Newsbrief: European Drug Agency Punctures "Not Your Father's Marijuana" Myth 7/2/04

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"The point is that the potency of available marijuana has not merely 'doubled,' but increased as much as 30 times."
- US Office of National Drug Control Policy director (drug czar) John Walters, San Francisco Chronicle, September 2002
John Walters made that unsupported claim in the heat of the 2002 election campaign, and even his own organization has since backed away from it. According to the ONDCP web site (, "the average potency of samples of all cannabis types increased from 3% in 1991 to 5.2% in 2001... The concentration of THC in sinsemilla was about 6% in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and averaged more than 9% in 2001." But the legacy of Walters' lies lingers:
  • "Today's pot is often up to eight times stronger than the marijuana of the seventies, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration."
    - (
  • "Today, marijuana is up to 16 times stronger than what you smoked in the 1960s."
    - Dr. Drew Edwards at PsychCentral (
  • "Today's marijuana is about 25 times stronger than what it was in the 1960s.
    - Dr. Oscar Taube at Whole Family (
  • "But there's stuff out there now that's 10, 20, even 50 times as potent we could get for research in the '70s."
    - Dr. Reese Jones, a professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2004
Those folks need to read a report released last week by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). Cognizant of the widely echoed claims that marijuana potency has gone through the roof in the past two or three decades, the Europeans decided to take their own look.

"The available data do not show any long-term marked upward trend in the potency of herbal cannabis or cannabis resin [hashish] imported into Europe," EMCDDA concluded. "Today's report shows that effective potency of cannabis in nearly all EU countries has remained quite stable for many years, at around 6–8% THC."

The report was based on testing of marijuana, hashish, and hash oil samples seized in 14 West and East European countries in 2001 and 2002.

The Netherlands is on the high end of the spectrum when it comes to marijuana potency, the report noted. There, cannabis potency "had reached 16%, largely due to the increasing availability of intensively produced home-grown cannabis." EMCDDA attributed high Dutch potency levels to the fact that Hollanders consumed a higher percentage of high-octane home-grown sinsemilla than people in other European countries, who were more likely to use less potent varieties from North Africa.

"The message we draw from this study is that we should neither be over-alarmist nor too complacent about the potency of cannabis available today," said EMCDDA executive director Georges Estievenart. "Cannabis produced within Europe using new methods is consistently of higher potency, although this product remains relatively rare in most countries. But this could change, and we must therefore implement measures to monitor the situation carefully and extend our understanding of what impact high-potency cannabis is likely to have on the health of cannabis users."

Oh, those Europeans! Too cautious to wave away all concerns; too reasonable to fall prey to anti-drug hysterics like John Walters. It seems like a nice way to be.

To read the study, "An Overview of Cannabis Potency in Europe," and the accompanying news release online, visit:

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Issue #344, 7/2/04 Editorial: Under Its Own Weight | Supreme Court Ruling Portends Massive Changes in Federal Sentencing -- Thousands Could Benefit from Reduced Sentences, Early Releases on Appeal | Federal Judge Declares Sentencing Guidelines Unconstitutional | Supreme Court to Hear Federal Government Appeal in California Medical Marijuana Case | International Anti-Drugs Day Marked by Executions in China, "Revolutionary Justice" in India, Silly Stuff Elsewhere | DRCNet Book Review: "Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000" by Martin Torgoff (Simon & Schuster, 2004, 474 Pages, Notes/Bibliography/Index, $27.95) | Newsbrief: Bill Introduced in Congress Would Mandate Ten Years to Life for Some Marijuana Sales | Newsbrief: New Jersey Needle Exchange Battle Continues | Newsbrief: Iran Wants to Ban Water Pipes | Newsbrief: European Drug Agency Punctures "Not Your Father's Marijuana" Myth | Newsbrief: North Carolina Supreme Court Settles Dispute, Declares Cocaine Possession Is a Felony | Media Scan: Ethan Nadelmann in National Review | This Week in History | The Reformer's Calendar

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