Skip to main content

Be afraid of Big Marijuana

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Tue September 10, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Frum: In August, the Obama administration retreated on marijuana policy
  • Frum: It's important to appreciate that "medical marijuana" is a laughable fiction
  • He says the emerging marijuana industry will target young people and minorities
  • Frum: It is a myth that marijuana is harmless and nonaddictive; we need better policy

Editor's note: David Frum, a CNN contributor, is a contributing editor at The Daily Beast. He is the author of eight books, including a new novel, "Patriots," and a postelection e-book, "Why Romney Lost." Frum was a special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002.

(CNN) -- "We're on the brink of creating Big Marijuana." That warning comes from my friend Kevin Sabet, a former senior adviser on drug control policy under President Barack Obama. Sabet now heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group on whose board I sit.

At the end of August, the administration that Sabet served announced a retreat on marijuana policy. It will allow the states of Washington and Colorado to proceed with the legal retailing of marijuana. And it will get out of the way of the approximately 20 states that allow so-called medical marijuana.

With a referendum on marijuana scheduled in 2014 in Alaska and action likely in coming years in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oregon, half the states in the union may soon allow the sale of marijuana to almost anybody determined to buy it.

David Frum
David Frum

To understand where the marijuana debate is going, it's important to appreciate that "medical marijuana" is a laughable fiction. In California, the typical user of so-called medical marijuana is a 32-year-old white man with no life-threatening illness but a long record of substance abuse.

Under Colorado's now-superseded medical marijuana regime, only 2% of those prescribed marijuana suffered from cancer, and only 1% from HIV/AIDS. Some 94% cited unspecified "pain" as the justification for their pot prescription. False patients find unscrupulous doctors: in Oregon, only 10 practitioners write the majority of all marijuana prescriptions in the state. When a TV crew visited a marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles last year, they met for five minutes with a man who turned out to be licensed as an acupuncturist and were then handed a prescription signed by a doctor they never met.

Sanjay Gupta: Why I changed my mind on weed

Where marijuana is allowed to be sold, somebody will sell it. As Sabet warns, the marijuana industry of the future is already taking form. In March of this year, Fortune magazine devoted its prestigious cover to the Arcview Group, an investor group seeking to capitalize on the emerging marijuana market.

Warren Buffett famously explained the economics of tobacco: "It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. Plus, it's addictive!" Alcohol conforms to the same ugly logic. Half of all the alcohol consumed in the United States is consumed by underage and excessive drinkers. As one industry observer has bitterly remarked: "Regardless of its public stance, the industry considers underage and excessive drinking to be profit centers that need nurturing, rather than problems that need solving."

Washington details pot sale rules
Feds loosen marijuana enforcement
Free pot handed out in Colorado

Sabet foresees that the emerging marijuana industry will target the same populations as are targeted by the tobacco and alcohol industries -- young people and racial minorities -- and for the same reason: secure and contented people don't tend to be heavy consumers of psychoactive substances.

Sabet has laid out a better vision of an effective national drug control policy in his new book, "Reefer Sanity." Sabet's message eschews punishment in favor of treatment; it replaces condemnation with compassion. But it understands the difference between compassion and credulity. Nobody ever helped a troubled person by accepting lies at face value.

"Reefer Sanity" debunks seven myths about marijuana, beginning with the biggest myth of all: that this drug is harmless and nonaddictive. It's a message that is all the more timely in the face of last week's report by the Department of Health and Human Services that regular marijuana use surged over the half-decade from 2007 to 2012.

"Reefer Sanity" is the best explication I've seen of the errors on which the case for marijuana legalization has been built. It's a book that every concerned parent should read -- and that every advocate of legalization should be challenged to answer.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT