Drug Czar Reports Marijuana Is Better Than Ever

Well, that's not quite the way he put it, but it is much closer to the truth. Today the Office of National Drug Control Policy announced that a new report from the University of Mississippi's Potency Monitoring Project (PMP) "FINDS HIGHEST-EVER LEVELS OF THC IN U.S. MARIJUANA":

According to the latest data on marijuana samples analyzed to date, the average amount of THC in seized samples has reached a new high of 9.6 percent. This compares to an average of just under 4 percent reported in 1983 and represents more than a doubling in the potency of the drug since that time.

That increase is much less dramatic than the ones claimed by drug warriors, including ONDCP Director John Walters, over the years. In a 2002 San Francisco Chronicle op-ed piece, for instance, Walters asserted that "the potency of available marijuana has not merely 'doubled,' but increased as much as 30 times" since the 1970s. That jaw-dropping claim was based on the premise that "the average THC content of marijuana was less than 1 percent" in 1974, whereas "the THC of today's sinsemilla...ranges as high as 30 percent." As I've argued, the notion that the marijuana consumed in the 1960s and '70s was typically indistinguishable from ditchweed, more likely to give you a headache than get you high, is implausible, to say the least. But yes, if you take the shittiest pot from the '70s and compare it to the best pot available today, you will get a very high THC multiple.

After years of ridicule, the ONDCP seems to have thought better of such meaningless contrasts. Now it is, at least ostensibly, comparing apples with apples, although it's not clear how representative or comparable the PMP's "convenience samples" from marijuana seizures are. Referring to page 12 of the PMP report (PDF), NORML's Paul Armentano points out:

Average potency of domestic cannabis is under 5% and remains virtually unchanged over the past decade. The overall change in average potency comes from a spike in the potency and quantity of non-domestic cannabis seized....More than twice as many samples of imported cannabis are included in the analysis (1916 vs 852) compared to domestic seizures.  Of course, if they factored the millions of ditchweed seizures made every year into the equation, average domestic potency would be near 1% THC.

Nevertheless, it is quite likely that average THC content of marijuana consumed in the United States has increased significantly during the last couple of decades as consumers have become more discerning and growers have gained expertise. The question is why better marijuana is a bad thing. Drug warriors like Walters assume that pot smokers will consume the same amount of marijuana regardless of its potency, which flies in the face of both research and common experience. With stronger pot, people can smoke less to achieve the same high, thereby reducing their exposure to combustion products. Yet the ONDCP inexplicably cites "an increased risk" of "respiratory problems" as one concern raised by higher THC levels.

It also tries the usual Anslingeresque scare mongering about marijuana madness, conflating correlation (between heavy pot smoking and depression, for example) with causation. Norah Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cites "the possibility that the more potent THC might be more effective at triggering the changes in the brain that can lead to addiction," although she concedes that "more research is needed to establish this link between higher THC potency and higher addiction risk." (It's inconceivable, of course, that government-funded research would fail to confirm this link.) To bolster the idea that marijuana is more addictive today, the ONDCP notes that "16.1% of drug treatment admissions [in 2006] were for marijuana as the primary drug of abuse," compared to "6% in 1992." It does not mention that referrals from the criminal justice system account for a large share of treatment admissions, or that marijuana arrests have increased by more than 150 percent since 1990.

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  • Elemenope||

    You're using "Logic" and "Reason".


    Guess who is gonna win that fight in the hearts and minds of cowardly, weak-willed suburban parents.

  • ||


    This just came over the wire at my newspaper:

    Presidential candidate Ron Paul will make a major announcement tonight during a rally coinciding with the Texas GOP State Convention. The event will be held from 9:00 pm - 11:00 pm at the Hilton America Hotel in downtown Houston, right across from the George R. Brown Convention Center.
    There has been wide speculation about the future of the limited government movement that has been inspired by Dr. Paul's presidential bid. This event comes on the heels of revelations this week that Dr. Paul will hold a rally to celebrate liberty and Republican traditions in Minnesota during the GOP convention this September.

    Any idea what the announcement will be?

  • Elemenope||

    On an entirely different note, am I the only one who sees a fucking Scientology ad next to this article?

  • Nigel Watt||

    Jamie: I don't know, but I'll be there.

  • ||

    Any idea what the announcement will be?

    Hopefully he'll condemn those who troll this board in his name and then cast them into the outer darkness.

    (Not directed at you, Jamie)

  • PC||

    "Any idea what the announcement will be?"

    Probably just announcing the rally during the convention. I don't think a Barr endorsement, if it would happen, would happen until after the convention or during the rally. Or it could be that Lew Rockwell after months of exhaustive searching has found the "real writers of the newsletters".

  • Elemenope||

    Any idea what the announcement will be?

    Texas will hereby secede from the Union?

    No? A man can dream, can't he?

  • ||

    I don't know about herb today, (it's been a while) but there was nothing lacking at all in 1979's thunderfuck strain.

  • ||

    On an entirely different note, am I the only one who sees a fucking Scientology ad next to this article?
    I always click on those ads, knowing that they had to waste 1/10¢ on me.

  • ||

    June 12, 2008, ...
    sneaky monkey ;P

    Btw, Jacob, I think your take is very reasonable. However the NORML guy seems to step all over it suggesting there is a whole bunch of hemp being burned out there...

  • ||


    One word to absolutely refute every single argument the drug warriors make.

  • tarran - channeling Anslinger||

    Higher levels of THC will make black people even more uppity. In the 1930's the problem was that a black person smoking a joint thought he was as good as a white man.

    Now, with the more powerful joints, a black person will think he is better than a white man. Case in point B. Hussein Obama.

    Oh, and the allure of marijuana will also attract our youth to listen to more of that civilization threatening Jazz. It will also put white girls in danger of being preyed upon by black musicians.

    If none of these things bother you, then by all means legalize marijuana and watch western civilization collapse.

  • Mike||

    "The most dangerous drug in America today is a 12-year-old with a marijuana cigarette."

    -- Barry McCaffrey

  • ||

    This argument is counter-productive anyway, because it just means that people will use less to acheive the same level of intoxication. Which would be a good thing as it means less smoke in the lungs. If that's your method, that is.


    and the terrifying thing is, 5% THC's most soul-destroying effect is that it makes Phish sound *good*.

    No really. Do they ever bother to say what the effect of 5% THC is? or 10%? Do they show that increased levels lead to PCP-like psychotic delusions and suicides? FATAL OVERDOSES?? Or.... do they develop uncontrollable cravings for NACHOS?! Actually enjoy movies with Austin Kutcher (sp)? Waste hours playing "price is right"-style game with Antiques Roadshow?? OUR NATION IS GOING TO SHIT!

    Who fucking cares. 1000s of people are killed by liver toxicity from accidental overuse of *acetaminophen* =


    ...and they call pot a national scourge? What boobs. I sometimes find it hard to believe these people at NDCP actually believe the shit they spout. God forbid they should actually do something with our tax dollars thats semi-useful.

  • ||

    "16.1% of drug treatment admissions [in 2006] were for marijuana as the primary drug of abuse," compared to "6% in 1992."

    So the ONDCP will begin to spread the idea that those drugs' whose admissions have gone down are now less addictive, right?


    Warren | June 12, 2008, 4:45pm | #


    One word to absolutely refute every single argument the drug warriors make.

    "The cause of, and solution to, all of lifes problems!"

    And with that, I think people should have a drink when they get home from work. And watch the news hour. It's what I do! Best part of my day.

  • [withheld]||

    I have it on some authority that if you have not smoked in years and years and a friend offered you a bowl and you did smoke (not saying that I did mind you) it would be great. Better than that sh*t you had in High School.

  • ||

    "The most dangerous drug in America today is a 12-year-old with a marijuana cigarette."

    -- Barry McCaffrey

    Hey, McCaffrey is correct on this one. Ever fuck a stoned 12-year-old? It's hard to stop once you've had one.

  • Russ 2000||

    But yes, if you take the shittiest pot from the '70s and compare it to the best pot available today, you will get a very high THC multiple.

    AND if you take the shittiest pot from the '70s and compare it to the best pot o the 70's, you will get a very high THC multiple.

    AND if you take the shittiest pot available today and compare it to the best pot available today, you will get a very high THC multiple.

    In other words, the year of vintage is essentially meaningless.

  • ||

    I don't know about herb today, (it's been a while) but there was nothing lacking at all in 1979's thunderfuck strain.

    I'll second that. Best to worse of what I smoked in the '70s -

    Northern California sinsemilla

    I didn't obtain enough Jamaican or Afghan to give an honest (statistically valid?) rating. I'll bet dollars to donuts that present THC levels are not even double that of the top three.

    And I didn't smoke Mexican dirt weed.

  • ||

    I remember when Hawaiian showed up in West Michigan in 79. It blew away everything everything else anybody at my school ever ever touched. It wasn't until the 90's that I found anything that good again.

  • Neu Mejican||


    Your anecdotal data is not really relevant.

    The study is talking averages.

    Sure a real study would use some distributional analysis, but that doesn't speak to the validity of their results. If (and this is a big if) their samples are representative, then an average increase is interpretable.

    If the increase is due to more imported weed...the globalization explains things.

  • ||

    J sub D-

    A military man who has tried some morthern california grass-you can't be all bad, but a disgrace to the likes of Mcaffrey.

  • ||

    16.1% of drug treatment admissions [in 2006] were for marijuana as the primary drug of abuse," compared to "6% in 1992

    Of course, these admissions are driven by law enforcement, not patient need, so this stat is officially my Bogus Stat of the Month.

  • Kool||

    Now if there was any around DC and I could find some, I would comment.

    Fucking bastard unreliable dealers. Do your fucking job! Supply me!

    I mean, ummm, I have some research to do.

  • Antiglobalist||

    The war on drugs is a failure. We should introduce certain communities where they legalize all drugs and cut them off from the rest of society. Problem solved.

  • ||

    In related news, sales of Twinkies and Doritos are up 60% in the same time frame.

  • ||

    I wonder if John Walters realizes that I can enter a government run store (it's an Oregon thing) and buy spirits more than 30 times stronger than the Bud at the grocery store!
    Hasn't made me go blind yet...

  • ||

    Your anecdotal data is not really relevant.

    Au contraire. My anecdotal evidence about the potency of commercially available reefer is at least as valid as anything the ONDCP puts out. If my experience had zero relevance it would be the equal to ONDCP's SWAGs.

  • Neu Mejican||

    J sub D,

    Your data is as valid, perhaps, but still not relevant...you haven't smoked dope seized in drug raids (by definition).

  • ||

    Not one mention of the fact that Jacob made sure this was posted at 4:20? You guys are slipping.

  • ||


    "If the increase is due to more imported weed...the globalization explains things."

    Libertarian viewpoint: The increase is likely due to market forces. It's hard to move shit with seeds, sticks and stems when the other guy has sinsemilla.

    Just guessin...

  • Neu Mejican||


    Agreed, but you need to include that fact that the overseas warlord backed suppliers provide a better product at a lower price due to their ability to force farmers to grow for them, and overall lower expectations from labor...

    But, of course, if the gubmint tells you it is true, you can't explain it with market forces...it has to be a gubmint lie...


  • Tester||

    I want one of those jobs testing potency!

  • ||

    I'm just one man with one brain but my experience tells me this stuff they smoke now is way stronger than the stuff back in the old days. I recently smoked a bud after having not smoked any weed since the early '80s and it was way stronger than any buds of Columbian or whatever it was I was smoking back then was. And it didn't put me to sleep, kept me up about 7 hours, which really burned my ass, what good is pot if it doesn't knock you out after a while.

  • JMR||

    Neu Mejican, you're assuming the averages picked or cherry-picked by government employee scientists with a history of distortion are honest averages. I'm dubious.

  • ||

    My limited experience is I've heard that the domestic stuff is more likely to be top-shelf than the imported stuff. Any upward movement in the average might be due to an increasingly robust domestic supply.

  • TallDave||

    The irony is that more potent pot is actually safer, because you can smoke less and get fewer contaminants with the same amount of THC.

  • Zeb||

    The stronger imported stuff they are talking about is Canadian, not from some third world warlord place. If growing weed is the biggest agricultural money maker in the US now, it must be like half of Canada's economy.

  • Neu Mejican||


    I made no such assumption, and in fact noted that the validity depended upon a representative sample and gave a big caveat that this would be a big assumption to make...

    Just for the record...do you feel Jacob Sullum has a better or worse record in terms of giving you the straight dope on the dope issue than the government.

    Your answer determines how gullible you are.

  • T\'Surakmaat||

    i eat green baked goods. my pot of choice is indica, not sativa; i'm going for the muscle-spasm inhibiting properties of pot.

    the pot i use is much stronger than the 70's, but because it was illegal then, who knows what i used?

    the only thing that makes sense is to legalize marijuana, and get independent labs to analyse the product and put a label on the side of the container of pot that states it's characteristics.

    until the government recognizes the healing effects of marijuana, it'll just be "dope".

    once we elect people who will stop burying their heads in the sand about "kids using pot" and legitimize it's use, we'll be able to take some real measurements. everyone i knew smoked in the 70's. i doubt it is any different today.

    any teenager can get any drug they want if they look. and usually one need not look far, especially if you live in a big (100,000+) city.

    until we get labeling and analysis, it's all anecdotal. except when my back pain goes away. that isn't anecdotal.

    Live Long And Prosper,

  • ||

    Cannabis is getting stronger as the economy tanks. Perfect time to repeal prohibition. Actually, any time is a good time to end prohibition.

    /So ready to pick up some Panama Reds at the local liquor emporium, pay for them at the register and walk out and light one up like it was no big thing.

  • red green||

    Every word that comes from the ONDCP is a transparent lie. Same goes for NIDA.Both of these frauds can only see ABUSE not use.The more they say, the more we thinking citizens see, and the sooner they are,at long last, gone. The sub committee chaired by Kucinich should open up eyes and ears this summer, in regards to ABUSE by ONDCP.

  • allan ||

    Young people... sigh...

    Pot has changed in centuries, let alone in the last 20 years. There is the good shit... and then there is everything else. Hippies didn't discover pot you know. Ask Dr. Atomic.

    When (if) the 'merican people discover the depth of the fraud and lies, the death-by-policy, the hiding of research showing pot's anti-cancer properties, then we'll see change. Educate, educate, educate. Let my people grow!

  • allan ||

    *Pot HASN'T changed in centuries...*


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