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The Problem With Project SAM

SAM, INC = 501(c)3 organization [EIN: 47-2400657] SAM ACTION, INC = 501(c)4 organIzation [EIN: 47-3688463]

PROJECT SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) is a well-funded and coordinated lobbying group based in Arlington, VA that opposes the legalization and regulation of marijuana. They have many branches across the country -- including New Jersey: NJ-RAMP (Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy). Project SAM was founded by...

  • KEVIN A. SABET: served as a policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) from 2009-2011. He is the CEO of Project SAM and received a Doctorate of Philosophy and Masters of Science from Oxford University.

  • PATRICK J. KENNEDY: a former congressman from Rhode Island -- and the son of the late Ted Kennedy -- who worked on a drug commission led by Chris Christie and claimed that the concept of cannabis having medicinal purposes is more likely “a Trojan horse designed to addict people".

FOUR Main Problems

1) Project SAM is intellectually dishonest

2) Project SAM does not -- really -- care about social justice​​

  • ​Since failing to prevent recreational marijuana in California, Project SAM has changed its messaging to target African-Americans in the hopes that they can convince them that legalizing marijuana would be a catastrophe for minority communities.

  • But this is merely a change of strategy that started in late 2017. Realizing that Americans will no longer tolerate full prohibition, they have now focused on the next best thing for the status quo: decriminalization -- but that is not the answer!

  • This becomes abundantly clear ​If you read through the social media of Project SAM and its leaders, who in 3-5 years have posted at least 4743 times but have never criticized law enforcement and made 21 posts that had ANYTHING to do with the significant social justice issues facing minority communities (which is 0.44% of their total posts).

  • So, does Project SAM and its leaders really care about minorities, or are they simply using them as talking points towards their goal to keep the status quo? Look at the research for yourself!

3) Project SAM repeats the same (old) talking points

  • Though they struggle to find time for social justice, they’re proficient at copying and pasting obsolete research and the same tired messaging over and over again. Their favorites include:

​A) ​The marijuana industry will become the next "Big Tobacco".

  • This argument is dishonest because it implies that marijuana is comparable to tobacco (in terms of danger) and that this dystopian future of Tobacco 2.0 is unavoidable. In actuality, marijuana is far less dangerous/addictive than tobacco, and there are many ways we can use public policy to force the marijuana industry into ethical compliance.

  • Additionally, Project SAM likes to complain about the alcohol and tobacco industries, but they conveniently never mention that those industries could lose billions from marijuana legalization.

B) More research is needed to understand marijuana's impact on the brain so we can protect health and inform policy.

4) Project SAM purposefully lacks transparency

Though they often emphasize the money being spent by the opposition, they become conveniently silent when it comes to the transparency of their own finances and donors.

  • Project SAM says that it’s “funded by small family foundations and individuals affected by drug use and its consequences”, but apparently they want us to take their word for it, because they have worked hard to disclose the least amount of information possible.

  • Kevin Sabet has admitted to “discussions with people close to [Sheldon Adelson]” (a casino magnate and top donor to Donald Trump), and added that whether Adelson would donate to Project SAM was “literally the $10 million question.”

  • Additionally, we know one of their top donors is Julie Schauer -- a retired millionaire art professor and far-right conservative activist from Pennsylvania with a history of bizarre comments about marijuana -- who donated $1.3 million.

  • Lastly, as CEO of Project SAM, Sabet seemingly pays himself an annual sum of $96,640 from both his 501(c)3 and 501(c)4, totaling a hefty $193,280 per year.

When you put all the pieces together, it is clear that Project SAM is neither honest nor objective.


  • On May 4, 2006, while serving as a U.S. Congressman, Patrick J. Kennedy crashed his car into a barricade on Capital Hill in DC while under the influence of multiple drugs — including alcohol and possibly cocaine and OxyContin — but we will never know the exact details, because Kennedy was never administered a standard field sobriety test and was instead driven home by an officer.

  • Kennedy has publicly acknowledged his fight with drug addiction and gone through rehab, and while this incident doesn’t make Mr. Kennedy a bad person (and we wish him well with his continued recovery), nevertheless, his experience is a stark reminder of how often justice alludes those who are privileged by wealth and skin color.

  • Additionally, while his experiences have understandably made him a major advocate against ALL drug use, Kennedy conveniently fails to emphasize the lives ruined by law enforcement and the war on drugs (particularly marijuana) -- a privilege not afforded to the large majority who, rather than being freely escorted home, would have gone to jail.

  • Kevin Sabet was caught lying at TWO separate televised forums, each time telling the audience that he had two identical bags of gummy bears (one with marijuana and one without), when in reality neither had any THC. Contrary to the lies that Sabet would have you believe, there are many regulations on edibles to ensure that they are not confused with non-marijuana products.

Below is an ongoing (though far from exhaustive) list of the false and/or misleading claims peddled by Project SAM and their leadership:

1. “Research has found that marijuana abusers self-report far worse outcomes than alcohol users, including more problems at home, work, or school and more mental health problems.” [Project SAM website]

  • This is maybe the most ridiculously absurd statement on Project SAM’s website. The evidence that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana is beyond clear, and this shows Project SAM’s total lack of integrity.

  • Moreover, the link to their evidence is conveniently missing!

2. “One of the most well designed studies on marijuana and intelligence, released in 2012, found that persistent, heavy use of marijuana by adolescents reduces IQ by as much as eight points, when tested well into adulthood.” [Project SAM website]

  • This is obvious intellectual dishonesty as this talking point, and the study it was based on, was debunked years ago!

3. Project SAM published a fraudulent “report” on the costs of legalizing marijuana in CT that both fabricates and over-estimates costs (like an annual $3.6 million for MJ concentrates lab explosions) -- while under-estimating the potential tax revenue -- to manipulate readers into believing that marijuana legalization will actually make states poorer. [Project SAM website]

  • It would take too long to go through this report point-by-point, but the main three problems are:

    1. It confuses correlation with causation by directly attributing legalization as the blame for things like homelessness without evidence.​

    2. The biggest costs by far are workplace absenteeism and injuries ($68 and $20 million respectively), neither of which can be directly attributable to marijuana. Also, both are virtually impossible to honestly estimate, due to the lack of data and the number of variables.​

    3. Marijuana can stay in the human system for about one month. However, this report falsely assumes that marijuana is to blame for accidents involving someone with THC in their system, even if they were also drunk.

4. Project SAM says rescheduling marijuana out of Schedule I is unnecessary and would be a practically meaningless. [Project SAM website]

  • But the LARGE majority of experts disagree, and very few are still willing to pretend that marijuana should remain schedule I (except Kevin Sabet, apparently).

5. “Marijuana meets the technical definition of Schedule I because it has a high potential for abuse and has no FDA-approved use.” [Project SAM website]

6. “According to the scientific and medical communities, smoked marijuana is not medicine.” [Project SAM website]

  • This is both misleading and false, and the key word here is “smoked”. Even though it’s true that smoked marijuana could potentially have adverse effects, the evidence for that is not clear. Either way, the evidence that marijuana has a range of benefits (even when smoked) has been definitively proven.

7. “Drug laws keep rates of use down, thereby lowering the negative consequences for communities. Alcohol and tobacco – two legally available drugs – provide a good example, since Americans use them far more frequently than illegal drugs.” [Project SAM website]

  • This conveniently ignores the negative consequences of the war on drugs (especially for minority communities), while also ignoring the obvious facts that: A) alcohol/tobacco use is higher because it’s legal; and B) marijuana use has always been relatively high despite its prohibition.

8. “Alcohol is not legal because it is safe; it is legal because most of Western civilization has used the drug for thousands of years. By contrast, marijuana has always been used by a small minority of the population.” [Project SAM website]

  • Marijuana has also been used by many civilizations for thousands of years. Why should the number of users matter in comparison to the relative dangers of the substance being used?

9. “1 in 10 people who try marijuana will become addicted to it...” [Project SAM website]

  • First off, this is purposefully misleading because the study they’re using says that roughly 9% of marijuana users show any form of dependency. That is NOT the same as saying that 10% of people who try marijuana get addicted. Additionally, this is all based on an old study from 1994, and there is a ton of evidence to prove that marijuana dependence/addiction cannot compare to alcohol, tobacco, etc).

10. “Marijuana addicts 1 out of every 6 children who try the drug.” [Project SAM website]

11. “Large businesses in Colorado now state that after legalization they have had to hire out-of-state residents in order to find employees that can pass a pre-employment drug screen.” [Project SAM website]

  • How could legal (especially medical) marijuana users pass a drug-screening test that screens for marijuana (especially since marijuana can stay in your system for a month or more)? This is clearly misleading, as the obvious solution would be to simply omit marijuana from pre-employment drug screenings.

12. “Evidence linking marijuana and lung cancer are mixed, with a recent study stating that “cannabis smoking increases the risk of developing a lung cancer independently of an eventual associated tobacco exposure.” [Project SAM website]

  • Actually, the evidence clearly shows little to no risk of developing cancer by marijuana users, even when smoked.

13. “Alcohol is in and out of your system within 24 hours; marijuana’s effects last much longer.” [Project SAM website]​​

  • This is obviously misleading, as it implies that the direct effects of marijuana is linked to the amount of time it stays noticeably in your blood/urine. This talking point is simply trying to avert your attention from the fact that alcohol is clearly more dangerous​ than marijuana.

14. “Drug cartels are widely diversified businesses that make money trafficking in humans, cocaine, heroin, meth, extortion, intellectual property theft, etc. Marijuana is a small portion of their overall business. It would be naïve to suggest that cartels would cease to exist even if marijuana legalization eliminated the black market.” [Project SAM website]

  • This is purposefully ignoring the main point, which is that the large majority of people would have no need for an illegal “drug connect” if marijuana were recreationally legal.

15. “States that have legal marijuana continue to see a thriving black market and increasing rates of youth drug use.” [Project SAM website]

  • Though a black market always persists to some extent, you can hardly call it thriving (especially relative to prohibition). Moreover, there is clear evidence that the best way to undercut the black market is to limit home grow and lower excise taxes.

  • Additionally, the evidence does not show a clear increase in youth marijuana use in states with recreational marijuana.

16. “There are very few people in state or federal prison for marijuana-related crimes.” [Project SAM website]

  • About 750,000 people are arrested every year for marijuana offenses in the U.S, and around 40,000 inmates of state and federal prison are incarcerated due to marijuana.

17. “​The bottom line is that we encourage component treatments that are safely FDA-approved, prescribed by a physician, and dispensed by a pharmacy.” [Project SAM website]

  • In other words, Project SAM supports medical marijuana, but only if the profits go to the pharmaceutical industry.

18. Patrick J. Kennedy claimed that the concept of cannabis having medicinal purposes is more likely “a Trojan horse designed to addict people". 19. Julie Schauer (the top donor to Project SAM) implied that marijuana causes users to commit murder. [via Twitter]

20. Julie Schauer (the top donor to Project SAM) and Christine Tatum (wife of prominent MJ opponent Dr. Christian Thurstone) implied that the Boston bombing terrorist attack by the Tsarnaev Brothers was somehow caused by marijuana. [via Twitter and Facebook]

21. Julie Schauer (the top donor to Project SAM) writes: [via Twitter]

22. Julie Schauer (the top donor to Project SAM) agrees that weed is comparable to child pornography as to how it exploits children. [via Twitter]

23. Project SAM implies that marijuana use causes adolescent suicide (this is an obvious case of correlation being purposefully misused to imply causation). [via Twitter]

24. Julie Schauer (the top donor to Project SAM) writes: [via Twitter]

25. Julie Schauer (the top donor to Project SAM) writes: [via Twitter]

26. Julie Schauer (the top donor to Project SAM) writes: [via Twitter]

27. Julie Schauer (the top donor to Project SAM) writes: [via Twitter]

28. Julie Schauer (the top donor to Project SAM) writes: [via Twitter]

29. Julie Schauer (the top donor to Project SAM) writes: [via Twitter]

30. Kevin Sabet writes: “They are equating marijuana with alcohol but it is very different. Second hand smoke impairs brain development.” [via Twitter]

Is our list missing any important lies/mistruths perpetuated by Project SAM or its leaders? If so, send them to us!

NOTE: Unlike Project SAM, we are committed to science, transparency, and intellectual honesty. You will notice that all of our sources are cited, and if you find ANY mistakes, please let us know and we will correct them immediately! If Mr. Sabet, Mr. Kennedy, or Project SAM would like to question the accuracy of any information provided, we would be more than happy to participate in a public debate on cannabis and any of the claims set forth above.


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- Voltaire

The greatest consolation in life is to say what one thinks.

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