths than opioids in America annually.

“With the apparatus of commercialization behind you, it’s a deadly combination,” he said, linking the tobacco, alcohol and marijuana industries. “I think we can learn from the past and not repeat a lot of those mistakes.”

The daylong event brought together anti-legalization groups, law enforcement, educators, medical professionals and public policy experts to “open everyone’s eyes to the downfalls for the drug,” CCU’s vice president of public policy Jeff Hunt said in a statement. Sabet told the mostly gray-haired crowd that marijuana legalization really wasn’t about them. “What puts profits in their pockets is this table right over here,” he said, pointing to a group of young people.

What they’re really after is the developing brain, he said, because that is where you hook a life-long customer.

Sabet also connected marijuana use with the state’s current opioid epidemic.

“Substance abuse problems are poly-substance abuse problems. They’re not done in a vacuum,” he said.

Sabet asserted that the vast majority of those dying of opioid overdoses have tried and used a lot of marijuana and alcohol in their life, citing a September 2017 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry that found cannabis use appears to increase the risk of developing non-medical prescription opioid use.

“If I’m looking at the people who are dying today, I can’t divorce marijuana, alcohol … all the other substances that are going on with that,” he said.

Coloradans also need to wake up if they think marijuana legalization is about social justice, Sabet said, rejecting what he called a “false dichotomy” between locking up drug users and people of color in a War on Drugs or full marijuana legalization. He said that arrest rates for juveniles of color had gone up post-legalization and also pointed out the high concentration of “pot shops” in Denver’s Hispanic and African-American communities.

“Of course they’re going after the weakest in society,” he said. “That’s what you do when you’re a predatory industry.”

That’s why there are eight times the number of liquor stores in poor communities of color as in upper-class communities, he said. That’s why the makers of OxyContin focused on poor rural whites in Kentucky and West Virginia in the late 2000s.

“This is about making guys that look like me and live where I live — I live in Manhattan — rich,” he said. “This is about Wall Street and Silicon Valley.”

Sabet concluded his keynote by saying that there is a pushback against legal marijuana brewing in Colorado and on the national level, and he called for those at the gathering to continue their efforts to stem the effects of legalization.

“I’m confident we have the truth and we have the science,” he said. “At the end of the day, industry will not prevail, I’m certain.”

Watch SAM president Kevin Sabet’s full keynote speech: