Don’t let efforts to regulate high-potency Pot go up in smoke

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Don’t let efforts to regulate high-potency Pot go up in smoke

Washington's Attempt to Regulate High-Potency Cannabis Faces Opposition.

Once again, the Legislature stands on the precipice of inaction when it comes to a major health problem impacting Washington’s youth: high-potency cannabis.

The fifth attempt at regulating manufactured cannabis products is the most modest yet. Like previous legislation, it focuses on vape oils, shatter and dabs sold in retail shops that have THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) concentration of nearly 100%. By comparison, today’s marijuana plants have THC content of about 15%.

“They don’t resemble the plant — they are as close to the cannabis plant as strawberries are to frosted strawberry Pop-Tarts,” according to a 2020 report by researchers at the University of Washington and Washington State University.

The report included a consensus statement that use of high-potency cannabis increases risk of addiction and increases the likelihood of developing psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.

Instead of capping potency or levying taxes on certain products, House Bill 2320 would restrict retail outlets from selling a cannabis product with a THC concentration greater than 35% to someone under 25, with medical exceptions.

“The cannabis that’s sold today is an entirely different drug than the cannabis plants that voters legalized in 2012. When you have a different drug, you have different health impacts,” testified Rep. Lauren Davis, D-Shoreline, who sponsored the bill and efforts in years past. “If we got a different drug, we have to have a different policy response.”

Among the physicians and public health experts who testified in favor of HB 2320 and its companion in the Senate, SB 6220, was former state lawmaker Mary Lou Dickerson.

“I’m the representative who took the lead on legalization of marijuana in Washington state, and I do not regret doing that. However, since cannabis became legal over a decade ago, very high-potency pot has been developed. We know it spells serious trouble for a lot of people, adolescents and young adults especially. We can’t be blind to that,” she told legislators. “We need to open our eyes and make adjustments to the law to protect consumers, especially the young consumers.”

When Dickerson testified at the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee, she mentioned the importance of the UW high-potency cannabis report. Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, chair of the committee, asked Dickerson to send her a copy. “I think it might have gotten buried in my email.”

The fact that the chair of the committee overseeing cannabis regulation had not read the 2020 UW report on health impacts is a sad state of affairs and illustrates the difficulty in getting any commonsense high-potency regulation passed. It is simply not a priority for lawmakers.

Representatives of the cannabis industry spoke against both bills, raising the specter of prohibition, illicit markets and the futility of trying to put a genie back in the bottle: “There’s nothing you can do on the supply side to change things,” said one lobbyist.

“The folks that are against this bill are the same folks that are making money off this,” testified Ryan Orrison, an adolescent substance use professional, at the House committee hearing. “The folks that are for this bill are health care providers, doctors and people who care about the wellness of our children and young people. That’s a pretty poignant point.”

Orrison was then admonished by committee Chair Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, for questioning the motives of the cannabis industry. It was a small moment that spoke volumes. State political contribution records show cannabis industry players donated at least $15,750 combined to the committee’s two co-chairs, Wylie and Rep. Shelley Kloba, D-Kirkland.

This debate comes down to money vs. public health, profits for the cannabis industry vs. increased risk of schizophrenia for young people.

The Legislature must stop dithering and catering to special interests. Washingtonians deserve commonsense regulations on high-potency cannabis.

The deadline for either bill to pass out of the respective committees is Jan. 31.

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Region: Washington

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