Friday, January 18, 2013

Legalization's biggest enemies

David Frum, Gil Kerlikowske, and Michele Leonhart.

Before marijuana legalization spreads from Washington and Colorado to other states, it will have to get past a group of hardened drug warriors, many of whom have developed a personal interest in maintaining prohibition. While most of these ideologues lack the authority to actually change laws, their larger purpose is to maintain the marijuana propaganda machine and push back against pro-legalization rhetoric. Here are the top five people threatening to halt the state-by-state legalization domino effect that many pot activists hope is coming soon:

1.  Kevin Sabet

A former White House advisor and outspoken opponent of legalization, Sabet worked under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations as a political appointee and researcher in the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He touts himself as a drug policy reformer, arguing for an approach that does not include arrests but stops short of legalization – leaving many marijuana reform advocates dubious.

Sabet's new group, Smarter Approaches to Marijuana, also known as Project SAM, uses clever language to disguise what essentially remains a prohibitionist argument. Advocates of legalization stress that so long as a drug is illegal, arrests will inevitably follow. Semantics aside, Project SAM's "alternatives" to prohibition simply don't represent enough of a change to the status quo.  

2. Mel and Betty Sembler

Save Our Society from Drugs, an advocacy group led by these two hardened drug warriors, dumped more than $150,000 into lobbying against Colorado's recent marijuana legalization initiative, Amendment 64. This was only the latest in a long string of regressive actions by the Semblers.  A staunch conservative who has worked for Mitt Romney, Scooter Libby and George H. W. Bush, Mel Sembler made his money in banking and, at one point, drug treatment. From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, he and his wife ran drug treatment centers for adolescents under the name STRAIGHT, Inc. Investigations of their facilities have uncovered disturbing allegations of rape, beatings and intense psychological abuse taking place at the program's centers. Sembler has done little to respond to these reports, instead touting STRAIGHT's supposed successes while continuing his anti-drug work under Save Our Society from Drugs. Meanwhile, the Drug Free America Program, Save Our Society's sister program, has a federal contract to help small businesses develop employee drug-testing programs – which brought it $250,000 in taxpayer dollars in 2010 alone.

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