As campaigns to legalize marijuana via ballot initiatives are gearing for Election Day, so are advocates for pot prohibition. The top three opponents to keep an eye on are the co-founders of the anti-cannabis group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM): former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D - Rhode Island), Obama Administration drug policy advisor Kavin Sabet and Senior Editor of The Atlantic, David Frum.
Together, they have raised $2-million to fight legalization efforts in states such as Maine, Nevada and Arizona. But they're focusing their energies on California, where Proposition 64 - the ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana - has been gaining steam thanks to generous financial support from former Facebook President Sean Parker. (Yes, the guy Justin Timberlake portrayed in The Social Network.)
California will be the biggest cannabis battleground in November. And activists on both sides of the issue know that what happens in the Golden State will have massive repercussions for the legalization movement in general. "If there's one thing we agree on with legalization advocates, it's that California is important," Sabet told The Los Angeles Times earlier this month.
That's because some think legalization in California - which has the 6th biggest economy in the world - could help similar movements in other states gain momentum. "Once California legalizes marijuana, I think the rest of the country is going to follow," Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) told a crowd of young voters at UC Berkeley last spring.
But failure in California and other states voting on the issue could hobble efforts to repeal cannabis prohibition.
“If we don’t win California and at least half of the other states in play right now, the public narrative around our industry will dramatically change for the worse and for quite some time, setting us back a decade or more,” Aaron Smith - Executive Director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) - said at a convention in Oakland last June.
The trio of Kennedy, Sabet and Frum could have a major impact on how the vote goes. But they don't always hold in their own in debates about the issue. So here's clips of them getting owned on the marijuana issue.
1. Nancy Reagan, Jr.
On Oct. 9, 2015, anti-pot crusader Patrick Kennedy - yes, of those Kennedys - stopped by Real Time with Bill Maher to chat about cannabis. His reception was a bit hostile from the start.
"What is your group called? Smart Alternatives to Marijuana. I'm sorry, but I don't think they're smart," Maher said before reviewing Kennedy's remarks on cannabis. "You said marijuana destroyed the brain and expedited psychosis. It sounds like you've been hanging around with Nancy Reagan in 1983."
"But you're reasoning is: adults shouldn't do things because kids might. Adults shouldn't have fire or drive cars under that reasoning too."
2. Senate Showdown
One of the biggest roadblocks in the way of legalizing medical marijuana in America is the federal government's definition of cannabis. Right now, cannabis is listed alongside heroin as a Schedule I drug, meaning it is highly dangerous and doesn't have any medical value, according to the federal government. The American people disagree. In total, 26 states have legalized medical marijuana. And advocates are pressuring the federal government to get onside with public opinion.
But guess who doesn't want that to happen. Kevin Sabet, who appeared at a 2015 senate hearing to dissuade lawmakers from re-categorizing cannabis as a Schedule II drug. That move would make it easier for researchers to study marijuana's health benefits and potential risks. Sabet tried to derail the discussion by calling re-scheduling a "red herring" that wouldn't make any difference, but New Jersey Senator Cory Booker wasn't going to let him make a farce of the hearing.
"Clearly it's optics that you're concerned with," Senator Booker said accusingly. "Clearly, the downside of this - the danger of this is not that families will be hurt. You're just saying that they won't be helped enough. Right now, we have...an entire marijuana plant that has a lot of other aspects that could potentially be helpful. Right now we have a chokepoint on the source and researchers unable to get it. And a schedule change may not have the grand difference that people want, but it has a difference in the ability for research being done."
And that pretty much shut Sabet up.
3. David Frum vs. David Frum
David Frum advocates against marijuana legalization by arguing that there are no upsides to repealing marijuana prohibition.
"The promise that legalization will actually protect teenagers from marijuana is false," he wrote in a 2014 commentary for The National Post. "So, too, are the other promises of the legalizers. It is false to claim that marijuana legalization will break drug cartels. Those cartels will continue to traffic in harder and more lucrative drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. Criminal cartels may well stay in the marijuana business, too, marketing directly to underage users. Public policy is about trade-offs, and marijuana users need to face up to the trade-off they are urging on American society. Legal marijuana use means more marijuana use, and more marijuana use means above all more teen marijuana use."
But he offered a strikingly different view during a 1996 C-SPAN interview with Christopher Hitchens.
"I think it [legalziation] makes sense, at least for the less serious drugs...It's a very lucrative trade and people get butchered over it. And I have to think it would be better for everybody if you took this trade out of the hands of criminal syndicates [and] put it in the hands of respectable companies that democratic candidates could demagogue against come election time: the evil tobacco-marijuana complex. But ensure that it was regularized, the level of profit in the industry came down, and that it wasn't worthwhile to butcher people over it."
So Frum was once pro-marijuana legalization. But just in case this reversal seems too extreme, rest assured that he still preached the notion that every political issue requires a tough tradeoff.
"Yes, you would have a rise in addiction. I have no doubt about that," he told Hitchens. "[But] you'd have a fall in the murder rate. I think that would be a fair trade."
If only we could get the two Frums together for a debate.
Banner image: David Frum, Senior Editor, The Atlantic, and author, Why Romney Lost speaking at Policy Exchange 2014, (Policy Exchange / Flickr.com)