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A lobbying group is trying to reform the marijuana laws in Montana



Billings, Montana – This week, a nonpartisan advocacy group is lobbying in Helena in an effort to change Montana’s marijuana laws.

A national organization called Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) works to inform Individuals about the risks associated with marijuana use and to advance sensible marijuana laws. Local affiliate SAFE Montana of the organisation also participated in the conflict.

Kevin Sabet, president and chief executive officer of the organization, stated on Friday that the group does not want to see another “Big Tobacco” campaign including marijuana. Prior to co-founding the organization with former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy, a Democrat, Sabet officially advised three White House administrations on drug policy.

“We spent decades trying to roll back the issues related to big tobacco. And we learned too late. Millions of people dead as a result of the tobacco industry lying about its harms, and we all believed it until we realized they were lying,” Sabet said on a video call. “I just hate to see us repeat history again with marijuana. It’s going to be too late. You’re going to have millions of people with psychosis, schizophrenia, mental health issues, you know, raising suicide risk five-fold.”

According to Sabet, the group is attempting to restrict recreational laws and outlaw marijuana ads. He thinks that marijuana has been overly commercialized and is more harmful than most people realize.

“We don’t want to see people go to prison for marijuana, but we also don’t want to see it massively commercialized. We think that right now, a lot of the American public are underestimating the effects of today’s very highly potent marijuana,” Sabet said. “We have a lot of kid-friendly products. Gummies, ice creams. We have things called concentrates which are essentially oils that you can vape and also use in different ways. Some of them have 99.9% THC, they claim.”

And Sabet thinks that when it comes to things like marijuana, there is a double standard.

“So part of the reason why alcohol and tobacco are so harmful is because they’re legal. It’s not just the biological issue of how harmful it is to your brain. It’s also the legality of those two drugs. And the train has left the station, but you know they’re widely commercialized, they appeal to youth, they’re badges of adulthood. They’re promoted and normalized in society. And so why would we want to make that same mistake again if we can help it I think is the question.”

Billings marijuana store proprietors disagree.

According to Jason Smith, a co-owner of Montana Advanced Caregivers, tougher laws would cause more harm than good.

“Montana had $300 million in cannabis sales this year, the first year, with $58 million generated in tax revenue. And it created 5,000 jobs of state-badged employees that had to pass a background check. And this would create a $300 million black market and jobs in a market only for the cartel to bring in fentanyl and death into Montana,” Smith said on Friday. “If you can’t get it here, and you’re saying it’s illegal, then the only other place to get it is either from your neighbor or whoever’s bringing it in across state lines. And then you don’t know what you’re getting.”

According to Smith, in order to be able to sell marijuana, dispensaries must be licensed and adhere to tight regulations.

“We card here. The stuff is tested. It’s regulated. If you’re not the age of 21 or older, you’re not allowed to purchase or procure any products here,” Smith said. “Your neighbor doesn’t card. Your neighbor doesn’t care. Your neighbor will trade weed for a carton of eggs or anything else because there’s value to it.”

Smith also thinks that the commercialization of marijuana is not similar to what Big Tobacco did with cigarettes.

“It’s already the people’s choice. Nobody is forced to come into here or any of these establishments. It shouldn’t be compared to cigarettes or big tobacco, but it should be compared to alcohol and that’s why it’s regulated through the Department of Revenue in the state of Montana. The same department that regulates the alcohol and liquor licenses within the state of Montana,” Smith said. “Besides the product being safe, it’s the people that work in these establishments, run these establishments and own these establishments that make it safe. There’s not a lot of people in various jobs that have to pass a background check and get fingerprinted.”

According to Smith, modifying restrictions might result in the state losing a lot of employment and revenue.

“Montanans have passed and created a $300 million industry. And if we don’t fill those needs for that industry, somebody else will. Somebody that’s not regulated or tested or zoned to be in these spots,” Smith said.

He contends that changing the limits could cause the state to lose a significant amount of income and employment.

“Listen to the people,” Smith said. “And the people voted for recreational marijuana in Montana and safe access to these products in Montana.”

Sabet, among others, disagrees and calls for change. Sabet thinks that when Montana voters approved the 2020 initiative that legalized recreational sales, they weren’t given the complete picture of what they were voting on.

“I also think voters here in Montana were duped when it came to the recent initiative. Most of them, according to our polls, did not know the specifics. They didn’t realize that it would have so many more pot shops. They didn’t realize that there was essentially unlimited amounts of THC allowed in the product,” Sabet said. “They didn’t realize they could come in gummy form, gummy bears and ice creams and cookies and sodas. And advertising. So this is a huge issue.”

A huge issue – on both ends of the argument.

“This, like I said, is all inspected and regulated,” Smith said. “The guy on the corner isn’t, and he doesn’t care.”


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