Should states set pot policy by its potency? Some say yes

The THC percentages of recreational marijana are visible on the product packaging sitting on a countertop, Monday, April 19, 2021, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. A debate about whether to set marijuana policy based on potency is spreading as more states legalize cannabis. Under a law signed last month, New York will tax recreational marijuana based on its amount of THC, the main intoxicating chemical in cannabis. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
The THC percentages of recreational marijana are visible on the product packaging sitting on a countertop, Monday, April 19, 2021, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. A debate about whether to set marijuana policy based on potency is spreading as more states legalize cannabis. Under a law signed last month, New York will tax recreational marijuana based on its amount of THC, the main intoxicating chemical in cannabis. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

NEW YORK – As marijuana legalization spreads across U.S. states, so does a debate over whether to set pot policy by potency.

Under a law signed last month, New York will tax recreational marijuana based on its amount of THC, the main intoxicating chemical in cannabis. Illinois imposed a potency-related tax when recreational pot sales began last year. Vermont is limiting THC content when its legal market opens as soon as next year, and limits or taxes have been broached in some other states and the U.S. Senate’s drug-control caucus.

Supporters say such measures will protect public health by roping off, or at least discouraging, what they view as dangerously concentrated cannabis.

“This is not your Woodstock weed,” says Kevin Sabet, the president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group that has been pressing for potency caps. “We need to put some limitations on the products being sold.”

Opponents argue that THC limits could drive people to buy illegally, and amount to beginning to ban pot again over a concern that critics see as overblown.

“It’s prohibitionism 2.0,” said Cristina Buccola, a cannabis business lawyer in New York. “Once they start putting caps on that, what don’t they put caps on?”

THC levels have been increasing in recent decades — from 4% in 1995 to 12% in 2014 in marijuana seized by federal agents, for example. Cannabis concentrates sold in Colorado’s legal market average about 69% THC, and some top 90%, according to state reports.

A sweeping 2017 examination of cannabis and health by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine listed increasing potency among factors that “create the potential for an increased risk of adverse health effects."