Just Say No
Meet the Anti-Pot Activists
Recreational marijuana may now be legal in Colorado, but the law isn’t stopping longtime drug warriors with their message about the dangers it poses to children.
Pot tours, weed tastings , and cannabis cabaret. Stealing the spotlight from opponents of marijuana legalization is the gimmicky commercialization they warned would normalize the drug. Who’s laughing now, you ask? They are.
“Calling it ‘medical marijuana’ is a joke,” says Carla Lowe, 75-year-old founder of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana (whic goes by the acronym CALM). “It’s been a joke from the beginning.”
The former K-12 teacher turned anti-drug activist has spent the past 33 years fighting the jolly green giant. Her newest endeavor is CALM, an organization she formed four years ago to fight California's Proposition 9. The mission of Lowe's eight-person team is to dispel the “lies” circulating about cannabis—a drug she first witnessed while substitute teaching in the 1970s (“these kids with long hair kept giggling in the back of the class”). Correlations between her students’ performance (“they weren’t focusing”) and their apparent use of the drug ("they were probably smoking pot") concerned Lowe. But it wasn’t until she suspected that her teenage son had gotten involved (“he grew his hair out, he didn’t want to swim anymore”) that she decided to take up the fight herself. Sitting in on University of California Davis clinical trials of cannabis in 1975 she was horrified at the “apathetic, disinterested" monkeys she saw, lying around their cages. “You know who they reminded me of?” she asks me. “They reminded me of the kids.”
Lowe, who seems capable of talking about this topic for hours on end, is fuming at the current state of affairs with marijuana. "There are no controls, there is no dosing…pot high kids are smoking god knows what and thinking it's ok. Nobody is getting pure marijuana." The mother of five frantically jumps from one argument to the next as if playing a high stakes game of Catchphrase. “It’s debilitating our teenagers and in so doing it is diminishing the potential for our country.” "What we call medical marijuana in California, it's a crock!" "I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, most people don’t drink alcohol to get drunk." On a hunter green poster from CALM is her marijuana definition: “It is a fat soluble, mind altering, highly toxic drug that remains in the body for up to one month, building up with each additional joint. The two organs most affected are the brain and sexual organs.” “It’s illegal under federal law, and it’s illegal because it’s a dangerous drug,” she adds later. But what of President Obama's softened stance on pot? “That was an inane comment, he’s been bought. We all know the story of George Soros."
Despite conflicting conclusions on how marijuana affects the brain (there are both studies proving it does and it doesn’t), Lowe vehemently defends her assertion that it makes people dumber. Humans aside, of course, there are other concerns for Lowe, who describes herself as “kind of” an environmentalist. “They are raping our forest! They’re killing people,” she nearly yells, unprompted. When I ask who is killing who she fires back. “The growers. They will do anything to protect their crops.” And while Lowe admits that cannibidiol, the non-psychoactive component of marijuana, can have positive effects on certain patients (she cites epilepsy), she’s not satisfied with simply medical journals as proof. “I understand people who say 'I think it makes me feel better,' but it’s not the criteria used. That’s just an anecdote.”
It’s “anecdotes” like these that Smart Colorado is looking to amend. Started in 2013 after the passage of Amendment 64, SC is a citizen-led nonprofit organization focused on providing education for kids following marijuana’s legalization. “There is no knowledge. They don’t know anything until they get caught,” says Diane Carlson, a mother of five and one of the organization's leaders. “There aren’t enough regulations. Right now you could buy an entire ounce of marijuana concentrate. That’s enough to get an entire high school high.” With no tracking system in place, Carlson said she foresees buyers virtually hopscotching through her city buying ounce after ounce. "A lot of people have no idea the products that are being sold. There are gummy bears with weed in them." Born from a conversation with a group of teens to find out what was standing in their way (“most said weed”), the goal of Smart Colorado is awareness. “No matter how anybody feels, the science is there: This isn’t great for our kids.”
Of equal vigor but less enthusiasm is Tom Gorman, the 70-year-old director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which brings state and national resources to target major drug-trafficking organizations. “I don’t make any bones against it—I am against legalizing marijuana,” he says. A staunch opponent of Amendment 64, Gorman watched as the Centennial State’s medical-marijuana program led to an apparent increase in violence and an expanded black market.
Now, with recreational marijuana legal, he predicts Colorado will soon look like a scene from the Wild Weed West. “We’re worried that Mexican cartels and organized crime will come in and try to get a piece of the action,” Gorman told The Daily Beast. “I predict that within six years in Colorado there will be an initiative on the ballot to repeal Amendment 64.” He believes that legalized recreational marijuana will prove toxic for teens—both psychically and mentally. “When it starts impacting our youth, that’s when minds will change. That’s our future.”
No anti-pot activist seems to have the future more in mind than Bob Doyle, executive director of the Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance. He fears that marijuana industry is pushing a similar agenda. “This is the next tobacco industry,” he says. “The focus is going to be on increasing use and increasing addiction.” If Doyle is right, he says Amendment 64 put public health in jeopardy. “I’ve seen the script before,” he says, referring literally to blueprints from the tobacco industry that are now available. “I’ve seen this movie before. We shouldn’t make the same mistakes again.”
Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project and one of the co-directors of the campaign behind Amendment 64, is unfazed by his opponents. “At this point anyone who argues that marijuana doesn’t have medical benefits is likely to be laughed out of the room. The book is closed on that one,” he told The Daily Beast. It’s keeping teens in the dark about marijuana’s risks versus alcohol, he says, that is irresponsible. “They say they don’t want teens to think marijuana is less harmful than alcohol—because it’s true. These people are scared of the truth."
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Smart Colorado opposes Amendment 64.