Project SAM -- the misnamed “Smart Approaches to Marijuana” -- opposes marijuana legalization and aims to redirect adults caught by police with cannabis into drug courts and rehabs. So it was quite a surprise to hear Stephen Colbert interview of SAM’s founder, former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy, as he admitted that there is an acceptable level for marijuana use, that marijuana is far safer than the pharmaceutical drugs he was addicted to, and that Colbert should “invest in rehabs.”

Kennedy’s largest complaint with marijuana legalization is apparently that it would bring underground commerce into legal regulation, creating American jobs and generating tax revenue. “I’m a good liberal Democrat and I don’t like big business, and so this is the big business of addiction,” said the eight-term congressman who received hundreds of campaign donations from Big Alcohol, Big Tobacco, and half a million dollars from Big Casino (the “Big Business of Addiction Trifecta”).

“Marijuana has now moved from the hemp shirts to the briefcases and blue suits,” Kennedy said as if that were a bad thing, painting the picture of Big Marijuana profiting on “people like me who are addicts… who like to use more than is really acceptable.” Oh, so there is an acceptable amount of marijuana some people could use? Can we make it legal to sell just that amount… say, maybe an ounce for adults over 21, like Colorado and Washington do?

“I’m for keeping it illegal, but I’m for alternative sentencing,” Kennedy responded when asked if he supported decriminalization. “People should get fines [and] they should get treatment if they need it.”

Colbert asked, “So instead of going to jail you go to rehab?”

“So, well, rehabs are going to love this,” answered Kennedy in a surprising moment of candor. “You should invest in rehabs,” he advised Colbert. “The biggest new admissions now, that surpasses cocaine and alcohol and meth, is marijuana, believe it or not.” I don’t believe it, since alcohol was listed as the primary substance of abuse in twice as many rehab admissions than marijuana in the most recent TEDS-A data. But the tripling in the rate of marijuana admissions since 1992 does coincide nicely with the more-than-doubling of marijuana arrests and increase from 10 to over 2,600 drug courts that gave arrested tokers the “choice” of rehab or jail.

When asked if he smoked pot, Kennedy explained, “If the kind of marijuana that is available today was available back when I was trying it, I could have eaten it… Because I had asthma, I moved on to other things to get high.”

“Wait a second,” interrupted Colbert as the irony hit the live audience full force. “So if pot had been legal then maybe you would have stopped with pot?”

“Well, I might have stopped with pot,” Kennedy said, naively wading into a sea of illogic, “but then I wouldn’t have finally realized that I had a problem, because marijuana would have kept me on the slow train to nowhere a lot longer than cocaine or alcohol, where it’s pretty hard after a while to ignore the fact you have an addiction. But marijuana, you can smoke it for a long time and still be in denial. You know, my denial was tough to break; I was arrested several times, I was humiliated. But with marijuana I probably would have been able to get away with it a lot longer.”

Just so we’re clear: Patrick Kennedy says it’s good marijuana was illegal so that addicts like him have to choose harder drugs that cause much more harm to the user and society. That way they hit bottom harder and faster and break the denial of their addiction. See, it’s good Patrick Kennedy couldn’t have stopped with pot brownies so he could get behind the wheel loaded on alcohol and Oxycontin and wreck his car in DC just a month after another impairment-suspected fender bender in Rhode Island. Well, good for Patrick Kennedy, at least, since he was never arrested, never given a sobriety test, and given a plea deal that spared him jail and fined him only $350.

"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of The Russ Belville Show, which airs live at 3pm Pacific.