"This ain't your grandfather's or your father's marijuana. This will hurt you. This will addict you. This will kill you."- Mark R. Trouville, DEA Miami, speaking to the Associated Press (June 22, 2007)
Government claims that today's pot is more potent, and thus more dangerous to health, than ever before must be taken with a grain of salt.
Federal officials have made similarly dire assertions before. In a 2004 Reuters News Wire story, government officials alleged, "Pot is no longer the gentle weed of the 1960s and may pose a greater threat than cocaine or even heroin." (Anti-drug officials failed to explain why, if previous decades' pot was so "gentle" and innocuous, police still arrested you for it.)
In 2007, Reuters again highlighted the alleged record rise in cannabis potency, proclaiming, "U.S. marijuana grows stronger than before: report." Quoted in the news story was ex-Drug Czar John Walters, who warned, "This report underscores that we are no longer talking about the drug of the 1960s and 1970s -- this is Pot 2.0."
Predictably, in 2008 the mainstream news media ran with yet another set of 'news' stories alleging that the pot plant's strength had reached all-time highs. According to a June 12, 2008 Associated Press story:
"The latest analysis from the University of Mississippi's Potency Monitoring Project tracked the average amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in samples seized by law enforcement agencies from 1975 through 2007. It found that the average amount of THC reached 9.6 percent in 2007, compared with 8.75 percent the previous year."
Or not. An actual review of the 2008 U-Miss data revealed this nugget of information: The average THC in domestically grown marijuana -- which comprises the bulk of the US market -- is less than five percent, a figure that's remained unchanged for nearly a decade. (See: http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/pdf/FullPotencyReports.pdf, page 12)
Which brings us to this year. Naturally, the Feds are once again sounding the alarm, as reported today by CNN: "Marijuana potency surpasses 10 percent, U.S. says."
I suppose, if nothing else, the government's annual "new and improved pot" claims are good advertising for marijuana dealers. As for the rest of the public, it's time for a reality check.
First, it's worth noting that police and lawmakers made these same alarmist claims about the suddenly not-as-dangerous-or-strong-as-we-once-said-it-was pot of the 1960s, '70s, and 80s. These allegations were false then and they are still false now.
Second, 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 at the University of Mississippi or at the Drug Czar's office seems to be overly concerned about its potential health effects.
Third, 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.
Finally, if US lawmakers and government researchers were truly concerned about potential risks posed by supposedly stronger marijuana, they would support regulating the drug, so that its potency would be consistent and this information would publicly displayed to the consumer. (Anyone ever been to a liquor store that sold a brand of booze that didn't post its alcohol content marked on the label? Didn't think so.)
So let's review, shall we? Our federal government ostensibly wants fewer Americans to consume pot. So they spend billions of dollars outlawing the plant and driving its producers underground where breeders, over time, clandestinely develop stronger and more sophisticated herbal strains than ever existed prior to prohibition. The Feds then inadvertently give America's marijuana growers billions of dollars in free advertising by telling the world that today's weed is more potent than anything Allen Ginsberg, Tommy Chong or Jerry Garcia ever smoked in their heyday. In response, tens of millions of Americans head immediately to their nearest street-corner in search of a dealer (or college student) willing to sell them a dimebag of the new, super-potent cannabis they've been hearing about on TV. The Feds then demand more of your hard-earned tax dollars so they can get more Americans "off the pot."
Then next year we do it all over again: same time, same station.