Officials in the federal government and three states are considering legislation that would cap the allowable amount of THC in cannabis products. Vermont and Montana have already passed legislation that caps THC percentages at 30% and 35%, respectively.
So what’s the point of THC caps? Cannabis prohibitionists claim THC potency cap regulations will protect minors and the mentally ill. But industry advocates argue that the caps would cause more harm than good.
“These misguided efforts are just the latest iteration of a long history of scare tactics used to unfairly stigmatize and criminalize products and behaviors that are far safer when regulated,” says Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). “Cannabis policies should be based on sound evidence and pragmatism rather than fear,” Smith added.
Underage cannabis use is not a valid argument
Proponents of THC potency cap legislation are claiming that high potency cannabis inhibits growth in the developing brain of underage users. They may have a point: Research indicates that cannabis use, no matter the amount of THC consumed, could be detrimental to brain development in young people. But the cannabis industry has already helped develop effective regulations to prevent underage use of any kind.
Retailers understand that if they sell to minors they they could lose their licenses, incur heavy fines, and be convicted of felonies. The threat of penalties provides immense incentive to keep cannabis out of the hands of minors. The cannabis industry also supports public service campaigns discouraging underage use. For example, tax revenue from cannabis sales is used to fund state-led campaigns, which have proven to be highly effective.
In fact, research shows underage cannabis use has actually decreased in states like Colorado with adult-use cannabis regulations. The cannabis industry has made sufficient efforts to prevent underage use, which sucks the life out of the argument that THC caps are necessary to protect minors.
Warning labels work
Proponents of THC caps also claim high potency cannabis puts individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia at risk of experiencing psychosis. They cite a study reporting increased occurrence of psychosis amongst cannabis users with schizophrenia. Albeit true, the study fails to establish that cannabis is the primary cause of their psychosis. There are many reasons why schizophrenia sufferers would experience psychosis, and research does not prove cannabis is the cause.
Even if research does find a definitive link between cannabis use and psychosis, potency limits don’t really make sense. The alcohol industry uses warning labels to discourage use by people who are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of alcohol (aka pregnant women) and there’s no reason the cannabis industry shouldn’t be able to do the same. “If we can effectively regulate high-proof alcohol, which – unlike cannabis – is directly tied to tens of thousands of deaths every year, we can do it with cannabis,” says Smith.
Potency caps endanger public health
As Aaron Smith of the NCIA points out, THC potency caps are not backed by science and will push consumers to purchase harmful products on the illicit market.
Of particular concern is that potency caps would force medical patients to pay more for their preferred THC dose. Some patients could be priced out of the regulated cannabis market and instead begin purchasing potent, untested products on the illicit market.
The cannabis industry has demonstrated it can be responsible for promoting responsible cannabis consumption that’s backed by science. Legislation capping THC potency doesn’t meet that standard. In fact, it puts all cannabis consumers at risk. “If the intent of lawmakers and regulators is to protect consumer health and safety, we need to enact sensible policies to manage the full gamut of existing cannabis products, as many states have already done successfully,” said Smith.