Marijuana: more potent now and unquestionably addictive

by Sen. Doug Whitsett

As many as half of the marijuana smoking juveniles who run afoul of the law in Oregon report that they obtained their marijuana from a medical grower or cardholder

The facts regarding the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana have changed over the past several decades.

Marijuana contains two compounds that produce significant pharmacological effects. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)) is the component that produces an intoxicating high when inhaled or ingested. Cannabinoid (CBD) is the medicinal component that helps to reduce nausea, convulsive seizures, and the symptoms of schizophrenia. It also acts as a significant antagonist that acts to block the intoxicating effects of THC on the human brain.

Marijuana also contains many other organic compounds. Research has shown that marijuana smoke contains fifty to seventy percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke.

Today’s marijuana is not the same product that was widely used in the 1960’s and 70’s. Growers have been tampering with the genetics of marijuana since the early 1980’s. Their goal has been to increase production capacity and THC concentration while maintaining low levels of CBD.

They have been exceedingly successful in increasing both the production and intoxicating capacity of marijuana while minimizing the medicinal effects. The modern, genetically altered, seedless marijuana plant produces much more of a finished product that has greater than double the intoxicating THC concentration of the unaltered natural plant.

For instance, in 1983 THC potency averaged less than four percent. In 2009, THC potency of marijuana seized in the United States averaged nearly ten percent. Product recently seized in Oregon and California has tested at well more than thirty percent THC. At the same time, the concentration of the intoxication blocking CBD has remained essentially constant.

The intoxicating effect of genetically altered marijuana is now several times more potent than the natural product. Some genetically altered strains on the streets today are eight to ten times more potent. In fact, modern marijuana users generally call naturally produced marijuana by disparaging names such as garbage, dirt-weed and crap because of its relative lack of potency.

The newer more potent forms of marijuana are unquestionably addictive. In 1992, about 93,000 people were admitted to treatment for marijuana addiction in the United States. Less than two decades later in 2009, more than 360,000 were admitted for marijuana dependency.

The adolescent brain appears to be especially susceptible to marijuana addiction. In fact, two thirds of admissions for drug dependency among U.S. teen agers are for the purpose of counteracting their use of marijuana.

More than one million Americans reported receiving either inpatient or outpatient treatment for marijuana dependency in 2010. Approximately four and a half million Americans meet the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for marijuana abuse or dependence. Yet, nearly twenty million Americans, twelve years and older, continue to use this dangerous drug.

Oregon ranks about fourth in the nation in that troubling statistic. More troubling still, in 2011 more than one in ten of Oregon’s eighth graders, and nearly one fourth of its high school juniors, self-reported using marijuana during the past thirty days.

The National Survey of Drug Use and Health has reported that youths between the ages of twelve and seventeen, who reported that they had used marijuana during the past year, are more likely to sell drugs, steal, carry a handgun, and to participate in both individual and group violence. Most marijuana offenders are incarcerated for these and other illegal activities. In fact, less than one in a thousand of those currently incarcerated in Oregon prisons is being held for only the possession of marijuana.

The National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML) appeared to be on track in its stated efforts to remove all restrictions on the use of marijuana in Oregon. The long range plan included reclassifying marijuana as a medicine, decriminalizing possession of the drug, and then making it legal by 2016.

In 1998, Measure 67 allowed the medicinal use of marijuana when a physician writes a statement of the patient’s qualifying condition. Physicians cannot write an actual prescription for dosage, potency and frequency of use because marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law.

In 2006, the state legislature enacted the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. That law expanded the legal right for medical marijuana cardholders to have as many as twenty four plants plus a pound and a half of prepared marijuana in their possession. The law also provided that caregivers could grow plants for as many as four cardholders allowing the caregivers to possess as many as twenty four mature plants and seventy two immature plants.

The production potential of marijuana plants has also been genetically altered. The modern marijuana plant generally produces several times more product than the natural unaltered plant. That increase in volume is in addition to its several fold increase in potency.

In October of 2012, Oregon had nearly fifty seven thousand medical marijuana cardholders. Less than three thousand of those cardholders have qualifying symptoms for the treatment of cancer. More than fifty one thousand have qualifying symptoms for the treatment of some form of undefined pain.

As many as half of the marijuana smoking juveniles who run afoul of the law in Oregon report that they obtained their marijuana from a medical grower or cardholder, according to juvenile justice and addiction staff.

Ballot Measure 80 that appeared on last Novembers ballot would have legalized the growth and possession of unlimited quantities of marijuana. It also would have allowed the licensed sale of marijuana to licensed state run marijuana stores. Smoking marijuana in public would have been legal in designated areas restricted to people twenty one years of age and older.

Oregon voters wisely rejected the proposal, but not by a very wide margin. Unlimited growth, possession and private use of marijuana would have been legal in Oregon today if only 57,000 people had changed their vote from no to yes. It is time for Oregonians to learn the facts about marijuana.

The people in the states of Washington and Colorado actually adopted marijuana legalization statutes last November. NORML is emboldened by their successes in Washington and Colorado as well as their near miss in Oregon. They will be back to try again.

Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls