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Originally published July 10, 2013 at 9:14 PM | Page modified July 10, 2013 at 9:49 PM

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Watchdog group to weigh effect on teens of legalized pot for adults

Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy announced a national group he chairs is opening a Washington state chapter to watchdog the impact on minors of legalizing marijuana for adults.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy announced that a national group he chairs is opening a Washington state chapter to watchdog the impact on minors of legalizing marijuana for adults.

Speaking in front of eight adults and two teens at the Mercer Island Community and Events Center, Kennedy said his group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM, is not now pushing for repeal of Washington’s voter-approved recreational pot law.

“I couldn’t argue with adult recreational use. That’s your business,” Kennedy said. “But we need to understand the consequences of that right.”

If implementation results in an increase in school-dropout rates or driving fatalities, then, Kennedy said, he would be for repeal. Research shows that moderate to heavy pot use in adolescents is associated with stunted IQ later in life. This suggests pot can damage the developing brain.

Wary of a Big Marijuana industry, sponsors of the new law earmarked most of the tax revenues from recreational pot for health care, education, abuse prevention and research into the new law’s consequences.

They have also pushed for restrictions on marijuana marketing and advertising that might appeal to youth.

Kennedy’s group is concerned about Washington’s budding pot businesses becoming like the alcohol and tobacco industries, which he said have preyed on the young and addicted.

“Washington is on the brink of creating a massive marijuana industry that will inevitably target teens and other vulnerable populations,” said Kennedy, 45, who has made public his own struggles with alcohol and drug abuse.

Kennedy said his group will monitor the state’s rule-making process in the next month to make sure strong safeguards against youth access remain in place.

“We’re trying to get implementation in a way that holds proponents of the law to their promises,” said the son of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Sponsors of Washington’s law said they agreed with many of SAM’s points.

Roger Roffman, a University of Washington professor emeritus, said he would not disagree that pot can be harmful to kids.

And Roffman, a marijuana-dependence researcher, said he understands why some prevention advocates are alarmed.

Entrepreneur Jamen Shively has said he wants to become “Big Marijuana” and “mint millionaires.”

“People in the prevention field are horrified,” Roffman said. “Fortunately, Shively had no part in the construction, design and promotion of (the law), and it is 180 degrees in intent from where Shively wants to go.”

Kennedy said it wasn’t hypocritical for him to oppose legal marijuana given his family’s history in the liquor business.

“How many generations can I go back and say ‘mea culpa’ for? I can only be responsible for my own actions,” he said.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

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