Side Event: Then and Now: Industry play books and addiction marketing

Samantha Kumara: Sri Lanka President established anti-drugs taskforce in 2015.

Kevin Sabet, Smart Approaches to Marijuana: we have evidence-based cannabis policy that rejects there are only two choices of putting people in prison or legalizing marijuana use. We realizing drug use and dependence is a nuanced issue, and there are different settings of use. There is no one size fits all approach to drug policy. But we do support general principles such as alternatives to incarceration including drug treatment courts, FDA-approved medications derived from marijuana, and ending legalization and commercialization of pot. SAM has several affiliates around the world including in Canada.

In the early days of big tobacco, tobacco cigarettes were also marketed as medicinal products. The industry wanted to obscure truth and question every scientific discovery, eg. on whether it causes cancer. Now, big tobacco is back in other forms including e-cigarettes. The industry targets younger people in order to better ensure habit of use, as initiation in later years is less likely to lead to addiction. Industry go to most vulnerable, poor areas, to sell their products, from tobacco to alcohol and not to marijuana. The tobacco industry is not allowed to do advertising in US but go around the world to do it including Southeast Asia and Africa.

Now with marijuana, the industry is also targeting children, such as with edible products, eg. ‘pot tarts’. Marijuana is not ‘just a plant’ anymore, derivatives contain up to 98% THC. Our concern is not with people like hippie users but more people who look like me, wearing a suit, who are looking to make money. We see private equity firms investing in expanding the cannabis industry.

We have to look after prevention and treatment programmes, and now have to look over shoulder at industry marketing their products. In Colorado, there is still advertising for marijuana products, only restricted to publications where readership is no more than 30% underage. In Nevada, only small-scale cultivators are proposed to be criminalized, not larger industry.

Pubudu, Sri Lanka: what will happen if cannabis is legalized in other parts of the world? Making a legal industry will create more problems that we cannot imagine. We have illusions that it will be very nice to legalise marijuana. The industry will come to you as experts, academics, professionals and civil society organisations.

[A film was screened on dangers of legalizing marijuana. There was no time for questions.]

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