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University of Mississippi

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 15, 2009

    They say that every action spurs an opposite reaction. Well, that certainly seems to be the case in Congress.

    Just days after Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Barney Frank, along with 13 cosponsors, reintroduced HR 2835, the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act of 2009 in Congress, Republican Rep. Mark Kirk (Illinois) has called for federal legislation to sentence certain first-time marijuana offenders to up to 25 years in prison.

    UPDATE!!! UPDATE!!! It gets even worse. Check out some of the comments and coverage from Rep. Kirk’s press conference (WTF is “koosh?!”), which took place this afternoon. You can also offer your opinions regarding this misguided and mean-spirited proposal on Alternet.org and the ever-popular Huffington Post blog. You can also send Rep. Kirk and his colleagues a strong message by making your thoughts known on The Hill.com’s Congress blog here.

    U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk to push tougher sentences for more-potent marijuana
    via The Chicago Tribune

    U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk will call for legislation Monday that would toughen drug-trafficking laws regarding a highly potent form of marijuana, with penalties of up to 25 years in prison for a first-time offense.

    The law would target offenders who sell or distribute marijuana that has a THC content exceeding 15 percent.

    … Drug dealers are increasingly cross-breeding plants to produce high-potency variants of marijuana, which are called “kush” in street slang when they have 20 percent THC, Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said. “When you amplify the strength of it, you are increasing the harm to the system,” said Curran, who supports the legislation, which would amend a federal law. “They are more dangerous behind the wheel of a vehicle. It’s not a good idea to have people that messed up.”

    … The Republican North Shore lawmaker said he plans to release more information during a news conference in Chicago on Monday, where he will be joined by representatives from the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group and Waukegan Police Department.

    Okay, where to begin? Well, we can start with U.S. Representative Mark Kirk. According to the Congressman’s website, Rep. Kirk is “pro-personal responsibility.” Unless, of course, we’re talking about allowing responsible adults (or patients) the choice to relax (or medicate) in the privacy of their own homes with a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol (or most prescription pharmaceuticals). Then, naturally, all bets are off.

    Representative Kirk’s website also alleges that the five-time-elected Congressman is “pro-science.” Unless, of course, we’re talking about cannabis — in which case he is actually “pro-ideology” and “anti-science.” After all, if Rep. Kirk was truly interested in the science of cannabis he would already know that:

    1) According to a 2008 review (see page 12) of marijuana potency by the University of Mississippi, the average THC in domestically grown marijuana — which comprises the bulk of the U.S. market — is less than five percent, a figure that’s remained unchanged for nearly a decade.

    2) THC — regardless of potency — is virtually non-toxic to healthy cells or organs, and is incapable of causing a fatal overdose. Currently, doctors may legally prescribe a FDA-approved pill that contains 100 percent THC, and curiously, nobody among Rep. Kirk’s staff or at the Lake County Sheriff’s office seems to be overly concerned about its potential health effects.

    3) Survey data gleaned from cannabis consumers in the Netherlands—where users may legally purchase pot of known quality—indicates that most cannabis consumers prefer less potent pot, just as the majority of those who drink alcohol prefer beer or wine rather than 190 proof Everclear or Bacardi 151. When consumers encounter unusually strong varieties of marijuana, they adjust their use accordingly and smoke less.

    Of course, if Rep. Kirk (write him here!) was really concerned about potential risks posed by supposedly stronger marijuana, he would support regulating the sale of drug (as opposed to jailing first-time pot sellers for a quarter of a century) so that its potency would be consistent and this information would be publicly displayed to the consumer. This same advice applies to the members of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and the Waukegan Police Department — who claim “we don’t make the laws; we just enforce them” — yet seem to have no problem whatsoever lobbying for increased federal pot penalties while on company time.

    Fortunately, the likelihood is that Rep. Kirk’s proposed legislation will be all bark and no bite. One, I suspect that few if any of Rep. Kirk’s colleagues in Congress will even consider supporting such an asinine measure. Two, even if such legislation were to become law (and it won’t) — who would test each and every seized marijuana sample for THC potency and who would pay for it? Currently, only the University of Mississippi engages in such potency testing, which is highly expensive and requires the use of a gas chromatography mass spectrometer device. In short, it appears that the misguided Congressman from Illinois is simply trying to make headlines.

    One can’t blame him for trying. After all, across the pond, unsubstantiated claims regarding the dangers of often-talked-about-but-never-actually-defined supposedly “lethal” ‘skunk’ weed caused a national frenzy and resulted in Parliament hastily deciding to reclassify pot possession offenses from a verbal warning to up to five years in jail. Never mind that, under Britain’s short-lived experiment with decriminalization, marijuana potency actually fell — as did the number of adolescents using the drug.

    Of course, as the latest actions of the so-called “pro-science, pro-personal liberty” Congressman show, facts play virtually no role in political drug policy debate, and ignorance hardly disqualifies someone from holding elected office.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 14, 2009

    UPDATE!!! You can also read and leave feedback on this post at The Hill’s influential Congress blog here or on Huffington Post here.

    “This ain’t your grandfather’s or your father’s marijuana. This will hurt you. This will addict you. This will kill you.”– Mark R. Trouville, DEA Miami, speaking to the Associated Press (June 22, 2007)

    Government claims that today’s pot is more potent, and thus more dangerous to health, than ever before must be taken with a grain of salt.

    Federal officials have made similarly dire assertions before. In a 2004 Reuters News Wire story, government officials alleged, “Pot is no longer the gentle weed of the 1960s and may pose a greater threat than cocaine or even heroin.” (Anti-drug officials failed to explain why, if previous decades’ pot was so “gentle” and innocuous, police still arrested you for it.)

    In 2007, Reuters again highlighted the alleged record rise in cannabis potency, proclaiming, “U.S. marijuana grows stronger than before: report.” Quoted in the news story was ex-Drug Czar John Walters, who warned, “This report underscores that we are no longer talking about the drug of the 1960s and 1970s — this is Pot 2.0.”

    (more…)