Marijuana – Smart Approaches to New Policy: Public support for legalizing marijuana is higher than it’s ever been. Is this good or bad? Should government be playing a role in regulating it? Tune in now to find out!

Air Date: 12/10/2018

Guest: Luke Niforatos

On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton


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Transcription note:  As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.

Faith And The Culture

Rick:

You’ve found your way to the intersection of faith and the culture. This is WallBuilders Live! Where we’re talking about today’s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture. We’re always doing that from a biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective.

We’re here with David Barton, he’s America’s premier historian and our founder at WallBuilders. Tim Barton’s a national speaker and pastor, and president of WallBuilders. And my name is Rick Green, I’m a former Texas state legislator.

Check us out at WallBuilders.com and WallBuildersLive.com. Two different websites, great information at both. The WallBuilders Live site is where you’ll find a list of our stations across the country and also be able to get some archives of the program over the last few weeks.

Then you can go to WallBuilders.com where we have all kinds of great tools for you to equip and inspire your family. And might I just suggest some great Christmas gifts there at WallBuilders.com as well. What more could you ask for than to give the gift of freedom? So, make sure you check out WallBuilders.com today for some of those gifts.

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Support Is Higher Than It’s Ever Been

Rick:

Alright, guys, we’ve got a special guest coming on later today. We are talking marijuana and the increase across the country of public support for legalizing it. It’s higher than it’s ever been, I guess. Our guest is going to tell us a little bit more about that. He’s really diving into the details of it. But we really want to talk about is that good or bad? Is it a  important government role to prevent this? Is the danger great enough in the community that we think government should continue to stop this?

David:

I think, Rick, if you asked most people what they know about marijuana, whether it’s good or bad, they would say, “Well, I don’t think it’s all that good, but it doesn’t do that much harm.” I think most people cannot do any kind of apologetic either for it or against it except for the fact that from a libertarian perspective who are we to criminalize that kind of individual behavior etc..

Tim:

Yeah, I think the arguments have really been defined by one of the libertarian notions of “do no harm”. Their measuring rod is, “Well, if it doesn’t harm people then it should be okay, it should be legal, it should be acceptable.” However, it really is worth noting even with some of this marijuana industry, is that who is the one perpetuating this message? Well, is it people that ultimately just want to legally smoke marijuana? Is it the marijuana industry? Where is this message originated from.

Because one of the things we know from the political circles we’ve run in so long is how significant that that kind of marketing, or the marketing of your message, is. And so, if you have a really good message, where’s the message coming from and is it people that are promoting it for their own personal gain? Is it like this big marijuana companies trying to make money? Or is it just this fundamental flaw when it comes to understanding humans society and saying, “Hey, if it doesn’t really hurt people then shouldn’t we legalize it? I mean, does it really hurt people if we go 75 miles an hour in a 65 mile an hour zone? Like, well, if it does no harm then why are you against it?”

And that’s certainly a flawed argument on its own face value, on the surface, that’s wrong. But this is certainly one of the arguments we see today is that marijuana is not harmful, so how can we be against it?

32 States

David:

And because the messaging is what it is we see that on ballot initiatives. In this last election there were seven ballot initiatives on marijuana. And currently, at this point, 32 states have legalized marijuana in some way shape fashion or form.

So, it is a movement sweeping the nation. It is really popular. There’s not much opposition to it. As a matter of fact, North Dakota is the first state in the last several elections to say “no” to taking the barriers down around marijuana. So, it is something that is a growing movement, people are not informed on it, the talking points are out by the other side.

But there is more to it than what we hear. And so it’s interesting we’ve run across a great guy who has a lot of information. He spoke for our legislators conference this year because legislators across the nation are facing this – whether to decriminalize it, or whether to legalize it, or at least do recreational, or whether we do medical, or whatever, and all of these different degrees. And so he came in as the top group in the nation for information that is scientific and factual and not just hyperbole.

And so Luke Niforatos is really great. Smart Approaches to Marijuana is the name of the group. Good information they’ve got.

Rick:

Luke will be with us when we return. Stay with us. You’re listening to WallBuilders Live.

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Bringing Common Sense to the Issue

Rick:

Welcome back. Thanks for staying with us here on WallBuilders Live. Luke Niforatos is with us and this topic– I am so excited that we’re going to be able to talk about it and actually be able to bring some common sense to this issue. He is the chief of staff and senior policy adviser at SAM. And, Luke, SAM stands for– help me remember.

Luke Niforatos:

Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Rick:

Yeah, see, I love the title, but I couldn’t remember it. I was just like I know these guys are bringing some common sense on the marijuana issue. Anyway, Smart Approaches to Marijuana. And I was really intrigued– by the way, thank you for coming on. I didn’t give you a chance to respond there.

Luke Niforatos:

It’s a pleasure to be on here. Thank you for having me.

Rick:

Well, I was surprised as I was looking at how you guys got started. Interesting coalition of folks that founded this organization. Democrat Patrick Kennedy, which, usually it’s  conservatives that are saying “no” to legalizing marijuana. So, how did you guys bring this coalition together?

Luke Niforatos:

Yeah, it’s really interesting. A lot of people think that this is a partisan issue, the issue of marijuana legalization, and it really is not. We have enjoyed a broad coalition across pretty much all aspects of the political spectrum. So, we were cofounded by Dr. Kevin Sabet, a former Obama administration senior drug policy adviser. He also advised the Clinton and Bush administrations making him one of the only people to be nominated  by both a Republican and Democrat Whitehouse. As well as, as you mentioned, former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy.

The Next Addiction for Profit Industry

Luke Niforatos:

So, these two guys came together when Colorado legalized back in 2012 and they said, “You know what, this is going to unleash the next big tobacco. This is going to be the next addiction for profit industry and we need to get ahead of this.” So, they formed SAM – Smart Approaches to Marijuana – and really have been the leading national group. And I’m very grateful to be the chief of staff and senior policy adviser for this organization. We pretty much oversee all of the movement in opposition to the commercialization of marijuana across this country.

Rick:

So, you’re monitoring, then, all of the state efforts to legalize. One of the things that got our attention with you there’s a poll now saying that support for legalizing is now up to 62 percent. So, you’re monitoring all this. You’ve got your eyes on the movement to legalize across the country and also I’m assuming even the industrialization, if you will, or the I don’t know what the right word is for the–

Luke Niforatos:

Yeah.

Rick:

–I’m hearing all kinds of people are now wanting to go into the business.

Luke Niforatos:

Oh yeah.

Rick:

They’re wanting to grow and sell and it’s becoming big business.

Luke Niforatos:

Yep, it’s really, what it’s becoming is what it always– what we knew it would be. Which is that it’s about profit, it’s about the money. And so what we’ve seen is in the five years since legalization starting in my home state of Colorado– so I lived this firsthand. We saw this industry start, get legalized, and now is making billions of dollars. And guess who’s investing and making the money off of it? It’s big tobacco. We have Altria, Philip Morris, Alliance One International, all big tobacco companies all either invested or just about to invest in the marijuana industry.

The Big Tobacco Playbook All Over Again

Luke Niforatos:

So, what we’re seeing is this big tobacco playbook all over again. And I live it in Colorado. They’re putting up ads using kid friendly advertising like the Cookie Monster to sell high potency THC cookies. They’re doing 99 percent potency lollipops. And people really to understand that this is what marijuana is now. We’re not talking about people who just want to smoke a joint and sing Kumbaya like in the 70s, right?

Rick:

Yeah.

Luke Niforatos:

What we’re talking about now is 99 percent potency versus what was 5 percent potency in the 70s. So, we don’t even have the research on what that does, but we know it’s dangerous. So, we really have to make sure we know what this marijuana is that we’re talking about. And we have to understand that this is about big business now, it’s about profit. It’s not about kind of the mom and pop shops and it’s not about simply  decriminalizing it so people don’t go to jail. If it was about that we’d be having a different conversation, but it just simply isn’t.

Rick:

Well, and that, man, there’s so many places we could go with this. And that’s why I do want to encourage people to go to your website and learn more. Give us that website real quick so they can know where to go and we’ll also have a link at WallBuilders.

Luke Niforatos:

It’s www.LearnAboutSAM.org, LearnAboutSAM.org.

Rick:

LearnAboutSAM.org. We’ll have an easy link today at WallBuilders.com. I was perusing the website this morning and just, man, you guys have an amazing staff as a part of this, the different approaches that you’re taking. So, there’s so many different parts of that we could talk about.

What’s the Big Deal?

Rick:

I think first, the first thing it comes to mind I think is, what’s the big deal? Why is it not okay to legalize this? Like you said, isn’t it just people having some recreation, and taking a load off, and relaxing. Tell us what you have found in the short period of time that we’ve seen it legal in Colorado and a few the other states. What are some of the negative side effects to the culture itself – not just the individual. A lot of our listeners will say, “Well, if somebody wants to drink alcohol, why not? Why not let them smoke marijuana?”

Luke Niforatos:

Right.

Rick:

What are the cultural effects on this?

Luke Niforatos:

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of people think that, hey, if somebody does this to there own body it doesn’t affect me, then, no big deal. And I would agree with that statement. And the fact of the matter is is that marijuana use and marijuana legalization does not just impact the user. It impacts– it certainly impacts the community.

So, what we’re seeing is in Colorado, and again, I lived this firsthand with my wife and two year old daughter. I can just kind of tell you a story basically that started me on this journey. My wife and I would take our daughter on walks in her stroller in our neighborhood in Denver. And basically, we would take her for a walk and there would be a cloud of second hand marijuana smoke that would cover her stroller. And my wife turned to me one evening and she said, “I can’t believe this is normal. I can’t believe this is okay.”

Rick:

Yeah.

Looking at the Issues

Luke Niforatos:

And I turned to her and I said there’s just no way that that’s okay. So, first of all, it’s not a good environment to raise your family in. Nobody wants to raise their kids around secondhand smoke and all of that. But from the statistics of what we’re seeing over the last few years we’ve seen that Colorado has seen a 158 percent increase in marijuana impaired driving fatalities. In other words, tons more people are dying on the roads since legalization of marijuana as a direct result of marijuana impairment. So, that’s one big issue.

The other issue we’re seeing is that this industry is using billboards, TV ads, radio ads,  magazines, newspapers, pushing their products in the form of sodas, and lollipops, and gummy bears, all very dangerously high potency THC products. And obviously, that’s targeted at kids. And so we’ve seen youth use rise as a result.

So, what we’ve seen is Colorado is the number one state in the country for first time youth marijuana use. That’s not by accident. That’s as a direct result of legalization, the expansion of marijuana use.

Rick:

Yeah.

Luke Niforatos:

And then finally what we’ve seen is that this industry has no barriers, no regulation. The industry players are on the regulatory boards making decisions on the rules, so they’re writing their own rulebook. And if you think what I’m saying is crazy just ask the former deputy pot czar in Colorado who I spoke with on stage at an event I was doing. He openly admitted that the only people they had in the conversations for regulations were industry players–

Rick:

Wow.

The Real Guiding Factor

Luke Niforatos:

–and they said that they didn’t think anybody else was necessary. So, this clearly is an effort that’s not being guided by public health or a respect for other people’s rights to not be infringed upon. What it really is guided by is a massive industry making billions of dollars that wants to invade our culture. They want to expand use and normalize use just like big tobacco did, and honestly, just like big pharma.

And on the note of big pharma, it should be very concerning to us that the former CEO of Purdue Pharma, the guy who brought us OxyContin and marketed that, is now the CEO of a major marijuana company. So, if it doesn’t tell you what this is all about I don’t know what will.

Rick:

Yeah, yeah, no kidding. And you mention public health – this is not– we’re not even addressing today or going down the path of medical marijuana. That’s a different topic. We’re talking recreational use here where it’s becoming normalized to the point that  kids are likely to try now. Instead of it being kind of the fringe kind of drug crowd at the school, it’s the vast majority of them are trying things like this because we’ve made it popular.

Luke Niforatos:

And it’s more accessible.

Rick:

Yeah.

Luke Niforatos:

And here’s the here’s the thing – you may be listening and you may say, “Look, I don’t think that we need to be putting people in jail for smoking a joint.” And you know what? SAM, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, we completely agree with you. So, we reject this notion of the false dichotomy. People think you either have to legalize marijuana completely or continue to throw people in jail and we say, “No way. There are multiple other better policy options than just in or out.”

So, what we propose is, look, decriminalize users. Nobody should go to jail for smoking a joint in the confines of their own home. But on the same token, do not legalize wholesale commercial use and production of marijuana. Don’t let Big Tobacco 2.0 come into our backyard.

So What Do You Do?

Rick:

Well, I was just going to ask you – so, what do you do then? Because I served on the * committee in the legislature, I actually supported, at one point, and we never actually took a vote on it, but I was open to lowering some of the punishments and decrim to some extent. But what do you do? Do you just fine then? Does it become a ticketed item instead of going to jail for possession if it’s under a certain amount?

Luke Niforatos:

Right. So, I think there are multiple options there. We think that, basically, this should be directed by public health. It should be focused on education. So, should we encourage marijuana use? No. Because the science tells us that use of marijuana is very damaging to the human body and the human brain. Especially in youth, but certainly, in adults as well. We know it’s directly correlated to psychosis, schizophrenia, suicide. We know that, obviously, it impairs you while driving and while working. So, it’s a negative thing that we shouldn’t encourage.

So, we definitely think that there should be some sort of system, whether it’s fines or otherwise, to discourage use. But certainly nobody should go to jail for it. And then we also believe that people should have the option perhaps going to either a drug court or being at least referred to a treatment professional if they’re caught using any form of drug, but obviously marijuana as well, to receive education and kind of understand that  when you’re making this decision to use this drug these are the potential impacts.

Rick:

Yeah.

Luke Niforatos:

So, we strongly believe in the education piece of this as well.

Middle of the Road Solutions

Rick:

Well, and I don’t mean to go too far down the policy path of how everything would be implemented, so I’m probably distracting us a little bit with that last question. But I think that approach of saying, look, we don’t have to go to one extreme or the other here there are some middle of the road moderate solutions here that are far better than just blanket legalization and complete illegalization.

Luke Niforatos:

Right.

Rick:

So, I agree with you on that, and I think there’s ways to do that, and we can dive into that. But back to some of these health things. I think this is what I’m really wanting to get across to especially young people today is this desire to make it look so harmless that  the legalization folks have pushed for is so dangerous. Because this– from what I understand, and what I’ve read, it definitely has a very negative effect on your memory, on your IQ–

Luke Niforatos:

Yeah.

Rick:

–on your on your motivation. It’s not a good thing for a culture and a society from any perspective that I can think of to be encouraging this.

Luke Niforatos:

Right. And here’s the thing, we’re not out here trying to be * for madness 2.0. We have no interest in telling people you’re going to smoke a joint and then the next thing you’re going to do is shoot up heroin and go kill everybody. We’re not going to tell you that’s what’s going to happen.

We actually have an award winning scientific advisory board of people from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, all the leading researchers in the marijuana fields, who are literally doing research on live patients with THC right now as we speak. And they’re the ones that are guiding what we put out, they’re the one guiding our data.

Yearly Report

Luke Niforatos:

So, we put out a yearly report that looks at how it’s going in the legalized states. And we’re the first ones to tell you, look, we don’t have the final answer. We’re five years into legalization. Colorado just legalized five years ago. We don’t know all the answers, but what we do know is that this initial evidence that’s coming out of the state is very concerning.  

Rick:

Yeah.

Luke Niforatos:

A massive, more than doublings, of drug driving fatalities – that’s very concerning. Youth usage is very concerning. There are a host of other indicators.

But you go back to your point, though, folks are being kind of told this is no big deal. The other thing they’re being told is they’re being promised a whole laundry list of just kind of basically gifts from the industry. They’re told the black market will go away, they’re told there will be tons of tax revenue and the schools will be paved with gold, they’re told the whole number of things and we just haven’t seen that materialize in the states that legalized.  

I know in Colorado our teachers were on strike this year asking for more pay. And we were told that marijuana was bringing in all these education dollars. We were told that the black market and cartels would go away, but NBC recently reported, and a number of other outlets did, that there are literally foreign drug cartels arming massive illegal pot grows in the national forests of Colorado with AK47s right now.

Rick:

Yeah.

Putting It in Perspective

Luke Niforatos:

And I’ve spoken to a lot of narcotics officers in a lot of these different legal states and they’re so inundated with the legal pot that they don’t even know what to do with it.

So, to put it into perspective for you, in Oregon where they legalized marijuana, more than 70 percent of their market is illegal.

Rick:

Wow.

Luke Niforatos:

It’s 70 percent of the “legal” market in Oregon is black market. So, we were sold a bill of goods here. Legalization did not get rid of the black market. And it’s not bringing in the tax windfall that we were told either. And honestly, when we talk about taxes we also have to talk about the cost too. So, it’s a total bill of goods.

Rick:

And and I wish, man, I wish we had more time, but before I let you go let me also ask you your thoughts on that polling data. Because I don’t think it differentiated between medical marijuana.

Luke Niforatos:

Yeah.

Rick:

So, it kind of makes it sound like there’s more support out there for recreational than there is. Am I reading that right?

Luke Niforatos:

Oh yes. Yes. So, these polls that you see that say 60 or 70 percent support, you really have to look go a careful eye. Because really, what’s happening is people are– I was talking– I talked about it earlier this false dichotomy. And all these polls fall into that mix where they basically just force people to say “yes” or “no” to legalization. But, in reality, there are so many other options.

What Happens When People Are Given Options?

Luke Niforatos:

And so we’ve done a significant amount of polling across the country. We did national polls, we did polls in New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Michigan, North Dakota, elsewhere. And what we found is when you give people options and you say, “Do you want to either decriminalize it, legalize medical, legalize recreational, or prohibit all of it?” The overwhelming number of people want to just decriminalize it. We find support falls well below 40 and even 30 percent for legalization when people are given options.

So, the fact of the matter is the American people know better. They want smarter policies for marijuana. And thank God we’ve got a name, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and we think we’re offering some smarter approach.

Rick:

Yeah. Yeah. This is great information, man. I wish we had more time because there’s so many things people need to know about this and that’s one reason the website’s such a good tool, LearnAboutSAM.org, LearnAboutSAM.org. We’ll have a link today at WallBuildersLive.com. Luke, great information. Thank you so much for coming on. Let’s get you back again soon and dive a little further into this.

Luke Niforatos:

Hey, thank you, Rick. It was a real honor being on the show and God bless you.

Rick:

Stay with us, folks. We’ll be right back with David and Tim Barton.

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David:

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Rick:

We’re back on WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us. Thanks to Luke Niforatos for joining us today. And also SAM, thanks for the good work they’re doing. It’s called Smart Approaches to Marijuana. You can check out their website at LearnAboutSAM.org. We’ll have a link today at WallBuildersLive.com.

Back with David and Tim Barton now. And, guys, at the legislators conference I had to leave before he spoke this year. What was the response from legislators to this topic?

David:

Oh, it was really really high. And going back to the way Tim set up the argument, if it does no harm, but then as Luke points out, well, it depends on what you mean by “doing no harm”. If 158 percent increase in driving fatalities, if that’s what you mean “doing no harm” then– And he goes through all of these numbers that people are just not talking about and there’s so much there. And the legislators responded really well.

Not Publicly Discussed Numbers

Tim:

Yeah, I think he probably had the most questions after his talk than anybody else that spoke because he has numbers that are not– they’re not publicly discussed numbers. And they’re publicly available right there on SAM’s website, but it’s just not stuff that the public knows.

Even the point he makes when he acknowledges when most people think of marijuana, right, they’re thinking back to Woodstock. And it’s only, what, three, or five, or seven, percent, right, of what you’re smoking. Now looking at what it is and no, it’s up in the high 90s. In fact, they have no idea how detrimental and damaging this is to brains because the only thing they’ve ever measured is the low content. So–

David:

Yeah, the potency that’s three to five percent – not the 99 percent potency.

Tim:

Right. So, when you look over in Europe and they’re already finding negative things in Europe from marijuana and that it’s a low level potency marijuana – not even this high level stuff. In fact, you can even search through some of the stories, going to Colorado just being one example, looking at some of the news stories that have happened there where you have kids that have eaten brownies and they were laced with marijuana and somebody didn’t know–

David:

And it was high potency marijuana.

Tim:

It was high potency marijuana.

David:

Yeah.

Story After Story

Tim:

And so these kids end up going to the emergency room and some of them die. And there are story, after story, after story.

There was a young man who went to go on a ski trip with friends from college and marijuana is legal, so what’d they do? Well, they stopped at the marijuana shop, and they got marijuana, and he had never really smoked marijuana apparently, and didn’t understand even the level of potency. He didn’t even get the marijuana you smoke. He got gummy bears and they’re laced with this marijuana. And he just started eating gummy bears and he didn’t know what level he’s eating, or they didn’t have a recommended doses of “Eat five gummy bears and no more”.

No, he just started eating this bag of gummy bears that was, again, laced with marijuana. And actually, what happened is these high potency gummy bears of marijuana is actually starts messing with his brain. Well, his friends describe this that he started going crazy. He ended up taking his own life within the hour because he couldn’t handle what it was doing to his brain.

Tim:

And apparently, they’re saying, “Well, you’re not supposed to eat that many. Okay, maybe not, but they’re gummy bears, right? It’s candy. And this isn’t just gummy bears being sold in a normal pot store. Even if you go to a medical marijuana facility they’re selling popcorn laced with marijuana. They’re selling gummy bears or lollipops laced with marijuana at medical facilities now. I don’t know why you need medical popcorn with marijuana, right. No.

But this is how bad the industry is that people just aren’t talking about. And so we so appreciate Luke and the guys at SAM for what they’re doing because this is a issue in culture. But it’s easy for people to adopt and accept these when they don’t really understand the real life consequences that we are already seeing with the dangers of marijuana.

Marijuana – Smart Approaches to New Policy

Rick:

Yeah, this is definitely not one where people can just say, “Well, I just don’t want government telling me what to do.” You’ve got to look at the facts here, folks. There are some things you just don’t want in your community, and your backyard, and your state, or even in your nation because of the danger it poses to everyone. So, be sure to check that information out at Smart Approaches to Marijuana. It’s called LearnAboutSAM.org, LearnAboutSAM.org. We’ll have a link today at WallBuildersLive.com.

Thanks so much for joining us today. Hope that you’ll check out our two websites – WallBuildersLive.com and also WallBuilders.com. And please do, while you’re there, make a contribution to help us continue this great news and spreading it across the country. Equipping and inspiring folks to restore America’s confidence. Thanks.

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