NEW YORK — As marijuana legalization spreads throughout U.S. states, so does a debate over whether or not to set pot coverage by efficiency.
Under a regulation signed final month, New York will tax leisure marijuana based mostly on its quantity of THC, the principle intoxicating chemical in cannabis. Illinois imposed a potency-related tax when leisure pot gross sales started final yr. Vermont is limiting THC content material when its authorized market opens as quickly as subsequent yr, and limits or taxes have been broached in another states and the U.S. Senate’s drug-control caucus.
Supporters say such measures will shield public well being by roping off, or a minimum of discouraging, what they view as dangerously concentrated cannabis.
“This is not your Woodstock weed,” says Kevin Sabet, the president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group that has been urgent for efficiency caps. “We need to put some limitations on the products being sold.”
Opponents argue that THC limits might drive individuals to purchase illegally, and quantity to starting to ban pot once more over a priority that critics see as overblown.
“It’s prohibitionism 2.0,” stated Cristina Buccola, a cannabis enterprise lawyer in New York. “Once they start putting caps on that, what don’t they put caps on?”
THC ranges have been rising in latest a long time — from 4% in 1995 to 12% in 2014 in marijuana seized by federal brokers, for instance. Cannabis concentrates bought in Colorado’s authorized market common about 69% THC, and a few high 90%, in keeping with state stories.
A sweeping 2017 examination of cannabis and well being by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine listed rising efficiency amongst components that “create the potential for an elevated threat of hostile well being results.”
Some studies have linked high-THC pot, especially when used daily, with the likelihood of psychosis and certain other mental health problems. But there is debate over whether one causes the other.
Dr. Rachel Knox, an Oregon physician who counsels patients on using cannabis for various conditions, says she doesn’t see an increased risk of psychosis for people using such products under medical oversight. She opposes capping potency but suggests that products containing over 70% THC should be reserved for medical users while research continues.
“I think we should treat it with both freedom and with kid gloves,” says Knox, a former chair of the Oregon Cannabis Commission and a board member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, a trade group.
But Colorado pediatrician and state Rep. Dr. Yadira Caraveo says she has seen the dangers of high-THC cannabis.
One of her adolescent patients who used high-potency pot daily was repeatedly hospitalized with severe vomiting linked to heavy marijuana use, and another needed psychiatric hospitalization after the drug exacerbated his mental health problems, said Caraveo. She’s thinking about proposing a potency cap.
“I’m not interested in going back to criminalization,” the Democrat says, but “the reason that I ran, and what I continue to do with the Legislature every day, is to protect public health.”
Various states have regulated how many milligrams of THC can be in a single serving, package or retail sale, at least for some products. Vermont took a different approach, limiting the percentage of the chemical in any amount of recreational pot — 30% for flower-form marijuana and 60% for concentrates.
Virginia’s new legalization law gives its future Cannabis Control Authority the power to set THC limits, and a proposal to cap THC in medical marijuana has gotten some attention in Florida’s Legislature. Nationally, the U.S. Senate’s bipartisan Caucus on International Narcotics Control suggested last month that federal health agencies study whether pot potency should be limited.
Legalization supporters say caps will backfire.
“Consumer demand for these products is not going to go away, and re-criminalizing them will only push this consumer base to seek out similar products in the unregulated illicit market,” Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML, wrote in a recent op-ed in the Denver newspaper Westword.
Rather than forbidding high-potency pot, some states are just making it more expensive.
Marijuana is taxed on sales price or weight in most states where it’s legal. But recreational pot taxes depend partly on THC content in Illinois and New York.
The California Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended a potency tax in 2019, saying the approach “could reduce harmful use more effectively.” But the same year, Washington’s Liquor and Cannabis Board said it wasn’t feasible, citing uncertainty about how switching from the state’s sales tax would affect consumption, public health and revenues.
Potency taxes have an upside for states: more stable revenue than sales taxes, says Carl Davis of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a progressive think tank. That’s because sales tax totals can fall with prices in a maturing market.
There’s a downside for small cannabis companies, says Amber Littlejohn, the Minority Cannabis Business Association’s executive director. She worries they’ll lose out if THC taxes drive customers to underground dealers or to big, multistate firms that may be able to trim prices.
Instead, Littlejohn says potency policy should focus on research and stringent labeling and marketing requirements, and the industry needs to be responsive.
“It is absolutely an emerging issue,” she said, “and it is something that needs to be addressed.”