Jewish World Review Sept. 10, 2002 / 4 Tishrei 5763

Clarence Page

Clarence Page
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Consumer Reports

Measuring the myth of 'super weed' | he nation's drug czar is annoyed again. This time it is with me.

Without mentioning me by name, a column by John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, in the Sept. 1 San Francisco Chronicle held up one of my columns as an example of how journalists can be "fed misleading advocacy information that they swallow whole."

The result is "a lack of accurate information" that plagues the public debate over marijuana. Walters recounts how a columnist described his claims of increased potency in today's marijuana as wildly overstated "whoppers."

I knew he was talking about me. A database search turned up nobody else's essays that have used the words drug czar and "whoppers" in the same column.

I found this amusing, since my efforts to get "accurate information" out of the drug czar's office while writing my column back in May were unsuccessful.

I was writing, ironically enough, in response to an earlier Walters column that opposed an effort to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in the District of Columbia.

In that piece, printed in The Washington Post and reprinted in other newspapers, Walters tries to frighten us baby boomer parents by warning "today's marijuana is different from that of a generation ago, with potency levels 10 to 20 times stronger than the marijuana with which they were familiar."

As a Woodstock-generation parent of a worldly wise 13-year-old boy, I took great interest in that statement. Unfortunately, as I noted, Walters didn't say where he got that "whopper" of a statistic.

I had cited a federally funded study, published in the January 2000 Journal of Forensic Science, which found the average THC (that's the active ingredient that makes people high) content in confiscated marijuana had only doubled to 4.2 percent from about 2 percent from 1980 to 1997.

That brought a response from Walters claiming that I had not covered a long enough period. THC content averaged less than 1 percent in 1974, he says, but, "by 1999, potency averaged 7 percent." "The THC of today's sinsemilla (a high grade of marijuana) averages 14 percent and ranges as high as 30 percent," he says.

Wow, as my Deadhead friends might say, that must be some killer weed, dude.

Eagerly, I tried once again and happily reached Walters this time. After conversations with him and some of his advisers, we agreed to disagree on the key question: What are the chances that your little Johnny or Jane will latch onto some of that knockout grass?

That depends on how you interpret the available data. The latest quarterly report by the University of Mississippi's Potency Monitoring Project (which examined 46,000 samples of seized marijuana nationwide) found an average potency of 6.68 percent. Actual potencies ranged as high as 33.12 percent THC content for some extraordinarily potent sinsemilla confiscated by the Oregon state police to as low as 1 percent THC or no THC at all (somebody apparently got burned) for grass confiscated elsewhere in the country.

But it is hard to estimate based on available data how common or how rare the high-octane dope is. Purchasing weed is an art in itself. Everyone seeks the potent "preemo" stuff. Every dealer promises it. Fewer actually deliver.

Nor is it at all clear that the marijuana commonly available in the 1960s and 1970s really was all that weak. Potency studies at the time were plagued by such problems as small samples and poor storage in police lockers.

In his "Understanding Marijuana" (Oxford University Press, 2002), Mitchell Earleywine, a University of Southern California associate professor of psychology, observes that it "makes little sense" that marijuana with less than 1 percent THC would have enough potency to have increased in popularity as dramatically as it did in the 1960s and 1970s.

Either way, the killer-weed scare tactic avoids the serious issue of the medical marijuana debate. Higher potency actually is quite desirable for those who are seeking relief from pain, nausea and other symptomatic misery associated with HIV, glaucoma, chemotherapy, migraines and multiple sclerosis, just to name a few conditions for which marijuana has been found to be effective.

I did not use "whoppers" to mean lies, just exaggerations. Warnings that exaggerate the dangers of marijuana undermine one's credibility in the way that "Reefer Madness," the hyperventilating 1936 anti-pot movie, found new audiences after the 1960s as a laugh-riot, cult-comedy hit.

That's what the Bush administration risks with its multimillion-dollar effort to link street marijuana to international terrorism. Last week the Drug Enforcement Administration raided a legitimate medical marijuana health co-operative that was treating more than 200 patients, some of them terminally ill, in Santa Cruz, Calif., one of eight states where voters or legislators have legalized medical marijuana.

Snatching medicine out of the hands of seriously ill patients sounds like terrorism to me. In this case it was federally sponsored and taxpayer-financed. Put that in your bong and smoke it.

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09/06/02: A year later: A reality-check
09/03/02: Make better choices before some jury somewhere does
08/20/02: Bid farewell to the Cigarette Century
08/16/02: Rights matter, even in circus trials
08/09/02: Jousting with Rumsfeld's fog of wit
08/06/02: Covert action is cool again
08/01/02: Powell's premature obituaries
07/30/02: A common sense tip on internal snooping
07/18/02: Jacko plays race card badly
07/12/02: Last flight for a pioneer airman
07/08/02: Dems will miss Watts, too
06/28/02: 'Supreme Court reads polls, too
06/25/02: 'The Body' bites, then bows out
06/21/02: Punishment first, then the crime?
06/18/02: Reporting still risky for Haiti's press
06/14/02: Bush's security plan leaves large gaps
06/04/02: Fix FBI's culture gap first
05/28/02: Fidel's new apartheid for tourists
05/21/02: Now McKinney's lunacy sounds like the Democratic Party line
05/19/02: A paradox of historical proportions
05/14/02: 'Murphy Brown' revisited in age of Ozzy
05/10/02: America looks like a model of tolerance and inclusion
05/07/02: Forget it, Bill, you're no Oprah
04/26/02: Mapping out ethnic and racial change
04/23/02: A game of another color
04/19/02: It's high time to open up pot-law debate
04/11/02: 'Osbourne' family values rock, aging Ozzy quakes
03/22/02: Zimbabwe election leaves world sleepless
03/19/02: A slur? Where is thy sting?
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03/12/02: Army race and gender policies on trial
03/08/02: A short list of losers to be left behind
03/05/02: Revenge of the 'mediasaurus'
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02/26/02: It's hard to be 'objective' during wartime
02/19/02: Hollywood's new villain: Your HMO
02/12/02: Father of 'Manchild' leaves lasting message
02/08/02: $nookering the reparations crowd
01/31/02: Prisoners of a War of Words
01/29/02: One more Enron woe: Al Sharpton & company
01/25/02: Searching for slaves in bin Laden's attic
01/22/02: Andrew Young's newest 'friend'
01/08/02: Hard-earned lessons from 9-11
12/18/01: Whatever happened to questions about the birds and the bees?
12/14/01: The "White Negro" Taliban?
12/07/01: Jackson's turn to gloat
11/27/01: Friendly warning from a lover of liberty
11/21/01: The face of hunger is changing
11/15/01: Our troubled sense of trust
11/08/01: Lessons about terror from the 'hood
11/06/01: Getting used to the 'new normal'
11/02/01: Wicked ways to make them talk
10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
10/15/01: Self-censorship rises again
10/12/01: Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism
10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
10/01/01: Don't trash liberty to save it
09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
09/21/01: The war I was waiting for
09/17/01: When rage turns to hate
09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
09/06/01: U.S. should have stayed and argued
09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
08/31/01: Virtual kids? Log me out
08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
08/06/01: Not ready for 'color-blindness' yet
08/02/01: Immigration timing couldn't be better
07/26/01: Summer of Chandra: An international traveler's perspective
07/17/01: Overthrowing a régime is only the beginning
07/10/01: Big Brother is watching you, fining you
07/05/01: Can blacks be patriotic? Should they be?
06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks

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