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While the nation remains divided on whether recreational marijuana should be legalized, an exclusive new Yahoo News/Marist Poll finds that 83 percent of American adults — even 81 percent of parents — believe that medicinal marijuana should be legalized.
But as perceptions of pot as it relates to the American family shift, a member of one of America’s most prominent families is speaking out.
Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) says that lobbyists pushing for the legalization of medical marijuana are trying to sell the public on a “Trojan horse” — making the drug seem more normalized and acceptable in society, though it still has dangerous impacts on minors. “The public health doesn’t stand a chance in this fight, because we’re up against money that is going to continue to grow as this industry spreads,” Kennedy concedes, likening marijuana proponents to the big tobacco industry.
Through his organization Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), Kennedy is trying to educate the public and offer other solutions available in the medical industry. He points to the FDA-approved medication Marinol, a synthetic form of cannabis, as an alternative to the real thing.
“Right now, no one knows what they’re buying — that can be a hazard to public health,” Kennedy tells Yahoo News and Finance Anchor Bianna Golodryga. Referring to natural marijuana, he says, “If someone needs the beneficial effects of some component in this plant, then we know what to do. We don’t eat willow bark from a tree, we buy aspirin. We have a process for doing that. It’s called the FDA. The reason we do is we want to protect the public’s health. We’re doing nothing of the sort by just calling it, in a blanket sense, ‘medicine.’”
“Our country is susceptible to addiction,” Kennedy tells Golodryga. “I just don’t know how much sense it makes to try to allow another intoxicating, addicting substance to be sold in the marketplace.”
Kennedy argues that lack of regulation in the pharmaceutical and alcohol industries is a prime example of why marijuana could be just as dangerous if legalized. “What do you say to those who argue … that alcohol has far more deadly consequences and addictive consequences than marijuana?” asks Golodryga.
“I don’t disagree with that. Two wrongs don’t make a right,” responds Kennedy. “Alcohol’s already legal, and there’s no putting that horse back in the barn. Let’s stop this horse from getting out of the barn. It’s a question of, what floor do they drop you from — the 10th floor or the fourth floor? You’re still in trouble.”
Kennedy also bristles at the notion that there is “less to worry about” with pot than with opioids because fewer people are dying from the former. “I just don’t think we should relish the thought that any American is kept from their God-given potential.”
In Rhode Island, where the district he represented in Congress is located, drug overdoses are a public health crisis. The opioid crisis is at the root of that epidemic, but Kennedy argues that marijuana usage needs to be examined just as carefully.
“What I worry about is marijuana sapping the motivation and cognition of our young people. So, they might not end up on a slab because they OD’d on fentanyl, because they were originally addicted to OxyContin, but their lives may end up becoming permanently disabled. Essentially, they’re missing in action. They’re not killed in action. They’re missing in action.”
Read more from the Yahoo Weed & the American Family series: