Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy kicks off anti-marijuana effort in Colorado

Former Rhode Island Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy began a national effort Thursday to throw the brakes on what he called the “300-miles-per hour freight train to (marijuana) legalization” with the launch of Project SAM — an anti-legalization effort he hopes will “answer some of the canards, some of the myths about marijuana that are often perpetuated by those proponents of legalization.”

Kennedy spoke at the Denver Press Club in Colorado, which legalized adult use of marijuana in November. He was joined by the group’s co-founder, Dr. Kevin Sabet, a former senior policy advisor to Obama drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, and members of Colorado’s drug treatment community. Former Bush speechwriter and columnist David Frum is also on Project SAM’s board of directors, but wasn’t present at the launch.

Kennedy said Project SAM (which stands for Smart Approaches to Marijuana) is meant to find a middle ground between total prohibition and legalization.

The group advocates treatment over arrest for people caught with small amounts of marijuana. But it still wants pot to be illegal.

Kennedy said he and others “feel very threatened by this new initiative,” and he is particularly concerned about its impact on young people.

The initiative, Amendment 64, made legal marijuana part of the Colorado constitution. But it only allows pot use, possession and cultivation for adults 21 and older. It is still illegal in Colorado for teens and young adults to use or possess the drug.

But Kennedy and many of his guests said they’re afraid the new law will lower kids’ “perception of harm” about marijuana and lead to more teen use.

Mason Tvert, a representative of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project and one of the architects of Amendment 64, said his group agrees with Kennedy that marijuana shouldn’t be available to young people. But he added that if Kennedy is interested in marijuana education, “he should start with himself.”

Tvert said marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol and that adults should be free to choose the safer option without fear that they’ll be sent to mandatory treatment.

“When it comes to adults,” he said, “marijuana users are no more in need of forced public interventions, education and treatment than regular consumers of alcohol, Advil, Starbucks or McDonald’s.”

Tvert also called Kennedy “hypocritical” for opposing marijuana when Kennedy’s family made part of its fortune on alcohol sales.