CONTACT Our time with pot will tell - Dr. Christian Thurstone

Today, United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced our nation’s Department of Justice is taking a “trust-but-verify” approach to marijuana that allows the states of Colorado and Washington to proceed with tax-and-licensing schemes for retail sales of this addictive drug that is disproportionately harmful to children.

This always will be a big and very sad mark on President Obama’s legacy — and on the careers of policymakers and elected officials who have failed to connect their decision-making to rigorous science. At the same time, today’s announcement gives me hope that more people will see more quickly what so many of us who work in addiction treatment and research already do: marijuana’s proliferation is not good for our nation, and it is especially bad for our youth.

Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) issued a statement I hope you’ll read.

I am reminded today of my grandfather’s boyhood home, Sweden, which has one of the world’s lowest rates of drug abuse and addiction. Last year, during a world meeting I was honored to attend, Queen Silvia explained how her country achieved that status after decades of hard work — which I hope you’ll read about here. Sweden once had one of the world’s most permissive approaches to drug use (complete with government-funded “clean rooms,” where heroin addicts could shoot up) — and one of the world’s highest rates of drug addiction.

Swedish officials eventually determined that if they wanted different results, they needed a radically different approach to drug use and drug policymaking. Today, Swedish drug policy is well established — and, in the words of the World Federation Against Drugs — it “offers an alternative to either harsh punishment or legalization, and holds real promise as a model for many other nations in the world as they cope with the menacing and divisive, modern-epidemic problem of nonmedical drug use.”

But what did Sweden DO to set itself on this healthier, brighter course? Many things — including the development of zero-tolerance laws and robust care for people struggling with addiction — but one thing in particular has always stood out for me:

Sweden’s elected, national officials formally met and established a new paradigm for drug policymaking. Instead of starting all drug-policy discussions from this point:

“What is in the best interests of adults — adults who often wish to push boundaries as far as they can to make money and amass power?”

The Swedes shifted their drug policymaking to this starting point:

“What is in the best interests of children — young people who are especially vulnerable to addiction because of their developing brains and who will, eventually, grow up to lead our nation?”

That is a bold, innovative and brave shift in thinking about how to combat drug abuse and addiction.

Our time with pot will tell. In Colorado, we’re already verifying what Justice Department officials failed even to acknowledge today — and appear to know very little about. It is very sad that the truth of this drug’s impact on the public, on families and on individuals has fallen so far behind the marijuana industry’s marketing muscle and big-moneyed political influence. But at least that truth already is emerging — and we have plenty of data to show the Justice Department, the Surgeon General and officials at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes on Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

We’ll continue to post the latest research findings here at

Dr. Thurstone’s wife, journalist Christine Tatum, contributed. She is a former staff writer for the Chicago Tribune and The Denver Post who served as 2006-07 national president of the Society of Professional Journalists.

About Chris Thurstone

Dr. Christian Thurstone is one of only a few dozen physicians in the United States who are board-certified in general, child and adolescent and addictions psychiatry. He is Director of Behavioral Health Services at Denver Health and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, where he conducts research on youth substance use and addiction and serves as director of medical training for the university’s addiction psychiatry fellowship program. You can read more about him here.

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