Skip to content
Home » Surprising Truths About Legalizing Cannabis: Ben Cort (Full Transcript)

Surprising Truths About Legalizing Cannabis: Ben Cort (Full Transcript)

Ben Cort

focuses on marijuana education and consulting in the substance use disorder treatment field.

Here is the full text of addiction treatment specialist Ben Cort’s talk titled “Surprising Truths About Legalizing Cannabis” at TEDxMileHigh conference.

Ben Cort – TEDxMileHigh 2018 TRANSCRIPT

Hey, look, if you guys are anything like me, you have found it harder and harder to turn around recently without seeing words like “free-range,” “farm-to-table,” “organically-produced,” especially here in Colorado.

Now, as we’ve become more conscientious of the way that we eat in recent years, these once unfamiliar words have worked their way into our daily lexicon.

When we started to pay more attention to the way that the food we were eating interacted with our bodies and with the earth, the food industry had to listen. And the results have been really powerful. Words like “all-natural” and “homegrown” are not just being used in our diets, there’s this whole new industry using this language now.

Now, those of you out there from states like Washington and Oregon, and of course my fellow Coloradans, y’all know what I’m talking about – it’s weed. An industry that taxed the sale of about $6 billion of product in 2016.

So what if I were to propose to you that some of what you think you know about this “legalized marijuana” thing could be wrong? Listen, I get it. Talking about issues with legal weed is a pretty quick way to get uninvited from the cool kids’ table. I know that better than most.

But I intend to do it anyway. First, before I get started, let me be perfectly clear about one thing. My fight is not against the casual, adult use of marijuana. I don’t care about that.

What I care deeply about is this new industry that is working to convince us that we are consuming something natural while fixing social ills, when we aren’t. So let’s start with a little bit of Weed 101.

Cannabis is a plant that grows naturally and has been used within textiles and even traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.

Genesis 1:12 even tells us, “I have given you all the seed-bearing plants and herbs to use.” It’s the microphone – it’s got a TV preacher sort of thing.


Now, cannabis is made up of hundreds of different chemicals, but two of those chemicals are by far the most interesting. That’s CBD and THC. So CBD is where almost all of the medicinal properties lie. It’s an incredibly fascinating part of the plant with real potential to help people. It also is totally non-intoxicating.

You could take a bath in the stuff, while vaping pure CBD and drinking a CBD smoothie, and you still couldn’t get high. I’ve tried. I haven’t. I haven’t. That would cost a lot of money.

Now, for as interesting and remarkable a part of the plant CBD is, it actually makes up a really tiny portion of the commercial market. The real money is being made in that other chemical: in THC. So THC is the natural part of the plant that gets you high.

And before the 1970s, cannabis contained less than half of a percent of THC. That’s what’s naturally occurring. Over the last 40 years, as we became better gardeners, that percentage of THC started to slowly but steadily rise.

Until recently, when the chemists started to get involved. These guys moved cultivation exclusively indoors, and they make grow cycles extremely and unnaturally short. They also started to use pesticides and fertilizers in some ways that we should be concerned with.

In fact, I was recently talking to a buddy who had just left a job at a commercial grow operation because he was so concerned with the chemicals that he was being asked to interact with. Some of his fellow employees were actually encouraged to wear hazmat suits while they were spraying the chemical cocktails on the plants.

With that kind of manipulation, the products that are being sold today can contain above 30% THC. And our concentrates can actually contain above 95% THC. A far cry from the natural plant.

Listen, this isn’t your grandpa’s weed. This isn’t your dad’s weed. This isn’t even my weed! If you’ve ever visited one of the thousands of dispensaries that have sprung up in recent years, you know what we’re really selling in them is THC. All of the weed you buy commercially lists exactly how much THC it contains.

As do our other, much more popular, products, like vape pens, coffee, ice cream, condiments, granola, gum, candy, baked goods, suppositories, and, of course, lube. Pretty much – no, for real — Pretty much anything that you can imagine introducing into the human body. The vast majority of cannabis that’s being sold today, it isn’t really cannabis. It’s THC in either a pure form or in an extremely high and unnatural concentration.

To say that we have legalized weed is subtly misleading. We have commercialized THC. And it’s happened really quickly.

Now, the reason why the commercial market has so rapidly exploded is because there is a hell of a lot of money to be made in satisfying and increasing our desire to get high. And that money’s no longer really being made by the mom-and-pop shops.

So industry groups and corporations, groups like the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, ArcView Investment, the Cannabis Industry Association, they’ve chased out and helped to chase out a lot of the small-time growers.

So these cats know that the best way to continue to profit off of us is if they follow the alcohol industry’s “80:20” rule. That’s simple – it’s where 80% of the product is consumed by 20% of the consumers, the problemed users.

The wealthy, white weed lobbyists, and seriously, they are almost all rich white men, they know that we will consume more of what they’re selling if they jack up the potency. They also know that we are more than twice as likely to consume THC regularly if we earn under $50,000 a year – I’m sorry, if we earn under $20,000 a year, than those who earn over $50,000 a year.

In other words, the poorer you are, the more likely you are to spend your money on their products. And in this country, income and race are highly correlated. One of the reasons that we often hear cited for the legalization of marijuana is that it will help to stop the disproportionate incarceration rates among minorities, which is something everybody in this room should be extremely concerned with.

Unfortunately, we don’t have to look any further than arrest rates for juveniles here in Colorado to counter that argument. According to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, since we opened retail in 2014, almost all of which are in poor, minority neighborhoods, we saw an 8% reduction in the arrest of white kids for all weed-related activity.

Good on ’em! During that same time period, there was a 29% increase in the arrest of Hispanic kids for weed-related activity, and a 58% increase in the arrest of black kids for weed-related crimes. You guys heard that right – we are actually arresting more people of color in Colorado than we were prior to commercialization. And you’re not reading that in The Post.

Another big issue that we have is in school suspension rates. So, schools that are predominantly white – that is, they have a minority population of 25% or fewer, in the first full year of data collection following commercialization, these schools had a grand total of 190 drug-related suspensions, almost all of which are for THC.

At the same time, schools with a minority population of 75% to 100% had 801 drug-related suspensions, almost all of which were for THC. When discussing minority populations, one that unfortunately often gets left out of the conversation.

Now, members of this community are more than twice as likely to consume THC than those who identify as heterosexual or cisgender. They also, unfortunately, have higher rates of mental illness and suicide.

According to a study published in 2014 called “Going to Pot,” we see that the unnaturally high levels of THC found in today’s products actually compound those issues. They make them worse.

Unfortunately, that seems to matter very little to the folks who are selling these products because as you just saw, clearly this is a good consumer base. Listen, man, I get it. In many circles, legalized marijuana is just too much of a sacred cow to question.

But we need to start this conversation, because what’s being sold today is not natural, and lobbyists in industry are using social justice as a smokescreen so that they can get richer. It’s my own journey to sobriety that led me to begin questioning a lot of what I was seeing. That’s kind of one of the things that we’re taught to do.

When I left Boulder for the Washington, DC, area at 12 years old, I was transported into a world where the kind of shoes that you wore mattered more than just about anything else. My family was just too poor to help me play that game.

So I was faced with a pretty real crisis of identity. In this new scene where there was more blacktop than treetops, man, I just didn’t know who I was. So I smoked weed for the first time when I was 13. And I loved it! I instantly found this social group, and I also just really liked being high. Like, I finally found a way to shut this up.

I quickly turned to other drugs and alcohol, and something just woke up inside of my brain. I was a daily user within a couple of months. So, my addictive use mirrors many of the stories that I’m sure you’ve heard before. It started out as fun. It got scary. And then it was just necessary.

Enough said. I got wasted for the last time on June 15th of 1996. And I – Thank you. And I’ve spent the last 21 years trying to both put my life back in order, as well as trying to find some peace in this world.

And one of the ways that I’ve done that is by working inside of non-profit drug and alcohol treatment for the last 10 years, with groups with Phoenix Multisport, the University of Colorado Hospital, and NALGAP: the National Association for Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual Treatment Providers and Their Allies.

Even after all of my work on the front lines, and as a former consumer myself, I was shocked and pissed when I started to see what commercialization was doing to cannabis. Because, you see, our hope for something pure and natural is making it hard for us to see what’s really going on. And that is that the rich are getting richer on the backs of the poor and lying to our faces the entire time. Thank you.

My friends, once again, I fear that we are allowing industry to take advantage of the most challenged among us in order to turn a profit, much like we saw with tobacco and food in years past. So when we told the food industry that we understood the impact our choices were having, and that we demanded better for ourselves and our families, hey, that industry got into line.

So is there any reason why we couldn’t demand the same thing from this and from future industries who are trying to get a piece of our paychecks? What if we made these guys answer some hard questions? What if we held them to a higher standard than we are right now? Because, as it stands, for many in our community, the grass isn’t greener on this side of commercialization. They’ve just been sold a bag of goods.

Thank you.

Related Posts

Reader Disclosure: Some links on this Site are affiliate links. Which means that, if you choose to make a purchase, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. We greatly appreciate your support.