From the onset of marijuana prohibition, criminalization advocates have sought to advance their position — and unduly influence the public — by greatly exaggerating the supposed strength of the cannabis flower.

Modern prohibitionists are continuing to engage in this tactic by claiming that today’s cannabis is uniquely more potent, and therefore allegedly more dangerous, than ever before. Increasingly, they are also advocating for the imposition of arbitrary THC potency caps on state-legal products.

Let’s set the record straight. First, the availability of potent cannabis products is not a phenomenon distinctive to today’s state-legal market.

In fact, higher potency products, like hashish, have always been available — and were not uncommon in the decades prior to legalization. Typically, when consumers encounter higher potency products, they ingest smaller quantities of them. There’s even a medical term for it: “self-titration.”

Second, higher potency THC products do not dominate state-legal markets. In fact, retail sales records from these markets show that most consumers tend to prefer and to gravitate toward flower products of more moderate potency.

Third, unlike alcohol, THC is incapable of causing lethal overdose, regardless of either its potency or the quantity consumed.

That’s not to say that cannabis products cannot also be overconsumed. They can. But in such instances, consumers typically experience only temporary dysphoria, commonly referred to as a panic attack, the effects of which dissipate within a few hours.

Nonetheless, in order to discourage overconsumption, most states regulate certain cannabis products, like edibles, to single serving sizes. All legal states further demand product testing and labeling, so that consumers are aware of the specific percentage of THC available in the product and can make decisions regarding how much to consume.

In some instances, exposure to highly potent products may trigger psychotic-like symptoms. However, such incidents are exceedingly rare and are typically exclusive to those who are either predisposed to or have a pre-existing psychiatric disorder.

Recently, an international team of scientists assessed incidences of cannabis-associated psychotic symptoms in a cohort of 230,000 consumers. They determined that fewer than one-half of 1 percent of them ever had experienced symptoms requiring medical intervention — a rate similar to that associated with alcohol — and that most of those who did so had been previously diagnosed with either bipolar disorder or psychosis.

Another study, this one from the United States, reported no greater incidences of cannabis-induced psychotic episodes among residents residing in legal cannabis states as compared to those living in jurisdictions where marijuana use remains prohibited.

Ultimately, proposed bans on cannabis products will only perpetuate the unregulated market. That is because outlawing these products will drive the production and sale of them exclusively underground.

This result undermines the primary goal of legalization, which is to disrupt and ultimately replace the underground market with a transparent, regulated marketplace where products are tested for safety and are clearly labeled so consumers can make educated choices.

Rather than reintroduce cannabis criminalization, regulators and other concerned parties should seek to provide the public with more comprehensive safety information about the effects of more potent products. And they should continue to ensure that legal products do not get diverted to the youth market.

These steps would be far more productive than calling for a return to the failures of marijuana prohibition.

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Paul Armentano

Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

Paul’s full-res headshot is available here.

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