Groton — With five states, including neighboring Massachusetts, voting Tuesday on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use, Connecticut public health advocates, lawmakers and other residents need to be aware that the big-money forces behind those initiatives won’t stop there.

Delivering that call to action Thursday were two speakers from Project SAM, or Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who urged an audience of police officers, local leaders and public health officials to start educating themselves and others on what science and research shows about the effects of pot use on mental health and social welfare.

“We’re on a freight train with a policy that’s going to be very hard to turn around, and we’re up against a massive industry that sees dollar signs,” said Kevin Sabet, co-founder of Project SAM and director of the drug policy institute at the University of Florida, speaking to about 50 people at the Mystic Marriott. “Right now, we’re losing the public relations battle to the industry. We need to build a better movement.”

Currently, he said, only about 9 percent of the population uses pot regularly, yet up to half of all Americans have “bought into the idea” that legalization would be beneficial, undercutting drug cartels and providing a new source of revenue for states. Neither has proved true in states where it already is legal, he said.

Big business interests including major tobacco companies, he said, are behind the efforts to legalize pot in Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Arizona and California, following successes in Colorado and Washington four years ago. His group, which he said is focused on applying science and research to a debate often skewed by anecdotes and outdated personal experience, released a report last month examining the effects of legalization for those over the age of 21 in Colorado and Washington, showing increases in

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