That Lethal British Marijuana


In 2004 the British government downgraded marijuana from a Class B to a Class C drug, making simple possession of small quantities a "non-arrestable offense." The current prime minister, Gordon Brown, seems bent on reversing that reform, saying "we really have got to send out a message to young people [that] this is not acceptable." Shortly after taking office, Brown asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to take another look at cannabis policy. Although the council reportedly has recommended that marijuana remain in Class C, Brown is expected to ignore its advice. On Tuesday he said:

I don't think that the previous studies took into account that so much of the cannabis on the streets is now of a lethal quality….I have always been very strongly of the view that cannabis is unacceptable and we have got to send a message.

According to Reuters, "Brown said he was particularly worried about the growing use of skunk cannabis, which he described as 'more lethal.'" There has never been a documented case of death by marijuana overdose. Based on extrapolations from animal studies, the ratio of marijuana's lethal dose to its effective dose is something like 40,000 to 1 (compared to between 10 and 20 to 1 for aspirin and between 4 and 10 to 1 for alcohol). So even if the average THC content of marijuana has increased as dramatically as drug warriors claim (and it hasn't), and even if pot smokers did not adjust their intake accordingly (and they do), there would be no practical effect on marijuana's toxicity. The chance of a lethal overdose remains, for all intents and purposes, zero. And no matter what kind of stoned logic Brown favors, zero is not more than zero.

[Thanks to NORML's Paul Armentano for the tip.]