WASHINGTON – Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) urged Congress not to legalize marijuana, breaking with other members of his party such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Schumer announced today for the 4/20 cannabis holiday his plan to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, writing that he had evolved on the issue along with the electorate.
Kennedy argued lawmakers should oppose legalization of marijuana, in part because it would worsen the crisis of addiction in America.
“The biggest issue here is denial in our lives, those of us who come from homes with alcoholism and addiction, who live with it in our own lives. In fact, the people with addiction are often the last ones to know,” Kennedy said at a press conference today with the organization he co-founded called Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
“I would say as a society, right now, collectively, as a nation, we are in a collective denial about the scope and severity of addiction in this county,” he added.
Experts joined Kennedy at the press conference to warn about the dangers of driving under the influence of marijuana and how marijuana use could lead to addiction to other illicit drugs.
“At the end of the day, as all these experts can tell you, it’s addiction, it’s addiction, it’s addiction. We can substitute one for the other; the bottom line is we have to understand this for what it is, and I think obviously it detracts at a time when we’re in an all-out crisis in this country with addiction,” Kennedy said. “It makes it more difficult for us to have a clear and consistent voice in policy about this to be giving a wink-wink over here while saying maybe it’s not a smart idea over there. That is dissembling – isn’t that what we call it in recovery when we try to have it both ways?”
Kennedy warned about the high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC contained in marijuana edibles, noting that consumers “might not be aware of how much THC is in what you are eating, hence all the emergency room visits.”
“Because people thought ‘well, I only took a bite or two and it never made an impact on me, so I finished the brownie, and next thing I knew I was hallucinating in an ER,’” Kennedy said.
“Our country clearly loves to self-medicate, all right, and more than ever before now because the stresses and anxieties brought about by a shifting economy that does not share wealth equally across this country and leaves more and more people feeling insecure about their financial well-being and about the future of their families – that’s the truth,” he added.
Kennedy said America’s young people are “heading into a global economy” that’s inflicting a lot of stress and they need the mental health skills to cope.
“Are we going to look the other way and allow an addictive industry to say, oh, we’ve got an easy way out’ – and, furthermore, that easy way out is going to get you caught and imprisoned through the kind of illnesses we’ve heard described here today,” he said, before referring to the lives of his own children.
“I don’t want anybody to grab them and take them down. I don’t want any enemy coming across the border and taking my kids hostage by addiction and mental illness,” he added.
Kennedy called for “consistency” from President Trump on opposing the legalization of marijuana on the federal level.
Citing Trump’s public comments about his brother Fred’s battle with alcohol addiction, Kennedy said the president understands the impact of addiction.
“He makes no bones about the fact that he does not drink alcohol, doesn’t even have one single drink because of the impact; that should tell us a lot,” the former congressman said. “He understands this personally.”
Kennedy, who currently resides in New Jersey, applauded state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-N.J.) for his opposition to legalizing marijuana.
“We’re looking forward to turning back this effort to legalize marijuana in New Jersey so that we don’t make it the ‘Garden State,’ but instead we say it’s a state that’s going to safe for our young people,” he said.
Following the event, Kennedy, an advocate for opioid addiction treatment efforts, told PJM that Trump ought to be “really tough” on negotiating with China and Mexico to shut down fentanyl labs in their respective countries.
“Fentanyl and carfentanil, in a first-class envelope you can kill 50,000 Americans, Kenney said of the synthetic opioids. “So it’s pretty hard to stop that other than at its source, and the fact is we know because of our intelligence where those labs are in China and in Mexico. For President Trump to be really tough on this, he would be negotiating with Mexico and China to shut those labs down, and we have the intel as to where they are but we’re not pressing them on it. But we should.”