Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently released a much-anticipated discussion draft of a bill to legalize marijuana. Mr. Schumer has stated his goals are to “ensure restorative justice, public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations.” While many legalization advocates and pot-industry lobbyists are praising the bill, scientists and top researchers are urging senators to proceed carefully, and they’re right to counsel caution.
It’s valid to be concerned about the harms of drug policies. The war on drugs has disproportionately affected low-income communities and people of color. It would be productive to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession and allow arrest records to be expunged. President Biden supports such decriminalization. But this is very different from commercialization—a policy that would legalize the use, possession, production and sale of marijuana and allow major corporations to advertise and promote their products. Commercialization would allow big companies to profit from addiction.
On the same day the Senate draft bill was released, a panel of 13 world-renowned marijuana researchers, including Hoover Adger of Johns Hopkins, sent a letter to Mr. Schumer that outlined three worrying trends in states that have legalized marijuana.
First, states that allow the marijuana industry to produce and market products are seeing a rise in candies, vaping oils, concentrates and other forms of extremely high-potency products. It’s common to see products with levels of THC—the main psychoactive component of marijuana—upward of 90%. The market share of such concentrated marijuana products is rapidly growing. Since 2015, among Colorado high school students who used marijuana in the past 30 days, the proportion of those who smoked it declined 15%, while the number who reported using concentrated marijuana rose 138.5%.
These products are increasingly popular among youths. In Colorado the use of marijuana dabs among youth has risen fivefold since 2017, while the use of marijuana vapes has doubled. Use of high-potency cannabis in adolescents and young adults is associated with increased risk of addiction and the development of psychosis and schizophrenia. Colorado lawmakers unanimously passed an overhaul of marijuana regulations in June to mitigate the harm of high-potency marijuana.