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California Must Reconsider Marijuana Legalization as Potency Levels Rise

New information about today’s marijuana usage indicates that the drug is not the same as it was in the early nineties. The THC levels in today’s marijuana products have increased significantly. Despite this increased danger, the substance remains legal in California. 

California voters passed a law in 2016 making reactional marijuana legal. Anyone over the age of 21 can purchase the drug at any potency level. 

In March 2021, the U.S. Senate’s Caucus on International Narcotics Control released a report showing that marijuana products available on the market have increased drastically in potency. The report reads:

“Between 1999 and 2017, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentrations, or cannabis potency, more than quadrupled. Today, the average potency of THC in cannabis products sold in dispensaries is between 18 and 23 percent. The potency of concentrated cannabis products can be up to four times stronger, reaching as high as 80 percent”

THC is the psychoactive component that gives users a high and reportedly provides pain relief. A 2020 NIH study showed that users can experience the pain relief benefits of marijuana with THC levels no higher than 5%. In fact, marijuana with higher THC levels might even be less effective in alleviating pain. California implemented a potency cap of 60%, but this is still too high. 

Use of the drug at a wide range of concentrations comes with several risks including physical dependence, unpredictable or adverse reactions, acute intoxication, cyclical vomiting, emergency room visits, anxiety, and more, according to the study. Doctors and emergency rooms are seeing sharp increases in psychosis, suicidal ideation, and actual suicide with young people using this high-potency drug.

Increased use of the drug also poses secondary dangers such as more deadly traffic accidents occurring and the opioid crisis worsening. Legalization impacts more than just those who choose to use the drug, but every driver on the streets.   

Further, according to state hospital data, emergency-room visits due to cannabis-induced psychosis increased by 54% across California three years after legalization. Cannabis has undeniably harmed Californians, and the damage will only worsen as potency continues to rise. 

In a rare moment of clarity last month, one Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Richard Pan, introduced legislation that would require “product labels and inserts to include a clear and prominent warning” that “cannabis use may contribute to mental health problems.” 

The bill suggests the following warning on cannabis product labels: Cannabis use may contribute to “psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Risk is greatest for frequent users.”

 While this warning is a good start to fighting the marijuana crisis, true wisdom would resist legalizing the drug in the first place. Lawmakers need to go beyond issuing warnings and remove marijuana from the recreational market altogether. 
 
Christians have a responsibility to care for their neighbors’ welfare, which requires advocating against policies that endanger them. Parents have the particular responsibility to protect children from the ever-increasing dangers of marijuana. The next step is to not only spread the truth about the dangers of marijuana and its rising potency, but to elect leaders who will commit to actively fighting this epidemic. 

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