In nearly every election cycle, a new state joins a growing number of those that have legalized marijuana—but at what cost? This drug is often portrayed to voters as “beneficial,” a “new economic driver” and a way to achieve “social equality.” In reality, that isn’t the case. Marijuana is a drug that can be damaging to the developing brains of young people and children, who can potentially suffer from psychosis, schizophrenia, depression and suicidal thoughts.

However, the realities of marijuana are often glossed over as states push to become the latest to embrace the reefer trend. This is deeply concerning to Kevin A. Sabet, Ph.D., the president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an organization dedicated to advancing “marijuana policies that are aligned with the scientific understanding of marijuana’s harms, and the commercialization and normalization of marijuana are no more.”

Recently, Dr. Sabet had the opportunity to sit down with The Daily Citizen and share about the marijuana industry, the dangers of the drug and his latest book, Smokescreen: What the Marijuana Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know.

Dr. Sabet’s interest in the topic began as a teenager, as he realized that the community around him didn’t want to face the issues of drugs and failed to recognize it as a big problem.

“I grew up in an upper middle-class community that tried to kind of sweep those issues under the rug and say that parents should deal with it and schools don’t need to deal with it,” he shared. “That kind of got me fired up. What I’ve seen over time is that denial is a hallmark of addiction, and I feel like right now we’re completely denying the harms of rushing so quickly into the commercialization and normalization of marijuana.”

In the book, Sabet shares how he learned more about the effect of drugs within communities while working as a student reporter in Orange County, Calif. When he went to University of California, Berkeley, he started a new civic group called Citizens for a Drug-Free Berkeley. Sabet quips that the group was? about as “popular as starting the Coalition for a Wine-Free France.”

But that hasn’t stopped Sabet from trying to raise awareness during his time in university about the detrimental impact of marijuana with community leaders, including a young Gavin Newsom, future governor of California.

“This is a brain drain,” Sabet explained. “This is about promoting a substance that research has shown can reduce an IQ by up to eight points among young people and is also very much connected to mental illness. Specifically, schizophrenia, psychosis, depression and anxiety.

“It’s just a really, really, really big problem.”

One of the other issues that young people can struggle with is suicide ideation. In the book Sabet shares the story of families who have lost their children to suicide, likely induced by marijuana use and abuse.

“I talked about several young people who unfortunately died by suicide, brought on by high potency marijuana, which exacerbated their depression and everything else,” he said. “We’ve seen upticks and suicide issues as soon as marijuana was legalized in somewhere like Colorado, for example. It’s just really problematic and upsetting.”

One story he shares is that of Andy, a young man who used marijuana as a teen and became addicted after coming back from combat. On March 1, 2014, Andy’s father came home to find the house in disarray, with broken mirrors, houseplants destroyed and pool balls flung all over the place. When his father made his way through the carnage and out to the backyard, he found that Andy had hung himself from a tree. In a desperate attempt to save his life, Andy’s father cut him down from the tree and attempted some life saving measures—but he was too late.

In a note found inside the house, Andy said, “I will only get worse. My soul is already dead. Marijuana killed my soul and ruined my brain. I am doing everyone a favor.”

“I ruined my brain with drugs.”

If Andy were still alive today, there’s no doubt that he would tell the world that legalizing marijuana will not help the country or its people, but big business, especially those associated with tobacco, pharmaceuticals, alcohol and even billionaire George Soros, are spending billions to ensure that marijuana spreads far and wide.

“Well, unfortunately, this came about because this is all about greed and money, so the regulations are really bad,” Sabet explained. “I think we need to follow the money.”

For example, there have been a plenty of reports about how positive CBD, the second most prevalent active ingredient in marijuana or cannabis, is for someone’s health and can reduce “pain, anxiety, and inflammation.” As Sabet reports, there is “no proof it does anything of the kind.”

“One of the most brilliant PR campaigns for marijuana was the push to put the word ‘medical’ in front of the word marijuana,” Sabet said. “It allowed people to have the permission to be okay with marijuana because not only was it not bad for you, but it was now good for you.

“When you look at what’s now for sale in marijuana shops, it’s a very, very high, potent dose, (that has no medical benefits at all).”

“Who do you want to trust,” Sabet asked. “The health folks and the folks that really have health in mind, or do you want to trust the people with a financial incentive.”

Thankfully, the nation’s most notable medical organizations continue to maintain that the drug is dangerous and are still against legalization.

In addition to big business and notable investors, politicians from both sides of the political divide have attached themselves to the marijuana movement in order to receive a big payout at some point.

“There’s definitely politicians on both sides that have essentially been purchased by the industry,” he said. One of those politicians is former Speaker of the House John Boehner. “He’s being paid by big tobacco and the marijuana industry folks to push legalization, and he gets $20 million if it’s legalized.”

Disturbingly, the number one target for marketers and the industry are young people. Social media influencers have even been hired to peddle marijuana to their young fans.

“For young people under the age of 25, their brain is essentially a dollar sign for this industry,” Sadet explained. “They need young people to start using marijuana because they won’t get addicted to the drug unless you start when you’re young. Addiction doesn’t start when you’re 50, it starts when you’re a teen or young adult, and the industry knows that and they’re targeting young people on social media with cartoon ads, edibles candies and cookies.”

There’s even a Columbia University professor who came out and said that he was a habitual user of heroin and encouraged the rest of the country to? decriminalize all drugs.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for someone who’s a teacher and professor of young people to share openly that they use heroin. Are they impaired when they’re teaching? I mean, how is this working? I think that’s alarming, actually.”

The legalization of marijuana has also allowed illegal businesses to thrive.

“I actually interviewed a drug dealer in my book and business has never been better, because when it’s legal cops look the other way and they can say it’s for personal use,” he said. “Demand is through the roof because kids think, ‘Hey, it’s legal for me,’ even if it’s not legal for them. The dealers can fill that void, and they’re doing that.”

So, what should parents do in order to protect their children?

Parents can write their lawmakers and demand that the issue of marijuana is taken seriously. They can also advocate that this topic be discussed in their local communities, clubs and at the PTA, raise awareness and become educated on this topic, so they can warn their children about the dangers. SAM has resources on their website that can help.

When it comes to marijuana, there isn’t much good news to report. The legalization agenda is spreading, and even Congress is likely to take a vote on national legalization. That’s why it’s more important than ever to stand together and protect teens and young adults from the dangers of marijuana.

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