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HUBweek on Cannabis

Former White House Office of National Drug Control Policy advisor Kevin Sabet said his “biggest worry” when it comes to public health and safety is that marijuana will become “the next alcohol or pharma industry.”

“I’m glad that it’s been a slow rollout in Massachusetts, actually,” he said. “I think that is good. I think that towns and cities need time to figure this whole thing out right.”

Peter Grinspoon, a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, said he thinks the state has to learn from the “mistakes” of the tobacco and alcohol industries. Marijuana is safer than alcohol and it isn’t tobacco, he said, but it isn’t harmless.

“I personally don’t think there should be any advertising of alcohol, tobacco, or cannabis,” he said. “Why on Earth would we advertise things that are unhealthy? There’s no reason to advertise them, and I think regulation is really going to be the key to keeping people healthy. Not unreasonable regulation, but common-sense regulation.”

Both Sabet and Eden Evins, founding director of the Center for Addiction Medicine and Addiction Research Program at Mass. General Hospital, emphasized that the country’s “deadliest drugs” are legal. That’s not because alcohol on its own is more deadly than an illegal substance like heroin, but because of the sheer number of users driven by the “commercialization and normalization” of alcohol, they said.

“Commercialization drives use, drives heavy use, and drives harm,” Evins said.

Sabet said his worry is that something “more benign like pot” can be taken and turned into something much more dangerous on a population level when its use is encouraged by an industry.

Shaleen Title, a commissioner on Massachusetts Cannabis Commission, said following the “schema for alcohol” has been useful for picturing what legalized marijuana could look like in the state. It helped when it came to answering questions like where the product comes from, how it is tested, what stores may look like, and where it can be used.

“But past that, the comparisons do tend to break down because ultimately alcohol and cannabis are very different substances and we have to start from scratch looking at cannabis when we make our regulations,” she said. “So that’s certainly something that we’ve done.”

She said local approvals in particular will have the most influence when it comes to deciding what “big marijuana” will look like in Massachusetts.