There is an argument for why Kevin Sabet should be considered the arch nemesis of the movement to legalize marijuana in the United States. Not only has this false prophet of prohibition dedicated his life to driving a wedge between progressive pot policies and the American citizen sabotaged by antiquated drug laws, but his mission, at times, teeters on the verge of insanity, as he never gives any indication of throwing in the towel, regardless of how many times he is beaten.
Supporters of Sabet revere him as an expert on drug policy and addiction; after all, he once held a lengthy position as a senior advisor of drug policy for the White House. Currently, he’s the head cheese of the anti-pot organization Project SAM. And while the prohibitionary philosophies of the past have come with hammer-fisted attitudes written by lawmakers that would rather lynch dope fiends on the courthouse lawn rather than look at them, Sabet’s tenacious approach to maintaining prohibition is sans noose, and largely based on the fear that Big Marijuana will destroy the world.
“As Gandhi once said, ’First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,’” said Sabet in a recent interview with Substance.com. “For us, winning isn’t about putting people in jail or marginalizing anyone. It is about stopping the advent of the next new industry that will prey upon the most vulnerable for profit. We know we’re up against a lot—the pot barons who see green in their future—but we also know we are right. “
Sabet is concerned legal marijuana will birth the devil’s child to the tobacco industry and release an evil into the streets that will turn the American youth into a scene out of a Mad Max film. “We don’t do this because some evil person in a skyscraper is worried about reduced revenues that will come if marijuana is legal,” said Sabet. “We do this because we want to prevent Big Tobacco 2.0.”
“’Marijuana kills’ is not the justification for keeping marijuana illegal,” Sabet continued. “The justification is to reduce normalization, advertising, promotion, access and availability. And one way to do that is to restrict its open sale. It’s about stopping the next Philip Morris.”
Interestingly, while Sabet stands on a platform of hatred in an effort to combat the inevitability of Big Marijuana, he has done so by preaching erroneous claims surrounding pot addiction rather than stand toe-to-toe with the monster itself. Marijuana policy experts argue that Sabet’s concerns over the second coming of Big Tobacco are ludicrous because we need that type of regulation to cripple corporate underworld already in progress.
“We already have ‘Big Marijuana,’” Tom Angell with the Marijuana Majority told Substance.com. “It’s called cartels and gangs. They’ve largely controlled the illegal marijuana trade in this country and globally for the last several decades. Switching to a legalization model will allow for regulation and control of the industry. Under legalization, we can ensure the potency and purity of products and inform consumers about what, exactly, they’re purchasing and putting into their bodies. We can make sure sellers verify the ages of their customers to better keep marijuana out of the hands of children. And we can make sure some of the revenues from sales are put into education, healthcare and public safety. None of those things are possible under the prohibition model that Kevin Sabet is so desperately trying to protect.”
So, would Sabet prefer the profits from the marijuana industry be distributed back into the back market, providing added ammunition for the drug cartels or into civil society where it can be used for the betterment of our nation?
Sabet argues that this is not an “a/b choice,” and despite legalization in Colorado and Washington, the drug cartels are still profiting. However, Sabet fails to recognize that the cartels are only still profiting because cannabis remains illegal across the majority of the United States – two states with an operational legal framework is not enough to eliminate the black market, but it is making a dent…the concept is working. Recent reports even indicate that the tides of drug trafficking have turned, with marijuana from the U.S. now being smuggled into Mexico.
However, Sabet argues that the legalization of marijuana or any other drug will not stop the wrath of the cartels. “[The cartels] aren’t interested in drugs,” explained Sabet, “They’re interested in money. They make money from many sources, including drugs. They will continue to make money—from drugs and other sources—if drugs were legalized.” The only way to prevent this is by focusing “on the underlying issues, e.g. political institutions, social structures, social policies; and (2) reduce our demand for drugs,” he said.
Essentially, Sabet believes the answer to the drug war conundrum lies in continued prohibition; yet after dropping a trillion dollars on the drug war since 1971, it is apparent this U.S. policy needs serious revision.
Look no further than alcohol prohibition, says Neil Franklin, director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “The clear example here is the re-legalization of alcohol,” he said. “Yes, organized crime syndicates continued to make money by selling other drugs, like marijuana—but not alcohol. There was no money left in bootlegging… Once marijuana is nationally legal, the prices will fall right into the basement. The remaining small illicit markets will be easily managed by law enforcement and other regulatory systems.”
Most Americans are law-biding citizens, says Franklin. “They want to sell and buy products legally. They also want to buy from safe environments, both atmosphere and in product. They will even pay a premium for these benefits.”
Sabet believes normalized marijuana will be a detriment to society, and he urges the youth of the nation, specifically the millennial generation, to not get bamboozled by the greed surrounding the green. Yet, Sabet was on the verge of accepting thousands of dollars from Oregon law enforcement to campaign against the legalization of marijuana, before High Times west coast correspondent Russ Belville exposed the scam.
Substance.com columnist Tony O’ Neil also found a connection between Kevin Sabet and Mel and Betty Sembler, a couple of anti-drug radicals with an addiction program connected to cases of hardcore abuse and torture. The word on the street is that Sabet was once an employee of this diabolical duo, but when asked, he denied the allegations.
“I never worked for them,” said Sabet. “I am against the use of any of those techniques for treatment or anything else. DFAF [Drug Free America Foundation, the Semblers’ new project] has nothing to do with SAM—it has zero involvement. No money. No influence. Nada. We agree on some issues, yes, but I think you’ll find we are different organizations with different approaches. And I only became aware of any allegations after a few articles on the subject some years ago.”
However, O’Neil got his hands on the 2007 DFAF Annual Report, which indicated that Sabet was not telling the truth. Sabet was listed as a member of the advisory board; he was also a part of the editorial board for the journal of the Institute of Global Drug Policy – all connected with the DFAF. Still, while Sabet was forced to admit his connection with the organization, he maintains no money was received from those positions. “I was on the advisory board along with Jeb Bush, Bob DuPont and others for a few years—that’s all unpaid,” he said.
“So who is the real Kevin Sabet? I know the person that Kevin Sabet wants us to believe he is. And I see suggestions of the person he really was, thanks to the bits of his background he hasn’t managed to completely whitewash. But the whole picture remains tantalizingly out of reach,” writes O’Neil in his article “We Need to Talk About Kevin Sabet.”
By the end, O’Neil suggests the motive behind Sabet’s campaign to prevent the legalization of marijuana may have more to with his personal financial gain than the prevention of Big Marijuana. “Clearly, it is how he makes his living and travels around the world,” he writes. Yet, he could simply be a product of evil intentions, as he was cut from a mold that was “prepared to let drug users die in the street in pursuit of their fundamentalist agenda.” Therefore, if money is not Sabet’s motivation for campaigning against legal marijuana, the only other option is “more disquieting,” and that is why “I think we need to talk about Kevin.”
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