Sentences to ponder

Medical marijuana dispensary on Ventura Boulev...
Medical marijuana dispensary on Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mark Kleiman shares typically thoughtful and serious thoughts about legalizing cannabis. Too bad thoughtful and serious is so rare where cannabis policy is concerned.

2. Everything has advantages and disadvantages. Cannabis legalization will reduce criminal revenue, intrusive enforcement, arrest, incarceration, and disorder around illicit markets, and enhance personal liberty, consumer choice, and respect for the law, and probably reduce bloodshed in Mexico. It might foster safer and more beneficial practices of cannabis use.

3. Legalization will certainly increase drug abuse, including heavy use by minors. Every adult is a potential source of leakage to minors. And if we insist on making minors consume illicitly-produced pot, we reserve 20-25% of the market for criminals. Much better to tolerate leakage and have a grey-market supply to minors like the current system that provides them with alcohol.

4. The polarized nature of the debate means that both sides wind up spending lots of time denying the obvious.

via How to legalize cannabis « The Reality-Based Community.

What’s in that weed?

English: A photograph of hemp (Cannabis sativa...
English: A photograph of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) in Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. A photograph of a cannabis plant. The photo at that site is marked as being copyright-free, and is credited to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. A thumbnail of this photo was originally uploaded to the English Wikipedia by User:AxelBoldt. Ελληνικά: κάνναβη (κάνναβις) – Μαριχουάνα (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


From Addiction Inbox:


Australia has one of the highest rates of marijuana use in the world, but until recently, nobody could say for certain what, exactly, Australians were smoking. Researchers at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales recently analyzed hundreds of cannabis samples seized by Australian police, and put together comprehensive data on street-level marijuana potency across the country. They sampled police seizures and plants from crop eradication operations. The mean THC content of the samples was 14.88%, while absolute levels varied from less than 1% THC to almost 40%.  Writing in PLoS one, Wendy Swift and colleagues found that roughly ¾ of the samples contained at least 10% total THC. Half the samples contained levels of 15% or higher—“the level recommended by the Garretsen Commission as warranting classification of cannabis as a ‘hard’ drug in the Netherlands.”

In the U.S., recent studies have shown that THC levels in cannabis from 1993 averaged 3.4%, and then soared to THC levels in 2008 of almost 9%.THC loads more than doubled in 15 years, but that is still a far cry from news reports erroneously referring to organic THC increases of 10 times or more.

CBD, or cannabidiol, another constituent of cannabis, has garnered considerable attention in the research community as well as the medical marijuana constituency due to its anti-emetic properties. Like many other cannabinoids, CBD is non-psychoactive, and acts as a muscle relaxant as well. CBD levels in the U.S. have remained consistently low over the past 20 years, at 0.3-0.4%. In the Australian study, about 90% of cannabis samples contained less than 0.1% total CBD, based on chromatographic analysis, although some of the samples had levels as high as 6%.


Read the rest here.


This is going to be interesting to watch as legalization creates more space and a market for ultra-premium pot. I’m not predicting anything, just wondering, but it makes me wonder if the relationship between the user and marijuana will change. As Bill White said several years back, “I can’t predict what the major drugs of misuse will be, but I can tell you that they are already here and someone will find a new way to use it.” In this case, could it be a new way to grow it? (BTW-This does not imply they I believe incarcerating people is a wise response to that possibility.)



Drugs + capitalism + innovation = ?

Andrew Sullivan directs us to a story on “dabs”, a highly concentrated cannabis product:

Most commonly created by a technique in which high quality pot is blasted with butane that is then extracted, these cannabis concentrates approach 70%-to-90% THC. … Brad Gibbs, of Greenest Green, which has just opened a new state-approved lab in Denver Co., filled with $100,000 in equipment, specializing in BHO, says that the new product is so superior, buds will eventually disappear, at least among, “our generation,”—users under 40. “Dabs are the future of cannabis, both recreational and medicinal,” he adds.

The article links to a High Times article expressing concern about the PR impact of this product for the legalization movement:

Assuming we’re able to dismiss the health risks, there is still the public-relations issue: namely, that because the techniques used to make and consume BHO bear an eerie resemblance to those used for harder drugs like meth and crack – and because its potency is so much higher than regular weed – dabbing is ripe for exploitation by the prohibition propaganda machine. At a time when the acceptance of marijuana among the general public is higher than ever, there’s a fear that seeing teenagers wielding blowtorches or blowing themselves up on the evening news might incite a new anti-pot paranoia that could set the legalization movement back decades.

I am reminded of a talk by Bill White on drug trends. He closed by saying something like, “I can’t tell you what the major drugs of abuse of tomorrow will be, but I can tell you that they are already here, and that they will become a problem when someone develops new ways to use them.” To understand his point, consider the impact of the syringe on opiate use and the impact of “rocking” cocaine into crack on that drug’s use. With crack, in particular, it’s worth noting that everyone knew about freebasing for years, but the real innovation in crack was a cheap and easy way to make the freebase experience available to large numbers of users.

Labeling legal weed

marijuana marlboroMark Kleiman’s looking for ideas about how to label marijuana in a hypothetical legal, commercial market:

Imagine – just hypothetically – that a state decided to open a legal (at the state level) commercial market in cannabis, with some of the users intending to use the substance to treat some medical condition and others using it for other purposes.

Such a market would have an advantage over purely illicit markets that the state could require that the product be tested and labeled with its content of active agents. Those labels might (or might not) help consumers what experience to expect from roughly how much of the product, avoiding unintentional overdose. They might also “nudge” users toward less hazardous patterns of use.

We’re pretty sure that THC is the primary “stoning” agent and that CBD (cannabidiol) has some buffering properties against, e.g., panic attacks. It seems likely that lots of the terpenoids that help give the product its flavor and odor also have their own psychoactivity, but the detailed science mostly hasn’t been done. It may also be the case that user-to-user variation in reactions will be higher for cannabis than it is for alcohol.

With respect to edible products, the label might try to inform consumers about how the content of (e.g.) a brownie compares to the content of some more familiar dosage form, such as a joint.

Finally, the label might contain warnings of various kinds: e.g., not to drive under the influence.

Since there’s more relevant information than can be legibly placed on a package label, there could also be required package inserts (as for pharmaceuticals) and/or a state-maintained website with information about cannabis and about how to interpret the information on the label.

There must be some optimal labeling system, but I’m damned if I can figure out what it is.

Some of the comments point out the difficulty of scaling an unprocessed crop, using hot peppers as an example.



What would legalized pot look like?

marijuana marlboroA RAND analyst lays out seven important questions regarding the establishment of legal marijuana:

1. Production. Where will legal pot be grown — outdoors on commercial farms, inside in confined growing spaces, or somewhere in between? RAND research has found that legalizing marijuana could make it dramatically cheaper to produce — first because producers will no longer have to operate covertly, and second because suppliers won’t need to be compensated for running the risks of getting arrested or assaulted. After lawmakers decide how it will be grown, production costs will be shaped by the number of producers and other regulations such as product testing.

2. Profit motive. If there is a commercial pot industry, businesses will have strong incentives to create and maintain the heavy users who use most of the pot. To get a sense of what this could look like, look no further than the alcohol and tobacco industries, which have found ingenious ways to hook and reel in heavy users. So will private companies be allowed to enter the pot market, or will states limit it to home producers, non-profit groups or cooperatives? If a state insisted on having a monopoly on pot production, it could rake in a decent amount revenue — but for now, that possibility seems far off in the United States since marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

3. Promotion. Will states try to limit or counter advertisements in the communities and stores that sell marijuana? U.S. jurisprudence against curtailing what’s known as “commercial free speech” could make it tough to regulate the promotion of pot. While a state monopoly system could help control promotion, those advertisements you see for state lotteries should give you pause.

4. Prevention. If pot is legal for adults, how will school and community prevention programs adapt their messages to prevent kids from using? While some proposals to legalize marijuana would divert tax revenues to prevention efforts, the messaging and strategy should probably be in place before legal marijuana ever hits the streets.

5. Potency. Marijuana potency is usually measured by its tetrahydrocannabinol content, or THC — the chemical compound largely responsible for creating the “high” from pot, as well as increasing the risk of panic attacks. Much of the marijuana coming into the U.S. from Mexico is about 6% THC, while the marijuana sold in medical dispensaries in California ranges from 10%-25% THC. Meanwhile, the Dutch are now considering limiting the pot sold at their famed coffee shops to no more than 15% THC.

While THC receives the most of the attention, don’t forget other compounds like cannabidiol, or CBD — which is believed to counter some of the effects of THC.

6. Price. With marijuana, like any other commodity, price will influence consumption and revenues. A growing body of research suggests that when marijuana prices go down, the probability that someone might use marijuana goes up. So retail prices will largely be a function of consumer demand, production costs and tax rates. If taxes are set too high, pot will become expensive enough to create an incentive for an illicit market — exactly what legalization is trying to avoid. The way taxes are set will also have an effect on what’s purchased and consumed — that is, whether pot is taxed by value, total weight, THC content, or other chemical properties.

7. Permanency. The first jurisdictions to legalize pot will probably suffer growing pains and want to make changes later on. They would do well to build some flexibility into their taxation and regulatory regime. For example, while it may make sense to tax marijuana as a function of its THC to CBD ratio, 10 years from now we may have research suggesting a better way to tax. Just in case they change their minds, some pioneering jurisdictions may want to include a sunset provision that would give them an escape clause, a chance — by simply sitting still — to overcome the lobbying muscle of the newly legal industry that will no doubt fight hard to stay in business. As the sunset date approaches, legislators or voters could choose either to keep their legalization regime or to try something different.


This is your culture on pot

Medical Cannabis Growing Operation in Oakland,...
(Photo credit: Blazenhoff)

Keith Humphreys and Mark Kleiman offer some great commentary on marijuana legalization and what a legal marijuana market might look like.

First, Humphreys:

About eighty percent of the market is “commercial grade” cannabis, which has a THC content of about 5% and sells for $70 to $230 per ounce, depending on how far a buyer is from the producing farm and in what amount he or she buys. If that level of potency and price surprises you, you are probably an observer or participant in the small, nationally unrepresentative marijuana “upmarket“.

The reason for the current dominance of commercial grade pot is simple: It’s an inexpensive product for a price-sensitive population.

But, he argues price would likely drop and …

The cannabis-using population would experience a vast increase in average drug potency. Caulkins and colleagues estimate that in the past 15 years, average potency of marijuana in the U.S. has doubled. But after legalization, with the 80% commercial grade market share being almost completely supplanted by sinsemilla, average potency would roughly triple very rapidly.

This increase in exposure to highly potent cannabis is one of the mechanisms through which legalization would result in a higher prevalence of addiction (Some of the other mechanisms are discussed here). It at first seems reasonable to assume that experienced users would simply titrate their dose of higher-potency pot, making higher or lower doses equivalent from a biological viewpoint. But surprisingly, laboratory studies of experienced marijuana users show that they are in fact poor at judging the potency of cannabis.

Kleiman isn’t so certain. Here are a few of his reasons. Read the entire post for the rest of his thinking:

  • Even if high-potency product were legal, it could be heavily taxed, as whiskey is heavily taxed compared to beer.
  • In the current illicit market, “quality” and “potency” are conflated in consumers’ minds. Post-legalization, …THC could be extracted from the vegetable matter and used to “fortify” pot to any desired potency. That may push consumers’ ideas of “quality” away from potency and toward other factors.
  • Unlike alcoholic beverages, which mostly contain only a single psychoactive, cannabis contains a mix. Some consumers will want lower-THC, higher-CBD product.

Alcohol remains our one experiment with legalization of an intoxicant. Two-thirds of the alcohol consumed in the U.S. is taken in the form of beer rather than higher-potency forms.

As is so often the case, the answer here is “Hard to say; it depends.”