A board member of a national group that’s seeking to head off the federal legalization of marijuana spoke at a forum in Johnston Thursday. Kevin Sabet of “Smart Approaches to Marijuana” or SAM, says the group takes a new approach to the issue. “Right now there is a false dichotomy that the only two options for dealing with marijuana are either legalize or lock them up — as if they have to fit on a bumper sticker,” Sabet says.

Sabet says SAM is interested in going beyond those two extremes. “Not incarcerating low-level marijuana users, but also not opening up marijuana to the legal market and creating what we worry will be the new tobacco industry of our age,” Sabet says. Sabet is the director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida and a former senior drug control policy advisor in the Obama and Bush administrations.

He says SAM is not against using the chemicals in marijuana for medical issues, if it is done in the right way. “We know that marijuana contains medical properties, but we don’t have to smoke it to get those properties. Opium is not smoked, we have morphine. It’s very similar to marijuana,” Sabet says. “So on the medical side, we urge research into non-smoked components of marijuana, so that it’s available at a pharmacy.”

He says most medical marijuana programs in the country aren’t really there for people who are really sick. “We know that 98-percent of people who utilize medical marijuana do not have cancer, they don’t have HIV, they don’t have glaucoma, they don’t have seizures. The average person is a 32-year-old white male with moderate back pain,” according the Sabet.

He says legalizing medical marijuana is not about medicine. “It has turned into a joke, it’s obviously a facade for full legalization,” Sabet says. “However, for those who really do get relief from marijuana — we are not calling them liars — let’s have it available at a pharmacy like we do for every other drug in this country.”

Sabet says legalizing marijuana is about money. “The issue of legalization is about creating the new tobacco industry of our age. Twenty-first-century industry, targeting kids and vulnerable populations. Frankly, taking out of the alchol industry in making sure that liquor stores are set up in poorer communities of color,” Sabet says. He says flavored pop and cupcakes created with marijuana in them are targeting kids, not a 90-year-old cancer patient.

Sabet spoke at an event sponsored by the Iowa Alliance of Coalitions for Change, a network of community anti-drug coalitions in the state. SAM’s board is chaired by former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, and describes itself as a bipartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens attempting to provide an avenue of leadership to discuss responsible marijuana policy.