Marijuana prohibitionist groups are gaining attention as they turn their focus from traditional prohibition efforts (touting the general dangers of cannabis) to their new strategy of weakening the industry from a sales perspective. The opposition has taken aim at a new target: aggressively regulating cannabis potency. There are discussions to introduce a bill that would impose as low as a 15% THC cap to the Colorado Legislature similar to the regulations proposed in other states. Vermont is the only state that has an active law capping THC potency, which limits THC concentration in flower to 30% and 60% in concentrates. THC caps threaten to essentially re-enact prohibition on Colorado’s highly regulated, $2 billion cannabis industry.
At first blush, the arguments for limiting THC concentration seem straight-forward. Those who support a THC concentration cap say that high potency can lead to higher rates of addiction and psychosis. They also argue that products with higher potency, like concentrates, are more dangerous for children and teens and can lead to mental health issues for underage users. There are also concerns that higher concentrations lead to less responsible use and more traffic accidents.
In reality, without any cap on potency among the myriad regulations in the cannabis industry, Colorado traffic fatalities have been at near-historic lows since the introduction of legal cannabis in the state and teen cannabis use has remained relatively stagnant. Although concerns over the mental health effects are not something to be taken lightly, many proponents of cannabis for medical use say capping potency would make studying long-term effects extremely difficult. Taking high-potency products out of a regulated retail setting would in fact make them potentially more available to underage users. Compounded with the lack of regulation in the underground market, we’d likely also see an increase in untested, unregulated and potentially unsafe products being created and dealt illegally.
The risks are important to consider, but much of the campaigning around this issue by prohibitionist groups has been based on anecdotal evidence and testimony from perceived experts that are aligned with the agenda of criminalizing cannabis. Also, these mental health warnings are for adolescent users. Keeping high-potency products legal mandates age restrictions that make it harder for minors to access them. Prohibition returns these products to the underground market, which makes cannabis of all potency levels more available to our youth.
Knowledge is Power
For cannabis industry leaders, increasing public education is crucial to combatting the rhetoric spread by prohibitionist groups. The cannabis industry has a responsibility to ensure that consumers understand how different THC concentrations and products can affect them and how to explore these products responsibly. It’s crucial that industry leaders come together now to create more thorough educational collateral so that Coloradoans can use real, unbiased data to determine their stance on the value or dangers of a potency cap.
While potential potency caps threaten the industry as we know it, they also threaten the extensive positive outcomes legalized cannabis has provided to states. In 2019, cannabis sales accounted for roughly 3% of Colorado’s revenue and 2020 saw a huge boom in sales as cannabis was named an “essential business” during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, 25% of people who traveled to Colorado between 2013 and 2018 listed cannabis as a top reason for visiting. Studies also show that both violent and property crimes fell after cannabis was legalized for recreational use and decreases in arrests made for possession has contributed to significant financial savings for the state. The taxes collected on cannabis sales go directly to funding things like education, public health, construction, law enforcement, substance abuse prevention services and the opening of new mental health clinics.
Despite the moral panic the opposition tries to instill, the cannabis industry is already a driving force for positive change in Colorado and beyond.