Radical Rant: Big Rehab Needs Marijuana Prohibition to Survive

Kevin Sabet, Project SAM
Photo by Getty Images

There have now been 10 straight national polls that have shown majority support for marijuana legalization. As public opinion switches to our side, our opponents are forced to reconfigure their strategy.

The most recent evolution of prohibitionist propaganda is the ironically-named Smart Approaches to Marijuana, called Project SAM. (I like to call them Project SAMUEL—Smart Approaches to Marijuana Use… Except Legalization). Headed by former adviser to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Kevin Sabet, Project SAM is trying to triangulate a new form of prohibition that I like to call the “Kinder, Gentler Drug War.”

Project SAM knows that the public doesn’t support the War on Drugs anymore. So they claim to be against the criminalization of marijuana users, trying to appear reasonable to people who can’t tolerate giving a lifelong criminal record to some kid caught with a dime bag. They fail to mention that they’re still in support of criminalizing growers and sellers, of course.

Project SAM instead advocates that marijuana shouldn’t be legalized because it will create a “Big Marijuana”—a predatory industry that cultivates young tokers and lies about the harms of cannabis. They mean an industry that checks the IDs of young tokers and tests and labels cannabis for potency and purity, as well as paying taxes, creating jobs and settling disputes with lawyers in courtrooms instead of gunfire in the streets.

So as an alternative to locking up pot smokers, Project SAM advocates for “brief interventions” and “screenings” of adults who are caught with marijuana. The idea here is to confront the adult cannabis consumer with addiction professionals and force the adult into a mandatory rehab.

It’s no surprise that many of the board members of Project SAM are from the drug treatment industry. Marijuana prohibition has been very good to Big Rehab, and they need to see that cash cow continue.

According to the Treatment Episode Data Set – Admissions (TEDS-A), over half of the people who end up in rehab for marijuana alone are there because the criminal justice system forced them there. If somebody gets caught smoking a joint or holding a bag, they get criminal charges, then they are offered a plea bargain that requires a stint in rehab.

If you’re a rehab business, you love that the criminal justice system is sending weed clients to your rehab instead of a jail cell. Marijuana users are often employed and have health insurance that will cover the cost of the treatment.

They’re also a great boost for your rehab’s success statistics. A pot smoker isn’t deeply in the grips of a powerful physical addiction. The TEDS-A shows that well over a third of the people in rehab for marijuana alone didn’t even smoke pot in the month before going to rehab. Add in the people who smoked pot less than once a week, and you’ve got over half the marijuana rehabbers.

Not only are the people forced into marijuana rehab not really addicted to marijuana, they’re then forced into compliance through court-required urine screenings in their plea bargain. So, when the rehab has to count up all the people they’ve treated and figure out how many of them succeeded, they get to consider all those people who don’t smoke that much pot and then quit when the threat of a drug test means prison.

That’s not to say there aren’t some people who develop a problem with marijuana. According to TEDS-A, about 15 percent of the people in rehab for marijuana admitted themselves voluntarily. But imagine if a rehab had to pay its bills and show its stats on just alcoholics and hard drug addicts without all the pot smokers added in.

There’s a good reason my friend Chris Goldstein says the “Smart” in Smart Approaches to Marijuana stands for “Stoners Must All Receive Treatment.” Without us, Big Rehab suffers a very big hit to their bottom line.

1 comment
  1. After decades working in treatment centers from detox to inpatient and halfway house I can’t remember a single person who was admitted for marijuana dependence. Always wonder where they got those numbers. Court ordered or teens forced by parents after being caught with a joint I imagine.

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