Is the marijuana of today more potent than the pot smoked decades ago? Photo courtesy Drug Enforcement Agency
This week, we’re taking a look at some of the claims made about marijuana. Voters in Oregon and Washington will decide this November whether to legalize pot. Ballot measures in both states would allow the drug to be sold in state-licensed stores. The Oregon initiative would allow people to grow their own.
One of the claims made by opponents of the legalization measures is that the marijuana of today is much more potent than the pot smoked decades ago. Chris Lehman looked into whether that’s true.
Marijuana has long been a staple of popular culture. From the 1960s through the 70s, and into the 80s.
But the marijuana available today is likely much stronger than pot was in the era of Woodstock, Cheech and Chong, and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." That's according to the federal government, which has been testing marijuana for its potency for more than three decades.
Several researchers at the University of Mississippi specialize in this. They’ve determined the average amount of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient has more than doubled since the early-80s. A little different than what your average baby-boomer might remember.
"The smell of marijuana is nostalgic for me. It reminds me of going to the U of O," says Josh Marquis, the district attorney of Clatsop County, Oregon.
He says yeah, he smoked a few joints back in the day. But he says the drug of his college years was a lot weaker than what's available now.
"In a very real sense, if somebody's who's my age remembers smoking a joint in the 70s, they might have had to smoke most of a joint to get significantly high," Marquis says.
The high potency of marijuana these days is one reason Marquis and many others in law enforcement oppose legalizing it. Anti-drug groups say potent pot is risky because it affects behavior more rapidly than its weaker predecessors.
The author of Oregon's Measure 80, Paul Stanford, says sure, marijuana is, on average, more potent than it used to be. But Stanford says it's no big deal because people will simply use less of it.
"When you're smoking, the effects are almost instantaneous," Stanford says. "When you drink alcohol it might take 20 minutes to an hour before the effect is fully realized. When you're inhaling cannabis, the effects are immediate."
In fact, that’s one reason why he’s not concerned that today’s cannabis is stronger. Unlike tobacco, scientists haven't proven a link between marijuana smoking and lung cancer. But researchers say pot can cause the same respiratory ailments experienced by cigarette smokers.
"People will use less when it's more potent," Stanford insists. "And so if you're talking about smoking, it's better that they use less. It's better that it's more potent for that particular use."
Some marijuana activists dispute the federally-produced data on pot strength. They say the testing, which is done on drugs seized in law enforcement raids, is not a representative sample.
But Josh Marquis says he believes it. He says marijuana growers in his rural coastal county have gotten quite good at what they do.
"It's just good gardening," Marquis says. "The growers know what they're doing. They use hydroponics, and they breed the most potent, the best marijuana."
Under the Oregon and Washington initiatives, marijuana sold through state-licensed stores would be labeled for potency. Oregon's measure would also allow people to grow their own, giving them the opportunity to make it as strong as they want.
On the web:
Oregon's Measure 80: http://oregonvotes.org/irr/2012/009text.pdf
Washington's Initiative 502: https://wei.sos.wa.gov/agency/osos/en/press_and_research/PreviousElections/2012/General-Election/Documents/I-502_complete_text.pdf
Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network