Open Letter to Tom LaVenture, staff writer
The Garden Island
Cc: Project SAM
Aloha Tom ~
I have followed you for years and consider you to be a bright and experienced journalist. It therefore surprised me to see you duped by Project SAM
. It stuns me you would give these northeastern mainlanders, who claim to know
what is best for Hawai’i on marijuana policy, front page coverage, Sunday, March 31st (sourced below), when 80 percent of islanders prefer a path to legalization. Patrick Kennedy, an iconic figure in US history, has teamed with Kevin Sabet and David Frum to convince America that marijuana legalization is not the solution to our failed War on Drugs against non-violent Americans.
First, Project SAM promises a new way forward on the marijuana issue. The leaders claim society has considered only “two very simplistic notions of policy: incarceration and legalization,” since President Nixon officially initiated the War on Drugs in the early 1970s. SAM argues both approaches are wrong. Doesn’t this appear a bit arrogant to you?
Second, what is their revolutionary solution? “Science-based drug education for parents and kids needs to become a top national priority,” they say. This is revolutionary? Are they suggesting previous generations did not try to educate or that education programs were not “science-based”? These are false claims. Society has known for decades that marijuana presents risks to the user, such as short-term memory loss, lung damage similar to that from cigarette smoke, and complications with mental health concerns.
In your article, you noted, “Kennedy called me and said we need a new conversation on marijuana in this country,” Sabet said. “We took a common sense approach and just looked at the science.” Those of us working on this issue over the past few decades have been fools with neither common sense nor scientific basis, right?
America has spent over a trillion dollars on education and incarceration over the past 40 years. Americans know marijuana is risky — and their kids know this. Yet use continues. Americans demand drugs. Open your medicine cabinet. We enjoy a couple beers while watching a ballgame. Millions cannot start they day without their caffeine boost. Winston Churchill, when asked what he needed to fight NAZI Germany, stated the country needed tobacco due to the unique characteristics in nicotine that both relaxes and stimulates the user.
I am a former professional athlete. The University of New Mexico recruited me to further my PhD work in health policy in the 1990s. My athletic background allowed me to be an effective and positive role model for kids and young teens. I worked with the university and Department of Health on tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug education and control for years. As a researcher I developed the first portrait of “Who’s in New Mexico Prisons” in 1996. We discovered about 15-20 percent of inmates had been incarcerated for non-violent marijuana possession charges. My work ended up on the desk of New Mexico governor, Gary Johnson. He soon became the first governor in the nation to open a dialogue on marijuana legalization. Criminal penalties simply do not make sense; they do not deter marijuana use.
A recent report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) confirms that marijuana prohibition is a failure. Kids in the U.S. are more likely to use marijuana than those in the Netherlands, where adults can buy marijuana from coffee shops, and those in Portugal, where all drugs are decriminalized. See illustration below.
Kennedy and his team claim “legal marijuana is incompatible with children.” Legal alcohol and legal tobacco are incompatible with children! There is no question alcohol is the most dangerous drug in society. Tobacco kills over 400,000 Americans per year. Does Project SAM demand that we make these dangerous drugs illegal? Of course not! Experts in America and around the world know prohibiting alcohol and tobacco would be a fool’s disaster. Yet Kennedy and his team argue hypocritically that marijuana prohibition somehow is different. How is this common sense?
Let me put this matter in financial perspective. Kennedy and Project SAM need public funding, grants and donations to continue their work. While our nation is struggling with a reported $16 trillion in national debt and suffering the consequences of the current sequestration, Kennedy uses his family name and reputation to increase the size of government — so government can continue to dictate to Americans how they should live. Do you believe this is the best, most common sense path for Hawai’i?
Let me share with you what I have learned from decades of field work and research about kids and illicit alcohol, tobacco and drug use. We all agree we want our children to make better decisions. Yet they turn to these substances when their family and social networks break down; when they are troubled; when they are turned off. You know this to be accurate. More education about the dangers of these drugs does not deter young people when they are struggling. They need a parent, mentor, teacher or coach to hear their cries for help. Additional and expensive government education programs do not fill their void.
There is a proposal to spend about $45 million in Waimea to construct a sports complex. I ask you to consider both your professional and personal common sense: will additional glossy brochures and slick PSAs prevent our keiki from engaging in dangerous behaviors or would a family-oriented, activity-based facility help them to make healthier life choices? We cannot afford both. Do you want to spend more in Washington, D.C. or build a family facility in Waimea?
We have failed to address the underlying causes for youth and social drug use for over 40 years now. Mayor Carvalho said, “Personally, I do not support legalizing marijuana.” Yet our good mayor enjoys a cold beer on occasion. This is drug use. He supports policies that legalize his poison yet wants to put those who choose an arguably safer drug in prison. We are a strange people, wouldn’t you agree?
Thank you for your time,