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Yesterday, I asked Project SAM to comment on the apparent dissonance between Kennedy's work in Congress and his role as an anti-pot crusader. A few hours later, I received a series of emails from Kennedy in which he defended his advocacy for the gambling industry, said his position on medical marijuana had "evolved over time," and suggested that the alcohol, gambling, and tobacco industries had donated to his campaign in order "to keep the door open to discuss their issues with me."
"There is no contradiction," Kennedy said in his first email. "I am for mitigating effects of chemotherapy and if MJ helps - then I'm for it (btw THC doesn't need to be smoked to achieve this)."
When I pointed out that he had once vigorously supported smoked medical marijuana, and the right of states to implement laws legalizing its sale, Kennedy replied, "As far as your general point that it doesn't look like my position on MJ has been consistent - you may have me because like many other issues, my political positions have evolved over time as I have learned more and then have the benefit of incorporating that new info into my political thinking as I have done in my position with SAM. "
On the specific question of why he supported the Hinchey bill, Kennedy wrote, "As a Rep there are usually many issues involved as I stated before that may not be apparent to the untrained eye. Bottom line is there is nothing nefarious as you insinuate in your questions."
On the question of gambling, Kennedy wrote, "My principal focus was Sovereignty for Native Americans to have same government revenue as the States they were in as provided under IGRA [Indian Gaming Regulatory Act]. As you may know - a Federally recognized Tribe in RI was the symbol for this when RI denied their rights to provide for their citizens even though the state had plenty of gambling revenue to support state education efforts but not the tribes."
I told Kennedy that I thought his argument for extending gambling rights to tribes made perfect sense. But I didn't understand why he was willing to expand legal access to a potentially addictive activity while in Congress but is opposed to doing so now. I also wanted to know why, if his advocacy was purely for Native Americans, did he receive tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from video poker machine company GTech Corp, which is not owned by Native Americans?
"G- tech...is originally a RI company," Kennedy wrote. "I was a RI rep in addition to being a leader on [Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act]. Is there a conflict between helping RI employer in gaming industry and being for better addiction treatment? Perhaps on one level but that level ignores the bigger picture."
While Kennedy didn't speak to more specific questions about donations from the alcohol and tobacco industries, he did write, "I took money from a lot of folks who knew my position of leadership on the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was uncompromising. Did they want to keep the door open to discuss their issues with me - perhaps."
Kennedy concluded our exchange with the following: "The debate should be about SAM not the circuitous route I took I arrive there. Real question is whether I'm heading in the right direction going forward or not. I am happy to have people debate me on this in fact I welcome it. This will make SAM a success whatever the ultimate policy becomes because at least we will be thinking before rushing forward with an answer that may not stand up under scrutiny."
Less than 20 minutes after Kennedy sent his second (and final) email, Project SAM co-founder Kevin Sabet wrote me and said, "Patrick and I just spoke as he was taking off and he said this to me in addition to the below, to answer your questions directly." The answers he then provided read very differently from what Kennedy had written.
For instance, one Kennedy quote Sabet provided--"In Congress I received money from many different industries and used that money to advocate for the most comprehensive system of mental health parity in our country's history. These industries caused the mess we are in. Would we not think BP should pay for the Gulf Oil spill?"—doesn't sound anything like the defense of the gambling industry Kennedy had offered moments before.
For the sake of fairness and transparency, you can read the entire email exchange between Reason, Kennedy, and Sabet (with email addresses redacted) below.
Read more Reason coverage of Project SAM.