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Legal marijuana: Trading one harm for another?

Big Pot

Watch the latest CBSN Originals documentary, “Big Pot: The Commercial Takeover”.

As the debate over the legalization of marijuana sweeps through America, one question dominates the conversation: Will legalizing pot do more harm or good? The more appropriate question, however, may actually be whether we’re trading one harm for another.

According to the CDC, 4.2 million Americans meet the criteria for marijuana abuse or dependence, and the marijuana market is adding an average of 7,000 new users a day. That’s a statistic the captains of the marijuana industry can’t ignore.

“Does a certain level of addiction in this industry, on this particular product, concern me?” asks Privateer Holdings CEO Brendan Kennedy in the new CBSN Originals documentary, “Big Pot: The Commercial Takeover.” “Of course it does. It concerns me as a entrepreneur. It concerns me as a CEO. It concerns me as a father.”

Privateer Holdings CEO Brendan Kennedy. CBSN Originals

So, why do it? Why make a recreational drug that millions of people abuse every year accessible with the click of a mouse? Why do it when people with marijuana dependencies will likely be the pot industry’s best customers? And how can companies like Privateer succeed when their concern about these issues is in direct conflict with their need to make a profit?

Well, for starters, cannabis entrepreneurs like Kennedy believe that, by offering a safer and more regulated product, they will actually be helping those people. They also feel that pot smokers will benefit from access to a wider variety of cannabis-based products. 

“I think that most people in the United States who want to consume cannabis are already consuming it,” explains Kennedy. “It will be interesting to see how the different products lower the percentage of people who actually consume via smoke. I think we’ll see other form factors that will be far more appealing from a health perspective than actually smoking cannabis. ... I know more than a dozen elite athletes who consume cannabis. But they’re not consuming a joint. They’e vaporizing. They’re using cannabis in a topical for sore muscles.” 

CBSN Originals

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), who co-sponsored the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” Act in Congress, believes that the immediate benefits of legalization outweigh its potential adverse effects.

A couple dances and smokes a joint during a rally for the legalization of marijuana in Mexico City. Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images

“I’m not pretending that I know what’s going to happen 100 or 50 or even 25 years from now,” he says.

“But isn’t that scary?” CBSN correspondent Tony Dokoupil fires back. “You’re asking people to jump.”

“What’s scary is that we are destroying lives. What’s scary is we can’t protect children now. What’s scary is that we are subsidizing Mexican drug cartels,” Blumenauer passionately insists. 

“What’s scary is that the unaccompanied minors that are flooding into the United States are here because of the disruption in Central America and the destabilization in Mexico. ... African-American young men are four times more likely to be arrested or hassled for something that most Americans now think should be legal. Now those are things that are scary now! Those are things that are wrong now!”

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