A national organization focused on regulating legal marijuana criticized a cannabis business conference set to begin Thursday in Anaheim as a gathering of “big marijuana” leaders whose product is having a negative effect on poorer communities.

Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told City News Service that statistics from states that have legalized marijuana are showing significant increases in driver-impaired crashes and arrests of blacks and Latinos under 21. The former policy advisor in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations said the marijuana industry is “targeting” poorer, minority communities because they are “more vulnerable to addiction.”

He added, “If you have fewer supports and opportunities to get a job you’re more likely to use drugs and they know that.”

Aaron Smith, the executive director and co-founder of the National Cannabis Industry Association, which is sponsoring the Orange County conference starting at 10 Thursday morning at the Anaheim Marriott, dismissed Sabet’s statements.

“In general, I think he’s completely off base,” Smith said. “He’s pointing to anecdotal data that he selects on his own that supports his argument. The reality is we’re looking at states that have legalized cannabis going on five years, Washington and Colorado, and guess what? The sky hasn’t fallen. What has fallen is teen marijuana use.”

Sabet doesn’t agree. He said school officials in those states are “overwhelmed” with disciplining students for marijuana use.

“There’s no principal I can find who says it’s good for the schools whether it’s tax revenue or anything else,” Sabet said.

Sabet compared the marijuana industry to “Big Tobacco,” and said it was “amazing” that Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones was scheduled to be a keynote speaker at the Anaheim event.

“In 50 years we’re going to look back and say we can’t believe our insurance commissioner and decision makers attended a marijuana conference,” Sabet said.

“I understand they have to implement” the law voters approved, Sabet said of government officials like Jones. “But it’s like looking to Phillip Morris to establish policy on tobacco. We’d never do that.”

Sabet’s organization advocates for decriminalization of marijuana use while promoting education about the dangers of the drug. The nonprofit also wants tighter regulation of marijuana such as “no edibles or advertising.”

Marijuana users need to know it is addictive psychologically and that the product being sold these days is much more potent, Sabet said.

“We need to spread awareness this is not Woodstock weed,” he said.

Smith argued that teen marijuana use is down because it’s harder for youths to get their hands on pot in states that have legalized it.

“Crime is down and tax revenue is up,” Smith said. “We’re showing that the best way to handle cannabis is taking it out of the criminal market and putting it behind a regulated counter.”

The conference in Anaheim is aimed at helping “entrepreneurs who want to comply with the law and how to be prepared to do so,” Smith said. “We’re all about compliance and following state law and the will of the voters. We’re absolutely not big tobacco. Our product is by every objective measure safer than tobacco.”

—City News Service


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