A former Representative to Congress from Rhode Island with an admitted history of substance abuse and mental illness was in Concord, N.H., on Jan. 30, calling for enhanced brain health and a “smart” strategy when it comes to changing marijuana laws.
Patrick Kennedy spoke at the Legislative Office Building press conference along with public health advocates and supporters of New Futures, a nonprofit in New Hampshire that supports the reduction of alcohol and drug problems.
The director of the organization, Linda Paquette, said the group was partnering with a new organization called Project SAM, which was co-founded by Kennedy and Kevin Sabet, a former Obama Administration advisory. The organization is working on an effort to promote “smart approaches” to marijuana legislation with the group working towards “balanced, sensible” changes in laws that reduce pot usage.
Kennedy, along with health officials from Rhode Island, said they had come to New Hampshire because everyone wanted “a bright future” for their kids so they could “realize their full potential” while not relying on substances to deal with stress and anxiety. He spoke about his own issues with addiction and mental illness and called for expanded brain health screenings to be “on parity” with cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes screenings calling it “a check-up from the neck up.” Kennedy, while in Congress, said he was a champion of public health initiatives such as these and was continuing the work outside of Congress, in an effort to forward the discussion about the issues.
On marijuana legalization, which recently passed in the New Hampshire House, Kennedy, in often emotional and raised pitch rhetoric, warned that Wall Street would create marketing chaos for public health advocates, parents, and kids would be unable to counter, hawking marijuana not unlike cigarettes in the past and flavored alcohol in recent years.
“I don’t think anyone has a clue as to what they’re in for,” he said. “We’re talking about a public health nightmare coming down the road.”
Sabet said during the debates raging about marijuana, there were two divergent camps – the lock them up crowd vs. the decrim and legalization crowd. His group, instead, was focusing on the public health aspect of the debate. He said New Futures was the 20th organization in the nation that had signed on to promote the endeavor. Sabet said hundreds of millions of dollars were being spent “cleaning up the mess” of legalized substances like alcohol, cigarettes, and prescription drugs, and the state should consider that before legalizing marijuana, creating more problems.
“Are we having fun yet?,” he said. “That’s the question … whether a drug is more harmful than the other is a matter of discussion … but Wall Street cash is ready to make billions on this.”
Tym Rourke from the NH Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment, spoke about the tax implications of the legalization argument. He warned that state alcohol funds for treatment are regularly raided to pay for other things. Only once in 14 years had the funds set aside for treatment been fully funded. Rourke added that instead, monies should be set aside for more substance abuse treatment, not less.
Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project, a group favoring marijuana rules to be loosened, questioned the validity of Project SAM's "middle ground" approach. In a leaflet, he countered the claim and noted that Sabet spoke against medical marijuana legalization on NHPR last year, a bill that was considered, by most to be a middle ground approach.