They say that every action spurs an opposite reaction. That certainly seems to be the case in Congress.
Just days after Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Barney Frank, along with 13 cosponsors, reintroduced HR 2835, the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act of 2009 in Congress, Republican Rep. Mark Kirk (Illinois) has called for federal legislation to sentence certain first-time marijuana offenders to up to 25 years in prison.
U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk to push tougher sentences for more-potent marijuana via The Chicago Tribune
U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk will call for legislation Monday that would toughen drug-trafficking laws regarding a highly potent form of marijuana, with penalties of up to 25 years in prison for a first-time offense.
The law would target offenders who sell or distribute marijuana that has a THC content exceeding 15 percent.
... Drug dealers are increasingly cross-breeding plants to produce high-potency variants of marijuana, which are called "kush" in street slang when they have 20 percent THC, Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said. "When you amplify the strength of it, you are increasing the harm to the system," said Curran, who supports the legislation, which would amend a federal law. "They are more dangerous behind the wheel of a vehicle. It's not a good idea to have people that messed up."
... The Republican North Shore lawmaker said he plans to release more information during a news conference in Chicago on Monday, where he will be joined by representatives from the Lake County Sheriff's Department, the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group and Waukegan Police Department.
Okay, where to begin? Well, we can start with U.S. Representative Mark Kirk. According to the Congressman's website, Rep. Kirk is "pro-personal responsibility." Unless, of course, we're talking about allowing responsible adults (or patients) the choice to relax (or medicate) in the privacy of their own homes with a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol (or most prescription pharmaceuticals). Then, naturally, all bets are off.
Representative Kirk's website also alleges that the five-time-elected Congressman is "pro-science." Unless, of course, we're talking about cannabis -- in which case he is actually "pro-ideology" and "anti-science." After all, if Rep. Kirk was truly interested in the science of cannabis he would already know that:
1) According to a 2008 review (see page 12) of marijuana potency by the University of Mississippi, the average THC in domestically grown marijuana -- which comprises the bulk of the U.S. market -- is less than five percent, a figure that's remained unchanged for nearly a decade.
2) THC -- regardless of potency -- is virtually non-toxic to healthy cells or organs, and is incapable of causing a fatal overdose. Currently, doctors may legally prescribe a FDA-approved pill that contains 100 percent THC, and curiously, nobody among Rep. Kirk's staff or at the Lake County Sheriff's office office seems to be overly concerned about its potential health effects.
3) Survey data gleaned from cannabis consumers in the Netherlands -- where users may legally purchase pot of known quality -- indicates that most cannabis consumers prefer less potent pot, just as the majority of those who drink alcohol prefer beer or wine rather than 190 proof Everclear or Bacardi 151. When consumers encounter unusually strong varieties of marijuana, they adjust their use accordingly and smoke less.
Of course, if Rep. Kirk (write him here!) was really concerned about potential risks posed by supposedly stronger marijuana, he would support regulating the sale of drug (versus jailing first-time pot sellers for a quarter of a century) so that its potency would be consistent and this information would be publicly displayed to the consumer. This same advice applies to the members of the Lake County Sheriff's Department and the Waukegan Police Department -- who claim "we don't make the laws; we just enforce them" -- yet seem to have no problem whatsoever lobbying for increased federal pot penalties while on company time.
Fortunately, the likelihood is that Rep. Kirk's proposed legislation will be all bark and no bite. One, I suspect that few if any of Rep. Kirk's colleagues in Congress will even consider supporting such an asinine measure. Two, even if such legislation were to become law (and it won't) -- who would test each and every seized marijuana sample for THC potency and who would pay for it? Currently, only the University of Mississippi engages in such potency testing, which is highly expensive and requires the use of a gas chromatography mass spectrometer device. In short, it appears that the misguided Congressman from Illinois is simply trying to make headlines.
One can't blame him for trying. After all, across the pond, unsubstantiated claims regarding the dangers of often-talked-about-but-never-actually-defined supposedly "lethal" 'skunk' weed caused a national frenzy and resulted in Parliament hastily deciding to reclassify pot possession offenses from a verbal warning to up to five years in jail. Never mind that, under Britain's short-lived experiment with decriminalization, marijuana potency actually fell -- as did the number of adolescents using the drug.
Of course, as the latest actions of the so-called "pro-science, pro-personal liberty" Congressman show, facts play virtually no role in political drug policy debate, and ignorance hardly disqualifies someone from holding elected office.
Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), and is the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink (2009, Chelsea Green).