Kevin Sabet Doesn’t Have a “Calling”; He Has a “Bigotry”
There Can Be Only One Kevin
The International Business Times has published a long piece on the Joker to my Batman, Project SAM’s Kevin Sabet. My favorite part of the story is this quote from Kevin:
“I want there to be a thousand Kevins,” he exclaims. “There can’t be just one Kevin. Kevin is not going to be able to do this alone. Kevin can’t just do this year after year; he is going to have a heart attack.”
When you start talking about yourself in the third person, your grip on reality is starting to slip.
Kevin laments that he cannot find any fellow anti-pot warriors to take up his crusade. Part of the problem, of course, is that three in five people (58 percent) want legal marijuana and four in five people (81 percent) want legal medical marijuana. Only one in fourteen people (7 percent) believe the War on Drugs is successful and only one in seven (14 percent) support any continued jailing of people for marijuana. Four in nine (44 percent) have tried marijuana and one in nine (11 percent) currently consume it. Three out of four (75 percent) believe marijuana will eventually be legal to buy and use nationwide.
The IBT piece is thorough and includes some criticisms from Tom Angell and Brian Vicente. It asks questions about Project SAM’s funding, which Sabet claims runs at about $100,000 per year. Kevin also admits they’ve gotten some new funding that’s allowed him to hire on two assistants. I highly doubt that factors in all of the flights, hotels, rental cars, and per diem that have Kevin dashing to (as the IBT piece notes) London, Dublin, Melbourne, New York, and Washington.
The piece even questions Kevin’s lack of an alternative policy to ending marijuana prohibition. The Project SAM site is clear about what their policies would entail. “[P]ossession or use of a small amount of marijuana [should] be a civil offense subject to a mandatory health screening and marijuana-education program… [including being] monitored for 6-12 months in a probation program designed to prevent further drug use.” In other words, tickets, fines, and coerced rehab backed by urine tests. And what if I say no to all those? I suppose it’s still jail time.
Big Marijuana – Kevin’s Moby Dick
Kevin’s white whale is the specter of commercialized marijuana. Project SAM demands that “Production, Distribution, Dealing and Sale of Marijuana… remain misdemeanors or felonies…” They’d end mandatory minimums, provide drug treatment in prison, and restore civil rights upon release, but if you grow or sell marijuana, Project SAM wants you in prison.
Project SAM never puts forth an actual initiative or policy proposal, as Kevin himself notes. “We have to go on the offense,” he says. “I am sick of saying, ‘Vote no, vote no.’ We want to be ‘yes.’” But how do you get an America where three-out-of-five support commercial legalization to vote for what is essentially possession decriminalization with mandatory rehab and a continuation of imprisoning growers and dealers?
Kevin has shifted his rhetoric as American attitudes have shifted on marijuana. First, he was stridently anti-medical marijuana. In 2012, he claimed California had “buyer’s remorse” from medical marijuana. He cheered as Los Angeles shuttered dispensaries “selling marijuana for so-called ‘medical’ purposes,” something he hailed as “a sad joke”. Fast forward three years and three Sanjay Gupta specials later and Kevin is telling IBT that “components of marijuana might hold medical promise.” But for Kevin, medical marijuana means Big Pharma dispensing those components as non-smoked pills, liquids, or inhalers at great profit, rather than people growing a medicinal herb to treat themselves cheaply.
While he promotes Big Pharma, lately Kevin claims to be fighting “Big Tobacco 2.0”, the concept of marijuana industries becoming corporate giants that “will try to hook potential customers when they’re young – hence the growing ubiquity of marijuana-infused gummy bears and other candies,” as if adults don’t like gummy bears and candy. (In fact, they do. “75% of adults regularly buy or eat candy,” according to Simmons Market Research Bureau, and “As the population ages, much of the future growth in candy consumption is projected to occur among adults…”)
IBT even lends credence to his concern by repeating the Sabet Conjecture: “Our country has already allowed the mass commercialization of two intoxicating substances, alcohol and tobacco, which together cause more than 500,000 U.S. deaths and $500 billion in social costs each year. Do we want to follow the same path for marijuana?”
Shame on IBT for not pointing out that, unlike alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is neither toxic nor addictive to the point of serious physical withdrawal. The Sabet Conjecture is that for every $1 in taxes alcohol and tobacco reap there is $10 in resulting social costs, so we can’t bank on tax revenues for legal marijuana. Shame on IBT for not asking, now that Colorado and Washington have reaped $200 million in marijuana tax revenue, where’s the corresponding $2 billion in marijuana social costs?
What Kevin Sabet is really proposing is ensuring that cannabis consumers are still marginalized, discriminated against, kept out-of-sight, and punished if they are caught. Punish users and dealers and growers just a little less. I call it the Kinder, Gentler Drug War model.
Kevin’s Mission is Getting Kevin Paid
I punctured his kinder, gentler drug war schtick last year in La Grande, Oregon. I asked him, “If you oppose commercialization of marijuana and oppose locking up marijuana smokers, do you support Washington DC’s amendment? It is ‘grow-and-give”; there’s no commercialization whatsoever.”
“No,” Kevin responded, “because DC is just trying to lay the groundwork for commercialization later.”
“OK, so a system with no shops and no advertising that only allows people to grow personally and share can’t be approved, because someday, it might become commercial?” He nodded, annoyed. I continued, “So what about the other non-commercial systems, like Spanish collective model, Amsterdam coffee shop model, or state-run liquor store model, where there isn’t a ‘Big Marijuana’ corporate industry?” Nope, he couldn’t support any of those, either. Kevin will not support a marijuana policy that recognizes adult use free from government supervision.
Kevin was touring Oregon to try to help defeat our legalization measure, which won by the greatest margin of the four legal states (thanks, Kev!) He was able to tour Oregon because of money that had been appropriated by county drug prevention groups through their grants of federal money that are only supposed to be for education, not electioneering.
Kevin thought he could get away with his anti-pot-vote “educating” because he had done the same thing in 2012 and nobody called him on it. In 2014, however, I and other advocates, backed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s office, questioned the propriety and legality of using government money to campaign against our initiative.
We prevailed, as Oregon law is very strict about anti-electioneering. While Kevin tried to sell his 13 Oregon Tour stops as merely “informational” and not intended to oppose our legalization Measure 91, guidance from the Oregon Attorney General reminded him that “if the information presented to the public clearly favors or opposes the measure,” it doesn’t have to explicitly say “Vote No on 91” to be considered anti-Measure 91 electioneering.
In doing the open records requests to determine just how the counties were misspending their federal grant money, I learned that Kevin earned a $3,000 appearance fee from each of the tour stops, in addition to having his flight, rental car, hotels, and per diem covered. When six of the thirteen tour stops cancelled for fear of investigation into misuse of funds, I discovered that some county district attorneys were using their offices, phones, email, and work time to solicit donations to cover Kevin’s appearances from other district attorneys and county sheriffs.
Kevin Sabet is nothing more than the musicians stoically playing on deck as the Titanic of marijuana prohibition sinks. As the failed Oregon Tour proved, the only people supporting Kevin’s mission now are Big Rehab and Law Enforcement, which together provided 92 percent of all the funding against Oregon legalization and all of the money to bring Kevin Sabet to speak to mostly-empty halls filled only with fellow rehabbers and law enforcement.