KEVIN SABET AT BERKELEY
This piece is “supplemental material” for the piece published on AlterNet on 8-10-13 here (5 Biggest Lies from Anti-Pot Propagandist Kevin Sabet: It is time to bust the myths Sabet has been perpetuating).
No medical training
Dr. Kevin Sabet-Sharghi has a long track record of public relations campaigning stretching back to his teenage and college-going years perpetuating negative moral associations with cannabis-marijuana trade/use (and at one point, MDMA-ecstasy use) in order to maintain its social disapproval under the force of law. In my own discussions with Sabet at United Nations venues, a National Association of Boards of Pharmacy meeting, and online, I have seen his activity to be far from credible, fact-based scientific reasoning. Instead, it could rightly be termed moral entrepreneurship, as he takes the lead to popularize negative associations related to marijuana-cannabis use. While Kevin Sabet and I went to college together, we were not personally acquainted (but did have at least one friend in common). His name and likeness were known to me because of successive successful bids he launched to obtain an elected position in student government (I have a memory of him standing solo, wearing a suit and backpack, handing out campaign leaflets to students passing by on Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley’s main square). In retrospect, we did share some commonalities. We started and graduated the same years, 1997-2001, won competitive national scholarships–he, the Marshall, I, the Goldwater, appeared on the College of Letters & Science Dean’s Honor Roll, and had an interest in social mores regarding contraband drugs (Seth David Schoen, a famous member of our class at Berkeley who I took honors-level math with, frequently debated Sabet on the op-ed page of the student newspaper and characterized Sabet as “a _tremendously_ anti-drug student”.) The similarities end there.
Despite Kevin Sabet’s media statements in which he champions and invokes the language of evidence-based medicine, public health, and scientific reasoning when recommending his ‘middle way’ cannabis policy, to be clear, he has no formal education in any of the relevant fields which would equip him with the ability to properly weigh the body of evidence regarding the risks and benefits cannabis medical use or public health outcomes. In addition to being misleading, I personally take affront at Sabet’s unqualified yet self-perceived medical and scientific credibility for which he gets a pass from the media. This is because I have spent over a decade actually training in the relevant disciplines by: completing a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored Medical Scientist Training Program leading to M.D. and Ph.D. degrees; earning a Ph.D. in a medical social science, medical geography, entailing significant public health training; conducting systematic doctoral research as a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow with patients using cannabis under medical authorization published in peer-reviewed journals and integrated into continuing medical educational and undergraduate curricula; and completing now my 4th year of residency training in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation before Hospice and Palliative Medicine fellowship.
By comparison, Sabet completed an M.S. in Comparative Social Policy, a one-year interdisciplinary program combining the fields of Political Science & International Relations and Sociology, followed by a Ph.D. in Social Policy in a Department of Social Policy and Social Work. His doctoral research involved a comparative study of drug policies in two American cities which involved no primary empirical data collection. While at Berkeley, he majored in political science and minored in public policy and had no formal undergraduate science background. This did not stop him from attempting to speak for scientists while there. I once received an email from Sabet in which he tried to recruit me, as a part of a group of science students, to run for office, by touting his own affiliation with the Berkeley Engineers and Cal Scientists Party which he claimed represented the “often left out” engineers and scientists at Berkeley. Since I studied science and conducted lab research, I subscribed to the molecular and cell biology student listserve which he emailed. Later in the thread, despite rules that disallow such unsolicited emails, he campaigned for re-election, citing as his top agenda item installation of secure “a 24-hour study facility/computer lab” on the “newly renovated” 7th floor of the student senate building. A 24-hour space did open as promised but the computer lab was a failed enterprise given that it had only 4 web-access-only computers, was ultimately gutted and converted to a commercial venue space and finally demolished along with the entire building due to seismic instability in early June 2013. Incidentally, his second top agenda item, a shuttle service to San Francisco on weekends, never materialized.
Based on his tweets, Sabet projects that he has always been interested in fair, civil debate and dialogue and has respected the rights of others, even if it was unpopular to do so. Many colleagues and I who have publicly debated Sabet comment about his use of misleading language and thinly-veiled attempts to marginalize or ridicule those who seek to normalize cannabis use in some fashion. It turns out Sabet’s track record of political engagement established while in college helps to contextualize his current dogged and relentless activity in the national and international arena to perpetuate stigmatization of cannabis-marijuana users. One student senator who was his contemporary at Berkeley wrote a political satire poem that characterized Sabet and his party members as resistant to real reforms and singled him out as brandishing a “cattle prod” to keep an “elitist” and “corrupt party machine” in line.
In reviewing Sabet’s record of high-visibility activity while in elected office, a few noteworthy episodes are worth mentioning. In the name of exercising “social responsibility” on behalf of another, Sabet supported an unprecedented resolution in the student senate in 1998 asking a Berkeley undergraduate student to drop out of school after the media ran a story about the students’ alleged inaction to report to authorities after his friend killed a 7-year-old girl in a Nevada casino in 1997 for which he was later convicted. This move was vetoed by the student body president who believed the student, never charged with a crime or student code violation, needed psychiatric help, not expulsion. The following year, Sabet, referencing his Baha’i background, supported an effort in the student senate to call on the faculty senate to censure a Near Eastern Studies faculty member if he did not issue an apology to members of a student group at whom he allegedly shouted derogatory slurs during an argument while that group was publicly tabling on campus to commemorate the Armenian genocide. While the faculty member was never formally censured, the student group did receive an apology from a University body after the university conducted a five-month investigation that found the faculty member’s actions to be protected within the bounds of free speech, an outcome the student group found unsatisfactory prompting the hollow senate resolution Sabet backed. Finally, in an effort to reignite longstanding tensions by disparaging a historic symbol of Berkeley radicalism, Sabet sponsored an effort to place a non-binding resolution on the campus ballot regarding possible repurposing of People’s Park, a free public park owned by the University that has symbolic status in campus history given the student unity and protest in the 1960s and ’70s that saved it from becoming the site of a new dorm construction. The resolution was so ambiguously worded that, to the unsuspecting voter, it would not be apparent that Sabet’s “impartial” beliefs were that the park was dirty, unkempt, and a blight on the community, as he referred to the park as “essentially a supermarket for drugs.” The student body rejected Sabet’s resolution.
UC Berkeley’s motto seen on Landmark Sather Gate: “Let There Be Light.”