Politics and Science Are Both Catching up With Big Marijuana

Guest post by Kevin Sabet

This week, House Democrats on Capitol Hill will re-introduce the Marijuana Opportunity and Reinvestment and Expungement Act, otherwise known as the MORE Act. For those who are following along, this bill was passed out of the House last year during the December “lame duck” session following the November election.

We are also still awaiting the introduction of the bill being written by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that, much like the MORE Act, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and establish a national pot industry. But, while Democrats at the federal level are practically tripping over themselves to do the bidding of Big Pot, top Democrats in Colorado are staking out a different path.

At a press conference last week, a new bill was introduced that has sent shockwaves across the state. The bill in question, House Bill 1317, is the first-ever, massive overhaul of the state’s marijuana industry regulations we’ve seen since legalization was implemented in 2012.

“What we’re trying to do here is address how people view (high potency marijuana) concentrates and better educate folks,” said lead sponsor of the bill and Speaker of the House Alec Garnett. The chief aim of the bill, which is the brainchild of the Colorado legislature’s only member who also happens to be a medical doctor – Democratic Representative Yadira Caraveo, is to set up and fund a scientific review council to conduct an in-depth examination of the research concerning the potential health effects related to the use of today’s high potency marijuana.

As has been pointed out before in recent columns, today’s marijuana is not in any way similar to the weed of Woodstock – or even the Bush Administration. THC (the main, psychoactive chemical found in marijuana that makes a user “high”) levels in marijuana for the majority of its use in human history has never naturally exceeded 1-5%. But much like how the invention of the cigarette dramatically adulterated the use of tobacco, so too has commercialization radically changed the ways in which marijuana is cultivated and marketed.

Since the advent of marijuana commercialization in earnest in 2012, THC potency in marijuana flower has risen to between 18-23%. In the forms that are growing ever more popular among young users, such as vaping oils and concentrates known as “dabs” and “shatter,” THC levels can be commonly found up to 99%.

The marijuana industry has rapidly outpaced the research, but science is beginning to catch up. All told, there are more than 50 peer-reviewed studies that have found links between the use of such high potency marijuana and addiction and mental health disorders.

The scientific review council that will be established under Colorado’s new bill would look at these studies, and the thousands of other studies examining marijuana’s effects on the brain, and make recommendations to the legislature based upon their findings on further regulations that are warranted, such as potency caps.

Honestly, this bill – which has by now already flown through two House committees, could not come at a better time.

Over recent years, the pot industry in Colorado and its sycophants across the country have heralded the results of one statewide study, Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) for its purported display of youth use of marijuana declining or remaining steady since legalization. We could spend hours discussing how this survey has been rejected by the CDC for flaws in its methodology in the past, but we will leave that aside for the moment. But the 2020 release of HKCS data was one the pot industry desperately wanted to sweep under the rug.

According to HKCS data, the use of marijuana dabs has risen five-fold among youth in the state since 2017 while the use of marijuana vapes have doubled.

As these trends have been developing, many advocates against commercialization have been pointing them out, as they have not occurred overnight. But until now, critizing the marijuana industry in Colorado has been akin to heresy. Any attempt to bring attention to concerning trends in the data resulted in one being labeled a “prohibitionist” and accusations of taking money from Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and Big Alcohol – all of whom are heavily invested in the industry, ironically — abounded. But the trends in youth use of concentrates could no longer be ignored.

The power of the pot lobby is strongly felt in Colorado, where the industry has become one of the largest spenders on lobbying and political contributors. A poignant example of their power was felt during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, where it strong-armed local and state officials to declare pot shops “essential” while other businesses were forced to shut their doors.

Another example is this bill in question, which originally contained a provision capping THC potency at 15%. When a draft of the bill was leaked, the industry revolted, and the provision was removed. And as this bill makes its way through the legislature, they are still “raising concerns about how the research collected under the bill will be used.” Any time an industry is concerned about how research will be used to regulate them; you should really begin to wonder what they are afraid of…

Other states such as Vermont and Montana have seen the result of Colorado’s laissez-faire approach to the marijuana industry and have moved to restrict THC potency, severely limit advertising, and taken other steps to ensure public health remains paramount to the addiction-for-profit interests of the marijuana industry.

It’s time Colorado follows their lead, and it’s high time our leaders at the federal level paused their love affair with Big Pot.

Originally published at Newsweek.com

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