JOHNSTON — Legalized marijuana has been “a disaster” for Colorado, and other states should be wary of loosening laws to allow more access to the drug.

That was the message members of Project SAM, which is an acronym for Smart Approaches to Marijuana, had for 200 state officials and anti-drug activists who attended a half-day symposium Thursday afternoon at Camp Dodge in Johnston.

The symposium, which was partially sponsored by the Iowa Alliance for Coalitions for Change and the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, comes in the run-up to the 2014 legislative session during which legislation to legalize marijuana for medical purposes is expected to be introduced again.

“Right now, there is a false dichotomy that the only two options for dealing with marijuana are either legalize or lock 'em up,” said Kevin Sabet, director of Project SAM. “We really reject bumper-sticker policy solutions, and we’re really going for a health-first approach, not incarcerating low-level marijuana users but also not opening up marijuana to the legal market to what we worry will be the new tobacco industry of our age.”

The third way, Sabet said, is treatment for people using marijuana, and on the medical side, “we urge research into the non-smoked components of marijuana so it’s available at a pharmacy.”

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have public medical marijuana programs, according to a survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for recreational use.

In October, a Gallup poll showed a clear majority of Americans — 58 percent — said the drug should be legalized for the first time since the polling company began asking the question in 1969.

“We’ve seen referrals for adolescent treatment skyrocket to four times what it was in the last couple years. We’ve seen a doubling in traffic fatalities with a driver who is positive for marijuana since 2006,” said Dr. Christian Thurstone, who runs an adolescent treatment center in Denver and who was part of the SAM tour.

He spent part of the meeting showing examples of the ads used by marijuana shops in the state — some of which featured women in skimpy outfits and had sexually suggestive themes — and describing marijuana products, such as soda pop, candy and cupcakes, for sale in the state.

Gov. Terry Branstad has been adamantly opposed to marijuana legalization in the past, as have his top drug policy appointees. Earlier this week, Branstad indicated dim prospects for marijuana legalization legislation in an answer he gave during a radio call-in show.

“Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen in the near future," he said. "Colorado has done that, and they’re having a lot of problems. I think the state of Washington has. We’re going to be looking at the impact that’s had and some of the challenges and problems. But I just don’t see support in the Iowa Legislature to legalize marijuana.”

This week, an Iowa native who helped create New Mexico’s medical marijuana program hosts a pair of talks in the state about his experience.

In a telephone call Thursday morning, Dr. Steve Jenison said the program has helped thousands of New Mexicans ease their “pain and suffering through a highly regulated program.”

In New Mexico, 23 licensed providers sell marijuana to thousands of residents who are prescribed the drug by medical professionals, Jenison said. The providers pay annual taxes of at least $10,000 a year up to $30,000 a year. Jenison said he “is not aware of any evidence” the program has led to higher usage by people who aren’t legally allowed to use it.

(13) comments


I would say Terry Branstad's speeding SUV going 90 mph on the highway poses more of a threat than marijuana being legalized. Terry Branstad is a joke and needs voted out of office. 1st time marijuana posession offenders face a max of 6 months in jail and up to a $1,000.00 dollar fine! These are some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country! Eric Branstad the governors' son killed 2 people in 1991 in a car accident and recieved a $15.00 dollar fine! I would like to know how anyone has the right to tell me what I can/can't smoke or consume. I don't have the right to tell fat people to stop eating mcdouble's 7 times per week. Drugs are civil issue, not criminal and should be treated as such.


I live in Colorado, and I'm curious what sort of disaster it's become here. Wonder if the people at SAM could qualify it. Well I know they can't, but I want to hear their best explanation.


According to numbers taken directly from the FBI: Arrests for simple possession of cannabis equate to about 50 percent of all drug arrests in the US. Over 600,000 victims are arrested annually and increasing every year. Cops working overtime at our expense to victimize cannabis users! This results in billions of dollars in lost taxpayer revenue, lost work time and the destruction of lives for no reason. And most importantly the diversion of vital law enforcement energies from dealing with violent crimes. It is now perfectly clear that cannabis is safer by far than the legal corporate sponsored alternatives which kill over 350,000 people per year in the USA. Critical mass has been reached. The People demand legalization of cannabis. Anyone who opposes this is either a darn fool or has some financial stake in victimizing citizens like drug, tobacco, or booze pushing corporations. This includes rabid dog reefer madness law enforcement making a legal killing on the nearly $750,000,000 wasted yearly on victimizing cannabis use and trade. END THE LIES and LEGALIZE!!!!


According to figures from CDC . gov booze prescription drugs and tobacco kill over 350,000 people per year here in the USA. Accordind to figures from CDC . gov Cannabis kills zero people per year. Not one cannabis overdose death and all medical history.

I am a 57 year old, husband, father, electronics engineer, musician, ASA certified sailboat skipper, successful business owner, community volunteer, homeowner and long term (40 years) recreational marijuana user. Arrest me, I’m quite a dangerous fellow! There millions more out there just like me. Critical mass has been reached! According to the CDC web site no one has ever died from cannabis intoxication in all medical history. How long do we have to suffer the lies and harmful costly laws from a government whose own studies have shown cannabis all but harmless by comparison to prescription drugs, tobacco and booze. LEGALIZE IT ALREADY!!! Vacation in Colorado and Washington this summer!!!


If project SAM (SCAM) had to rely on those who are addicted to marijuana they would lose close to 95% of their "addicts" who are not addicts in any real sense of the word. They are court ordered. The only disastrous consequence that I see in Colorado is that those involved in project SCAM continue to resist the will of the people there. They function out of their own greed and they fail to contribute in any meaningful way. This was overwhelmingly apparent in the recent hearing held by Sen Patrick Leahy. Regulation of marijuana will come about with or without their help. Journalists who consider project SCAM to be a voice of reform are mistaken and should spend at least a few minutes doing some research on their own. Addiction to Drug War money is a far greater problem for the states than is addiction to marijuana, itself.


The legislators in Colorado did not have any problems leveling a 25% tax on the product, maybe they now think that they should have made it higher. When are people going to realize that the war on drugs was and continues to be a total failure? Have we learned nothing from that debacle called Prohibition? One joint and you need to go to rehab. That is the same argument that was used during the Prohibition years. Big gov't bureaucrats making lifestyle decisions for we the plebians. Enough is enough decriminalize it now everywhere and learn how to regulate it responsibly.


The majority of Americans want marijuana legalized.

Marijuana will be legal in the U.S. within 20 years.

This is just a delaying action by some con artists trying to scam 'rehab money'. Or, as Mel Brooks once put it, "we've got to protect our phoney baloney jobs!"


If S.A.M. was for real and if statistics touting all the teens in marijuana rehabilitation was real then S.A.M. would stand to make billions when cannabis is legalized. S.A.M. is a lier and wants to profit off the government sending teens to rehab. Just another black hole, sucking tax dollars under the facade that Americans need protection from cannabis addiction. Teens now have a choice, go to jail or go to rehab for smoking a joint and getting caught. If S.A.M. was a real industry, it would not rely the government to make money it would make billions off all the addicts that would be created if cannabis were actually dangerous. Cannabis is not dangerous and project S.A.M. is project S.C.A.M.


Ever wonder why the prohibition of alcohol required a constitutional amendment and the prohibition of marijuana was a power grab by congress. These folks are going to be slow to return the power they seized. Now is the time to call these smucks out for the liars that they are. The prohibitionists should be staring at life in prison for attacks against humanity and freedom.


"treatment for people using marijuana" Hahaha. You smoked a joint, so you should be imprisoned or sent to rehab.


Nobody told me it takes 5 minutes for your comment to show. I guess I should lay off the pot


So much ignorance in one article, it is hard to read. "treatment for people using marijuana" hahaha. You smoked a joint?! Oh dear god, we better send you to rehab.

Craig B
Craig B

Sounds like a truly unbiased panel assembled here: "The symposium, which was partially sponsored by the Iowa Alliance for Coalitions for Change and the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, " NOT! Certainly we need to listen to the will of the majority and stop with the current "Drug War" policies. Whether it's legalization, decriminalization, or medical directions, there is obviously great demand for this product, and relatively little harm, compared with alcohol or tobacco especially.

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