Drug Policy

No Such Thing As Too Much Pot Potency

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While researching my column for tomorrow, I noticed that the marijuana potency numbers in last week's press release on the subject from the Office of National Drug Control Policy don't match the numbers in the Potency Monitoring Project report (PDF) from which they supposedly were drawn. The press release says:

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.

But these numbers, like the ones in an ONDCP graph labeled "Potency of Seized Marijuana, 1983-2007" (see below), are actually for imported marijuana, which in the samples tested by the PMP tends to be stronger than domestic marijuana. According to page 11 of the PMP report, the overall average THC level for marijuana seized last year was 8.1 percent, significantly lower than the number highlighted by the ONDCP. In the latest quarter for which data are available (mid-December to mid-March), the average was 7.9 percent, according to page 6 of the report.

This misrepresentation is not a huge deal, because the overall averages still show more than a doubling in THC content since 1983. But the fact that the ONDCP took the numbers out of the wrong column does not help its credibility, especially since this mistake had the effect of exaggerating the THC levels that federal drug warriors see as cause for alarm.

My first post on the ONDCP's announcement is here.

Addendum: At The Huffington Post, NORML's Paul Armentano notes that imported marijuana, which represented about two-thirds of the PMP samples last year, accounts for a minority of the U.S. market. He adds that "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."

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  1. It is not necessary to demonstrate something is safe to demonstrate that it should not be illegal. I do not think cutting your own hand off with a chainsaw should be illegal. This does not mean I think it is safe and I certainly would not want my own children to cut off their hands off with a chainsaw.

  2. ONDCP taking something out of context to continue their scaremongering? Noooo. Never.
    The shame of it is the the fact that most people will never find out, or even more depressing, not care.

    How can any thinking person buy their bullshit for a minute?

  3. Everclear is the most potent drinking alcohol, more than 2 times as potent as Wild Turkey 80 proof. Therefore everclear is dangerous to anyone who drinks it and should be made illegal.

    /If you didn’t catch the sarcasm, please turn up your detector.

  4. One of the first things that popped into my mind last week with the posts relating to this was that the govt is posturing to upgrade punishments for possession of smaller amounts. Episiarch (i think) made a similar comment.
    In my area, it appears to me that young blacks are finding weed more satisfying than other alternatives.Why that is happening, I don’t know but I suppose it could be due to much more lenient sentencing.

    Higher potency=more danger=need for tougher punishment.

    It’s for the kids ya know.

  5. And if it’s so much stronger and that much more dangerous, then the SWAT team raids for small time users is justified. Can’t have all this military shit gathering dust ya know.

  6. “imported marijuana, which in the samples tested by the PMP tends to be stronger than domestic marijuana”

    Dammit, isn’t there anything Americans can do better than foreigners?

    I blame the government for its protectionist policies. If American cannabis producers had to face a truly free market, they would have to innovate to compete. Instead, they mainly innovate to hide from the cops.

    We must not allow a pot potency gap!

    OTOH, (I have not read the pdf) how do we know where the “domestic” grass comes from? Kentucky ditchweed, Mexican grown not caught at the border but in some poor sap’s house, etc. may be regarded as domestic cannabis but may not have the potency of product that a major hydroponic grow op might have. I doubt that those evil foreign drug lords would send vast quantities of what might as well be hemp to the US. So maybe it is a question of methodology as much as biology.

  7. But the fact that the ONDCP took the numbers out of the wrong column does not help its credibility

    The ONDCP has never had any credibility.

  8. zig zag man:

    Too late. Can’t purchase Everclear in the state of Ohio… we also can’t purchase any beer over 12% ABV. Because gods knows that 15% beer will drive us insane (pay no attention to the 75% liquor we can buy).

    Nephilium

  9. Who cares, it still isn’t potent enough.

  10. Perhaps I should become a smuggler and smuggle beer into Ohio. Would a jury actually throw me in jail for selling beer of 2% more alchohol than legally allowed?

  11. Is it illegal to give a police officer the bird? That is what I would do if one tried to arrest me for selling 15% alchohol beer. I wish more people would just violate insane laws and flip off the police when they try to enforce insane laws.

  12. So this topic is worthy of 3 separate postings?

    Really?

    This misrepresentation is not a huge deal, because the overall averages still show more than a doubling in THC content since 1983.

    But it must be a huge deal for you to dedicate so much space to it.

    But these numbers… are actually for imported marijuana….

    And since the focus of the war on drugs seems to be about drugs “flowing into the country” this seems like it is the number they would be concerned about.

  13. Ironic:

    A jury probably wouldn’t, but you’d technically be a bootlegger. A crime with some good history…

    And Ohio is one of the better ones… there’s some states that ban anything over 7% ABV…

    Nephilium

  14. I wish more people would just violate insane laws and flip off the police when they try to enforce insane laws.

    As is said down here in Texas: you may beat the rap but you won’t beat the ride. Principle is great and all, but most of us have lives we’d rather be living. It’s expensive and time-consuming to lawyer up and fight the man.

  15. One of the first things that popped into my mind last week with the posts relating to this was that the govt is posturing to upgrade punishments for possession of smaller amounts. Episiarch (i think) made a similar comment.

    Yes I did. I hope I was wrong.

    Remember also that the potency of pot varies also because of different people’s tastes in getting high. Some people like to get ripshittingly high, and some people like to get a small, mellow buzz. Different weed for different need (hey, that rhymes).

  16. And since the focus of the war on drugs seems to be about drugs “flowing into the country” this seems like it is the number they would be concerned about.

    Yes, because SWAT raids on end users definitely helps stop the flow of drugs into the country, as does jailing people for posession. Where did you get the idea importation was the focus of the drug war? Is that what the ONDCP says, or do you actually look at the evidence?

  17. imported marijuana, which in the samples tested by the PMP tends to be stronger than domestic marijuana

    I bet this is because they are counting wild hemp seized out of empty fields by our mighty Drug Warriors as domestic “marijuana.”

    Anyplace where they used to grow hemp for rope, it has gone native. When I lived in Wisconsin, there were hundreds of these hemp plants on my 20 acre spread. Until I hit ’em with Round-up, anyway. I didn’t need some beetle-browed deputy claiming I was running a major grow operation in my backyard.

  18. Is is illegal to brew my own 15% beer in Ohio? Or is it just illegal to sell it?

    I really have no desire to sell or buy MJ. I just want to be able to grow a plant or two for my own consumption without having to do it in a locked basement.

    As far as potency, wouldn’t stronger pot actually be better for me? Since I would inhale less smoke to get the same affect.

  19. Potency nazis fail to realize that potency adds safety and value to the drug, but not danger. THC is practically non-toxic, and safer than almost anything you could do with your time. Potency means using less quantity and getting a better value. Also more potent varieties tend to be fresher and of higher quality overall, yielding an improved experience. Just like high point beers tend to be full bodied ale micro brews. Haters are puritanical babysitters that we don’t need, and they can kindly go jump off a cliff.

  20. Pot just keeps getting better and better!

    Less calories than alcohol too.

    Dammit now I gotta find a supplier.

  21. SmokeyJoe:

    Just sell it… but making a 15% beer isn’t always an easy thing… There’s special yeast strains needed, and other fun things to be done.

    It just means I have to road trip for 120 minute, Devil Dancer, and Mephistopholes… and at some point for the Utopias.

    Nephilium

  22. Yes, because SWAT raids on end users definitely helps stop the flow of drugs into the country, as does jailing people for posession. Where did you get the idea importation was the focus of the drug war? Is that what the ONDCP says, or do you actually look at the evidence?

    Reducing demand is the best way to reduce the supply, no?

    But as for my comment…the argument and how it is framed by those making it seems to be about the drugs “flowing into this country.” If that is how the problem is perceived, there are many options about how to deal with that problem…

    I don’t happen to think it is a problem, but…

  23. Nephilium,

    Growing high potency weed isn’t easy either… but it is worth it.

    You do realize that you probably enjoy Utopias even more because you can’t buy it. Makes it really special when you can get your hands on some. I think that must be a huge factor in the price of it as well.

  24. SmokeyJoe:

    We’ll see if I ever do pick up the Utopias… 🙂

    The 120 minute I’ve had several times, and tossed some into the cellar. Frequent trading and sporadic travel keeps me in the high gravity beers I desire.

    Nephilium

  25. Oh YEAH?!

    Wait…uh, what was I saying? Pass the Fritos.

  26. This misrepresentation is not a huge deal, because blah, blah 100% THC Marinol has been available for over a decade now and there is still not one overdose nor an increase of ‘addiction’ that has been associated with it.

    There, fixed the paragraph and refuted all of the Drug Czar’s THC numbers game for you. Too bad the regular media (AP, I’m looking at you) will just reprint the ONDCP’s assertion as biblical scripture and ignore this little fact.

  27. Reducing demand is the best way to reduce the supply, no?

    That is, if it were any of our business to try and reduce demand in a consumer product.

    Research shows that demand for prohibited drugs is particularly inelastic.

    http://www.chicagogsb.edu/capideas/may05/battletactics.html

  28. The ONDCP makes me want to toke some super weed.

  29. 100% THC Marinol has been available for over a decade now and there is still not one overdose nor an increase of ‘addiction’ that has been associated with it.

    And cannabis in its whole-plant form has essentially no LD50 (the dose that will be lethal to 50% of a population), a level of safety rare in any substance.

    http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/mj_overdose.htm

    So even IF the Feds had a right to prevent suicide by holding a gun to my head, their efforts at THAT are unnecessary, too.

  30. Flipping off a cop can get you a disorderly conduct citation. Trust me.

  31. Sullum, good man, a question for you. In an earlier discussion of this, you pointed out that the potency to dosage for alcohol was around 10 to 1, and for marijuana 4000 to 1. Would this not in effect mean that marijuana is less lethal for you to consume than water?

  32. Here in Alabama, any beer over 6% is illegal. A group called Free The Hops has been working hard to change this and is getting close. But the legislators’ arguments against their bill are hilarious, and basically can be read as “I don’t like that people drink at all so I will ignore all your logical arguments and oppose anything that could look like I like alcohol”. This line of thinking is popular with Alabama politicians (see Rep. Bachus vs. Rep Frank re UIGUA for the gambling version).

  33. “Reducing demand is the best way to reduce the supply, no?”

    America, reducing demand one convict at a time.

  34. zig zag man:

    Too late. Can’t purchase Everclear in the state of Ohio… we also can’t purchase any beer over 12% ABV. Because gods knows that 15% beer will drive us insane (pay no attention to the 75% liquor we can buy).

    Nephilium

    Really? I was only kidding. Holy sh*t. I got nothing…

  35. Keep Dope Alive !!!

  36. “Really? I was only kidding. Holy sh*t. I got nothing…”

    Illegal in Minnesota too. That’s why I moved.

  37. “And since the focus of the war on drugs seems to be about drugs “flowing into the country” this seems like it is the number they would be concerned about.”

    I think “flowing into the country” is just an idiom politicians use to give a xenophobic edge to their coveted War on Drugs. It’s as if they’re saying, “of course, we good Americans don’t grow the drugs; we’re just the poor victims of the imported seeds of our unwitting deterioration.”

    It’s all bullshit.

    These groups can argue all the facts they want… the fact of the matter is that this comes down to a fundamental philosophical right , which pathetically has been stripped from the citizens here in the so-called “land of the free.”

  38. I would much rather have my kids smoking pot than drinking! How is it that THC potency is even news-worthy, given that it is a NON-TOXIC substance? For those out there who may be unclear: that means that it is NOT POSSIBLE to ingest so much that you die. It just doesn’t kill you. It can’t.
    I wonder how many parents read the hype and chewed their fingernails over a non-issue, while their children raided their medicine cabinet at home. Get a grip.

  39. I wonder how many parents read the hype and chewed their fingernails over a non-issue, while their children raided their medicine and liquor cabinets at home. Get a grip.

    There, fixed it for better realism.

  40. The statement that imported marijuana accounts for a minority of the marijuana consumed in the US and that it has higher potency than domestic marijuana is just plain false. Imported marijuana is a bulk commodity product with a huge variation in quality but most usually not very high quality. It’s grown and processed on an industrial scale and the quality reflects that. Domestic marijuana, because of the difficulty and expense of growing in the US, is more of a boutique product and tends to be far higher quality and price. I don’t smoke the stuff myself.

  41. Bob beat me too it.

  42. I love these discussions.

    So, are those making the “THC is not lethal/toxic” argument using that as a proxy for the “there are no problems created by marijuana use” argument?

    There is clearly a difference between use and abuse of any intoxicating substance. Marijuana has been shown to have negative impacts on people’s lives when they abuse it…and marijuana users have been shown to be prone to abuse at higher rates than users of other drugs.

    You can oppose the WOD without pretending that being a burnout is a virtue.

  43. So, are those making the “THC is not lethal/toxic” argument using that as a proxy for the “there are no problems created by marijuana use” argument?

    Nope. And concerns about abuse/potential abuse are perfectly valid as reasons for your and my personal choices not to use the substance.

    The great thing about choices is that they have consequences. Why not leave gov’t out of it? As long as I don’t have to pay for the burnouts’ foodstamps etc, I got no beef.

    I think the point is that, even as some misguided public safety campaign (which I wouldn’t support, btw), the war on pot makes no sense.

  44. Marijuana has been shown to have negative impacts on people’s lives when they abuse it

    Sure, but those impacts are probably, at the end of the day, lifestyle-related (i.e., they don’t do as well in the job market).

    …and marijuana users have been shown to be prone to abuse at higher rates than users of other drugs.

    I find that hard to believe. I’ve known a ton of marijuana users, with a relative handful of abusers, but most of the coke users I knew were cokeheads. Similarly, I doubt that there’s a lot of casual/recreational meth or herion users out there, but I couldn’t say for sure.

  45. RC Dean,

    Research on the topic disagrees with your impressions (data reported a few weeks ago here on H&R is a good place to start).

    https://www.reason.com/blog/show/126086.html

    Marijuana is more likely to be abused than most other drugs (meth included), but yeah, crack and heroine beat it.

    Sure, but those impacts are probably, at the end of the day, lifestyle-related (i.e., they don’t do as well in the job market).

    That is a meaningless distinction…you are saying that someone who chooses to stay at home and nurse the bong hourly in Mom’s basement does worse in the job market, but that is not because they stay at home nurse the bong hourly. Right?

  46. um….
    make that
    “nursing the bong”
    as appropriate

  47. Some of my friends conducted an experiment to determine if there could be such a thing as too much pot potency. But half way through, they forgot what hypothesis they were supposed to be testing.

    (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

  48. That is a meaningless distinction…you are saying that someone who chooses to stay at home and nurse the bong hourly in Mom’s basement does worse in the job market, but that is not because they stay at home nurse the bong hourly. Right?

    No, I’m saying that there is a quantitative difference between living a stoner lifestyle (e.g, “nursing the bong” – I love that) and being a crack, meth, or heroin addict. Crack, meth, and heroin wreck your health and at high levels of abuse make you non-functional in society. None of that is true of stoners – they can generally get by OK, if not great, in society, and many of them do just fine, thanks.

  49. “Similarly, I doubt that there’s a lot of casual/recreational meth or herion users out there”

    There may be more than you suppose… Though I agree that meth and heroin are more prone to abuse than marijuana. Me, I don’t like marijuana, but I rather enjoy meth and heroin on the odd occasion (very odd occasion). Cocaine? I love the stuff. That’s why I won’t go near it. Seriously, drug abuse is generally more a reflection of the users pre-existing mental problems than a cause of them, though it can be self-reinforcing. I was a junkie and a cokehead, and a tweaker many years ago and I had a lot of fun. Seriously. Then I decided I’d had enough and quit that crap. No NA bullshit, no methadone, no goddamn detox/rehab. What a load of crap. If you want to quit drugs you quit them, it’s not that big of a deal. People don’t get addicted, they do drugs because they like them.

  50. And today CNN was parroting the ONDCP’s line – they were running news videos on the CNN site today about kids “freaking out” because of this “new, potent pot.”

    Maddening.

  51. Crack, meth, and heroin wreck your health and at high levels of abuse make you non-functional in society. None of that is true of stoners – they can generally get by OK, if not great, in society, and many of them do just fine, thanks.

    That’s just not true.
    I have known people who can not function in society due to their marijuana abuse. They end up nursing the bong in mom’s basement because they can’t hold a job.

    I, myself, as well as members of my family have experienced direct health effects from marijuana abuse. I think you are confusing marijuana use with marijuana abuse.

  52. On the other hand, I have known several functional heroine addicts that hold down good jobs.

    Heroine’s health effects are minimal compared to most drugs…including marijuana.

  53. Look, the bottom line is that the Government Accounting Office ruled that the ONDCP was allowed to LIE in pursuit of their mission. Anyone who believes anything from a government or law enforcement official who is authorized to lie, is an unadulterated FOOL! And there are plenty of fools already in thei country.

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