BRIGANTINE, N.J. (Christian Examiner) -- Former U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a liberal icon of the Democratic Party, is pleading with Americans to stop the trend of legalizing pot that is creating a "big marijuana" just like "big tobacco" in how it "targets our kids" and profits from addiction.
In an opinion piece posted on NPR.org, Oct. 30, the former U.S. representative of Rhode Island said what has been left out of the discussion is the soon to appear "marketing machine that will spring up to support these now-legal businesses, and the detrimental effect this will have on our kids."
His editorial comes on the eve of Halloween and follows a barrage of concerns expressed about the perils of pot-laced candy showing up in children's trick or treat bags. But he directs his comments at states considering pot legalization measures next week in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia.
Kennedy said the talk about increased revenue for states, decriminalizing possession and possible health benefits were worthy points to consider, but that the key consideration should be the impact on children. Americans should not expect "the legal marijuana industry to behave any differently than Big Tobacco," he said.
"When the goal is addiction, all bets are off."
He pointed to the pot industry's sneaky ways to entice new customers by producing THC-infused edibles that look harmless so as to make marijuana more mainstream and "more available, more acceptable and more dangerous to our kids."
These pot-laced products look and sound like familiar foods—"Reefer's" imitate Reese's peanut butter cups, "Keef Kat" candy hints at Kit Kat bars, "3 Raskateers" are fake 3 Musketeers. Even Skippy Peanut Butter and Froot Loops have marijuana-spiked competitors.
Kennedy also warned of the potential entry of the tobacco industry into this market, saying Altria and Brown & Williamson have registered domain names that include the words "marijuana" and "cannabis."
This should alarm parents, he said, knowing that tobacco companies spent $8.8 billion in 2011 alone in advertising, and "the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that the most heavily marketed brands of cigarettes were also the most popular among people under 18."
"Imagine how much they will spend peddling their new brand of addiction to our kids," Kennedy asked. "We cannot sit by while these companies open a new front in their battle against our children's health."
Kennedy's stance follows the release of damaging research by World Health Organization expert Wayne Hall. Releasing a meta-analysis of 20 years of studies, he concluded marijuana is too harmful in all forms to legalize. He found marijuana was particularly devastating for teens:
-- 1 in 6 of teen users develop dependence syndrome
-- teen pot smokers are more likely to use other illicit drugs and experience twice the risk of dropping out of school
-- regular use doubles the risk of suicide
Kennedy pointed to the health effects on kids as the top consideration for voters.
"Developing brains are especially susceptible to all of the negative effects of marijuana and other drug use," he said. "Knowing what we know ... can we really afford to ignore its consequences in the name of legalization?
"Our No. 1 priority needs to be protecting our kids from this emerging public health crisis. The rights of pot smokers and the marijuana industry end where our children's health begins," Kennedy said.
Florida voters also will consider a marijuana measure next week.
Florida ballots include a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana, while citizens in Alaska, Oregon and D.C. will decide whether possession of small amounts should be legal.