Just Say “HELL NO!” to SAM’s Patrick Kennedy as Joe Biden’s Drug Czar

During the first cannabis law reform campaign that I worked on, all the way back in 2003, we were paid a visit by representatives of the United States Drug Czar’s office, in an illegal, taxpayer-funded trip to campaign against a local decriminalization measure in little Columbia, Missouri, AKA College Town USA. All in an effort to stop the decriminalization of less than 35 grams for all adults and the legal, personal possession of patients with a doctor’s recommendation, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONCP) sent the Deputy Drug Czar, Scott Burns, and a young staffer named Kevin Sabet, to stop our local city measure.

While the ONDCP’s meddling helped the Reefer Madness prohibitionists defeat our 2003 initiative, local advocates struck back, passing both decrim and medical measures in 2004, both with over 60% of the vote. While Deputy Drug Czar Scott Burns has seemingly lost relevance, at least from this drug policy reformer’s perspective, and my quick Google research, Kevin Sabet has continued to preach his Reefer Madness prohibitionist message as the executive director of the so-called Smarter Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), which he co-founded with former Representative Patrick Kennedy, of the famous political clan. While Sabet and Kennedy have tried to put a “kindler, gentler” face on their prohibitionism, claiming that they support decriminalization, just not legalization, their actions don’t support their rhetoric, and I don’t remember Sabet ever apologizing for campaigning against decriminalization in the past.

Now, Patrick Kennedy is trying to get appointed as president-elect Joe Biden’s Drug Czar, which would have disastrous consequences to our movement towards treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal one. Kennedy has had his own battles with addiction, for which I sympathize, but his wealth, privilege, and family connections put him out-of-touch with the realities that everyday people face when suffering criminal consequences due to the failed and harmful Drug War.

Joe Biden needs to pick a Drug Czar that understands that no one should suffer criminal consequences for their personal cannabis use and that we are not going to arrest and jail our way out of our nation’s addiction issues. NORML has made it easy to speak out against Kennedy’s appointment and to make the even better decision to shut down the Drug Czar’s office altogether:

At a minimum, the head of this agency must be someone whose views align with those of most Americans. Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy does not meet this criteria. Rather, he is a longtime opponent of legalization who has dedicated a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money to organize against marijuana policy reform. In fact, he co-founded with Kevin Sabet the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana — which has consistently lobbied against virtually every state and federal reform bill to legalize marijuana for either adult-use or for medical use. Further, while the group claims to support ‘decriminalizing’ penalties for the personal use of cannabis, it has failed to use its lobbying resources to advocate in favor of such policies in states like Virginia and in others that have done so. In 2014, Kennedy said “Incarceration is a powerful motivator,” in regard to his efforts to prevent the adult consumption of cannabis.

There is no place in the Biden administration for policy leaders who cling to these outdated viewpoints. It’s time to do as you promised and to move away from the failed drug war policies of the past. You promised to do so and we expect you to follow through on your pledge.

Please join in the effort to stop a Reefer Madness prohibitionist from becoming the next Drug Czar. The cannabis community, as well as the larger drug policy reform movement, have made too many strides forward to take a major step back. Just say NO to the Drug War, and just say HELL NO to Patrick Kennedy as Drug Czar.

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