Cannabis Legalization Debate Turns to Questions of Pot Potency – (The Insurance Journal)

Although I try to space out my various commentaries on any 1 subject to keep my flow of posts from getting too homogeneous, sometimes opportunities just present themselves. In this case, an article exploring a conversation that I believe NEEDS to be had. Written by Jennifer Peltz for what I assume is an industry publication, we have what looks to be a good angle.

Let us begin.

 

https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2021/04/22/611177.htm

 

As marijuana legalization spreads across U.S. states, so does a debate over whether to set pot policy by potency.

Under a law signed last month, New York will tax recreational marijuana based on its amount of THC, the main intoxicating chemical in cannabis. Illinois imposed a potency-related tax when recreational pot sales began last year. Vermont is limiting THC content when its legal market opens as soon as next year, and limits or taxes have been broached in some other states and the U.S. Senate’s drug-control caucus.

Supporters say such measures will protect public health by roping off, or at least discouraging, what they view as dangerously concentrated cannabis.

“This is not your Woodstock weed,” says Kevin Sabet, the president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group that has been pressing for potency caps. “We need to put some limitations on the products being sold.”

 

And ALREADY, I find myself mildly annoyed.

I understand why journalists interview and/or reference people like Kevin Sabet. It is because he is considered to be knowledgeable on account of his idiotic lobby group and his previous experience in the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama. However, as I stated HERE, I deem his opinion a joke considering what his position was during arguably the worst part of the opioid crisis.

People literally died by the thousands all over the United States at the hand of heavy-handed pill pushers at all levels ON HIS WATCH, and now the prick is lecturing adults on today’s weed not being Woodstock weed?!

Well, today’s opioids are a far cry from the opium found in London’s dens of darkness. Seems like a good reason to keep an eye on that situation, lest things get out of control.

Right?

Nah. Let’s blindly and completely without context, keep focusing on yet another unintended consequence of the drug war effectively deregulating the production and distribution of marijuana (super potent weed). Let’s start a lobbying effort ensuring the limited potency of a drug that has never killed anyone through its toxicity. Legalized over the counter opioid pills and solutions . . . no need to cap those dosages or prescriptions!

But Willy Nelson needs some strong skunk because he’s been toking longer than I’ve been alive . . . TO BAD!

Piss off, Kevin Sabet. And as for those that reference him . . . please don’t.

With that purely rational reaction out of my system, we can move on.

Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that the potency of marijuana needs to be taken into consideration. However, I don’t agree that taxing, limiting or otherwise mandating maximum potency is necessarily the correct approach. However, I do believe that the correct dosage needs to be easily visible on promotional materials, product packaging and on request. I also believe that educational materials should be made available to ensure that consumers understand exactly what these numbers mean.

Any dispensary that is truly passionate about what they do will already be doing that. After all, a novice customer buying a bad trip is a customer they will likely never see again. Nonetheless, the industry as a whole could benefit from some standardized educational materials. While this role could be played by governments, I would much rather see materials from people that actually understand the dynamics of the substances in which they deal with. Unlike governing entities of which typically come in hard and with ignorant bias, or WAY too late.

*cough*

VAPING!!

 

Opponents argue that THC limits could drive people to buy illegally, and amount to beginning to ban pot again over a concern that critics see as overblown.

“It’s prohibitionism 2.0,” said Cristina Buccola, a cannabis business lawyer in New York. “Once they start putting caps on that, what don’t they put caps on?”

THC levels have been increasing in recent decades — from 4% in 1995 to 12% in 2014 in marijuana seized by federal agents, for example. Cannabis concentrates sold in Colorado’s legal market average about 69% THC, and some top 90%, according to state reports.

 

I agree that THC limits could drive people to the illicit market because I can cite an anecdotal example from within my circle of friends. I don’t know what his tolerance is, but he must be approaching Kurt Cobain or Donny Chong levels because apparently, the legal stuff has trouble keeping up.

Of course, he resides in British Columbia, a region that had a billion-dollar cannabis market long before Justin Trudeau Made Canada Great Again. And anecdotes are just the viewpoint of one person. However, one does not have data without multitudes of anecdotes. And there is no reason to exclude these consumers from the legal market just because they may occupy a growing niche compared to the rest of the growing segment.

And when it comes to THC levels as listed, I am curious about the contexts behind the numbers. Though the levels in seized plants is fairly straightforward (they are the product of decades of genetic engineering), I am more curious of the levels within legally available supplies. Even though the average of the available strains currently sits at about 69%, what is the lower end? And how easily available are these more newbie-friendly strains?

 

A sweeping 2017 examination of cannabis and health by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine listed increasing potency among factors that “create the potential for an increased risk of adverse health effects.”

Some studies have linked high-THC pot, especially when used daily, with the likelihood of psychosis and certain other mental health problems. But there is debate over whether one causes the other.

 

That is a terrifying sentence without any context attached to it. Good thing I brought some to it not that long ago. In short, this explores a bit of the debate along with some clear advice from a level-headed Ph. D (not me lol). A lot of it involves your genes, and if that is uncertain, you may be best to avoid at least very potent strains (if not abstain entirely).

“Can Marijuana Cause Psychosis?” – (Psychology Today)

There . . . useful advice instead of “Smoke weed AND YOU GO IIINNNSANE!!!!!!”. Why is that such a difficult concept for the press?

I am of course speaking generally (and not just implicating the journalist I am quoting). We are only as accurate as the experts we rely on, after all. And in this space . . . well, you saw my Kevin Sabet rant lol. And worry not America, Canadian quoted experts can be just as bad.

 

Opposes Cap

Dr. Rachel Knox, an Oregon physician who counsels patients on using cannabis for various conditions, says she doesn’t see an increased risk of psychosis for people using such products under medical oversight. She opposes capping potency but suggests that products containing over 70% THC should be reserved for medical users while research continues.

“I think we should treat it with both freedom and with kid gloves,” says Knox, a former chair of the Oregon Cannabis Commission and a board member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, a trade group.

 

That is an acceptable compromise. It would have been nice to have had the research DECADES ago . . . but that is a rant of many past posts. Limit until understood is a perfectly rational position.

 

But Colorado pediatrician and state Rep. Dr. Yadira Caraveo says she has seen the dangers of high-THC cannabis.

One of her adolescent patients who used high-potency pot daily was repeatedly hospitalized with severe vomiting linked to heavy marijuana use, and another needed psychiatric hospitalization after the drug exacerbated his mental health problems, said Caraveo. She’s thinking about proposing a potency cap.

“I’m not interested in going back to criminalization,” the Democrat says, but “the reason that I ran, and what I continue to do with the Legislature every day, is to protect public health.”

Various states have regulated how many milligrams of THC can be in a single serving, package or retail sale, at least for some products. Vermont took a different approach, limiting the percentage of the chemical in any amount of recreational pot — 30% for flower-form marijuana and 60% for concentrates.

 

While I am normally annoyed with experts using anecdotes of their own to back their agenda, I will cut Dr. Caraveo some slack as she is not being unreasonable. Unlike many, she is not against legalization FULL STOP, she just sees the need for adjustments within the current climate. Perfectly acceptable.

Having said that, though, even discounting the seemingly tiny number of examples listed (2), I would question how exactly these patients were getting access to marijuana. It is an important question since it determines how well her proposed solution would actually tackle the problem.

For example, if the marijuana they were using was coming from legal sources, then there is obviously either a problem with compliance with age verification at dispensaries or some adult or other in their life is acting irresponsibly. If the marijuana is coming from illicit sources, then the question one has to ask becomes why are people still resorting to these sources? Why are people not taking advantage of the much less sketchy legal marketplace?

Is it because the illicit marketplace has a high potency product that they can not obtain in the legal market?

Then you have to take it into consideration. The demand is not going to go away with a potency cap. However, more varied offerings should offer more control in keeping this stuff out of the hands of minors.

 

Virginia Law

Virginia’s new legalization law gives its future Cannabis Control Authority the power to set THC limits, and a proposal to cap THC in medical marijuana has gotten some attention in Florida’s Legislature. Nationally, the U.S. Senate’s bipartisan Caucus on International Narcotics Control suggested last month that federal health agencies study whether pot potency should be limited.

Legalization supporters say caps will backfire.

“Consumer demand for these products is not going to go away, and re-criminalizing them will only push this consumer base to seek out similar products in the unregulated illicit market,” Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML, wrote in a recent op-ed in the Denver newspaper Westword.

 

YES!

Not that this is much of a surprise. It’s hard to find an article containing the words marijuana, schizophrenia or psychosis that isn’t at least mildly alarmist. But I suppose this will continue being a bane so long as the research is ongoing.

*sigh*

 

Rather than forbidding high-potency pot, some states are just making it more expensive.

Marijuana is taxed on sales price or weight in most states where it’s legal. But recreational pot taxes depend partly on THC content in Illinois and New York.

 

That is also a bad idea. Short of taxing the various levels of other commonly available drugs (consider things like caffeine, alcohol and all types of medications!), this seems wildly unfair and potentially even discriminatory. Not to mention the question of wherein one decides to set the limit over which will trigger the taxes. 

Even though 2 states have already adopted this method, let it stay at 2. Don’t do this.

 

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended a potency tax in 2019, saying the approach “could reduce harmful use more effectively.” But the same year, Washington’s Liquor and Cannabis Board said it wasn’t feasible, citing uncertainty about how switching from the state’s sales tax would affect consumption, public health and revenues.

Potency taxes have an upside for states: more stable revenue than sales taxes, says Carl Davis of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a progressive think tank. That’s because sales tax totals can fall with prices in a maturing market.

 

I have my doubts that potency taxes will have much effect on consumption. If anything, it is nothing more than a rebranded Sin tax. An excuse to profiteer off of the misery of individuals potentially caught in the clutches of addiction. That this came from a supposedly progressive think tank is bothersome. There is nothing progressive about it!

At least Washington State didn’t fall for this idiotic premise.

 

There’s a downside for small cannabis companies, says Amber Littlejohn, the Minority Cannabis Business Association’s executive director. She worries they’ll lose out if THC taxes drive customers to underground dealers or to big, multistate firms that may be able to trim prices.

Instead, Littlejohn says potency policy should focus on research and stringent labeling and marketing requirements, and the industry needs to be responsive.

“It is absolutely an emerging issue,” she said, “and it is something that needs to be addressed.”

 

There isn’t much that I can add to that.

I have myself grappled with the knowledge that established corporate entities (eventually multi-nationals) would come to dominate the marijuana market. But as I came to see it, such is just how things are. It is where the money is.

I have similar sentiments about established energy companies spearheading the transition away from fossil fuels with the cash they earned wreaking havoc with the atmosphere. But then again, we were in more or less the same situation with the CFC crisis of the late ’80s to early ’90s, directly leading to the HFC crisis of the ’90s to early 2000s, then the HFO crisis of the 2010s (goddammit, humanity). By that, I mean the companies responsible for doing the damage initially for the most part took on the task of promoting and adopting the alternatives. And just maybe they will find one that isn’t eventually found to kill us all!

That certainly took a dark turn.

Either way, even if corporate domination is inevitably going to be a part of the future of the marijuana marketplace, one must still be careful not to have regulations of the industry further hindering the small companies in the space. Chances are, this is where you will find the most diverse products.

Even though we have a ways to go, it’s nice to see the conversation starting to move away from regression and instead into plotting the future of the market. This means a whole new set of challenges, and a whole new cohort of people to educate. But it is nonetheless, progress.

Hooray for that.

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