“This ain’t your father’s Woodstock Weed. Today’s marijuana is far more potent!”
That’s one of the longest-running talking points we’ve heard from prohibitionists whenever the people begin considering reforming their marijuana laws.
Whether it is North American prohibitionists citing the increased potency of marijuana samples seized by the DEA or European prohibitionists sounding the alarm about “skunk” being an entirely different drug than cannabis, the point is the same.
“Forget what you thought you knew about the harmless grass you smoked back in the day, parents. Modern weed will hurt your kids!”
The most recent example of the Woodstock Weed worry comes from Mitt Romney’s nephew, Doug Robinson. He’s the prohibitionist who formed the anti-marijuana group Smart Colorado after the passage of Amendment 64 in 2012 legalized adult sales, cultivation and use of cannabis.
Robinson is now a GOP candidate for governor of Colorado. At an appearance, Robinson expressed his vision for the Centennial State in a story in the Fort Morgan Times.
“Frankly, while Colorado is doing OK, there are a number of challenges that I see and I am concerned about the direction of our state,” Robinson said. “I don’t see us drifting to a better place. I think we need strong leadership to guide us there.”
One of the challenges that Robinson is concerned about is what he calls the “marijuana crisis.”
“We’ve got to educate our kids,” he said, according to the Times. “I think our kids have the belief that since ‘this is legal it must be OK’ and then the potency of the products is extremely different than what it was in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Let’s unpack just how stupid the Woodstock Weed talking point is:
The Summer of Love Was Half a Century Ago
In January 1967, Dr. Timothy Leary encouraged the youth to “turn on, tune in, drop out” at the Human Be-In. That summer, around 100,000 young people converged on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco in what became known as “the Summer of Love.” In two years, on the other side of the continent, half-a-million young people converged on Yasgur’s Farm in New York to enjoy the Woodstock Music & Art Fair.
That generation is now eligible for Social Security.
So, unless Robinson is talking to guys like Tony Randall, Charlie Chaplin, and President Tyler’s son[*], who have children in their 70s, who cares how weak the schwag of the 1960s and 1970s was? Are kids really taking their cues on marijuana’s safety from their grandpa’s memories of the hippie lettuce?
There Was Hash Available in the ’60s & ’70s
The idea that marijuana today has become 37 times more potent than what they smoked at Woodstock is based on comparing the average THC in illicit samples seized by the feds in the 1960s and 1970s to averages found in seizures today.
When you’re talking about a variable product like cannabis, though, the average of what cops seize doesn’t really tell you much. It’s like saying the average weight of dogs adopted at one shelter is 10lbs and the average at another is 20lbs.
Maybe a bunch of people at shelter one adopted Chihuahuas, but the place was full of sheepdogs. Maybe shelter two adopted out a Great Dane and a St. Bernard that boosted the average, but otherwise adopted out a bunch of Jack Russell terriers. Maybe shelter one is in the city and shelter two is near farms.
What that average doesn’t tell us is that any dog in shelter one is half the size of any dog in shelter two.
That’s how the Woodstock Weed talking point works. The scare is that what you smoked back in the day as a parent was weaker than what kids smoke today, so you can’t trust your own experience.
But there was hash available back in the day. There were potent strains available—ask an O.G. about Maui Wowie, Panama Red, Acapulco Gold and Thai Stick.
You don’t think Cheech & Chong, the Doobie Brothers and Bill Walton were smoking one-percent THC weed, do you? Neither were many of the grandparents that Doug Robinson is talking about. (I mean, look at what they were wearing! Somebody was high enough to decide that looked good!)
They Said the Same Thing Last Decade, and the Ones Before, Too
Now, I’m not trying to convince you that today’s weed isn’t better than the weed of yesteryear. We have—thanks to prohibition—developed fantastic indoor horticultural techniques that have increased the availability of potent marijuana.
But it’s not like that happened on the day Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for adults. The reported average potency of seized marijuana has been happening for the past four decades, along with the fear mongering about it.
Late 2000s: Miami DEA Chief Mark R. Trouville warned, “This ain’t your grandfather’s or your father’s marijuana. This will hurt you. This will addict you. This will kill you.”
Early 2000s: Former Drug Czar John Walters warned, “The THC of today’s sinsemilla averages 14 percent and ranges as high as 30 percent…. [It has] increased as much as 30 times.”
Late 1990s: Then-Senator Joe Biden warned about ’90s weed compared to ’70s weed, saying, “It’s like comparing buckshot in a shotgun shell to a laser-guided missile.”
Early 1990s: Drug Czar Lee Brown warned, “Marijuana is 40 times more potent today… than 10, 15, 20 years ago.”
Late 1980s: Dr. Richard Hawks of NIDA warned, “Parents who experimented [with marijuana] in their youth are not aware that the potency is much higher.”
Early 1980s: UCLA Psychiatry Prof. Sidney Cohen warned, “… material 10 or more times potent than the [marijuana] smoked 10 years ago is being used, and the intoxicated state is more intense and lasts longer.”
So, if the ’70s weed was one percent THC, and it became “10 or more times potent” in the 1980s, then became “40 times more potent… than 10 years ago” in the 1990s, then “increased as much as 30 times” in the 2000s, we’re all smoking 12,000 percent THC marijuana today.
The Woodstock Weed Is Still Just as Illegal
Justifying the criminalization of today’s marijuana because it is a super-potent version, unlike your grandfather’s Woodstock Weed, also reveals the prohibitionist’s concern about safety to be disingenuous, because Woodstock Weed is just as illegal as the chronic.
Back in the 1970s, government officials were telling us that smoking that Woodstock Weed would lead to amotivational syndrome, heroin addiction and man-boobs.
When that was revealed to be untrue in the next decades, those officials told us that now we’d start seeing other, new terrible effects from the new Pot 2.0 that’s so much more potent.
So, then, can we make the Woodstock Weed legal, since Doug Robinson and these other prohibitionists are essentially admitting it wasn’t so bad back in the day? Like we first made 3.2 beer legal[†] after the end of alcohol prohibition?
And if they were lying then about what terrible effects weak pot was supposed to have, why should we believe their pronouncements now about the dangers of potent pot?
Marijuana Is Non-Toxic, So Who Cares How Potent It Is?
Finally, if marijuana’s potency is a huge concern, you’d think that prohibitionists would want to see that potency number labeled clearly on all marijuana products, accompanied by an advertising campaign to educate consumers about responsible use, and sold only in opaque, childproof containers in adults-only stores that check identification, huh?
Instead, they lobby to support the status quo that forced clandestine growers to breed out CBD and increase THC, because, in an underground market, dealers must maximize their intoxication-to-profit ratio to offset the risk of getting caught[‡]. Then, they fight to ensure that product gets sold in unmarked baggies by unlicensed dealers who think nothing of selling to kids.
The Woodstock Weed scare works partially because people know that more potent alcohol gets them drunk faster and drinking too much too fast leads to sickness and possibly death. Or they know that Fentanyl is more powerful than oxycodone, which is more powerful than morphine, which is more powerful than opium, and we have a huge opioid overdose death crisis.
But marijuana is non-toxic. No matter how potent it is, no amount of it is going to kill you.
It’s the High That Matters, Not How Quickly You Got High
Prohibitionists also say that more potent marijuana is more addictive. But that’s like saying people are more likely to become alcoholics if they drink whiskey instead of beer.
It also kind of messes with their theory when you show them stats of marijuana use and marijuana rehab admissions both rising and falling over the past 40 years, while the potency has only risen.
Why do people smoke marijuana? To get high. Why do people drink alcohol? To get drunk.
In either case, if someone has a dependency issue, it’s the effect they’re dependent upon, not the particular grade of intoxicant. An alcoholic will drink whiskey, beer or even hand sanitizer to get a buzz on.
As travel writer and NORML Board Member Rick Steves likes to say, “High is a place.” Pot smokers just want to get there. It doesn’t matter if they get there on the 1970s’ ditchweed dirtbike, the 1990s’ chronic car or the 2010s’ top-shelf train. The trip may be faster these days, but the destination’s the same.
[*] In 2017, there are still two living grandsons of John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States, who served 20 years before the Civil War.
[†] Interesting history: Congress passed the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition, in January 1930. But two-thirds of states still had to ratify it. So, in March 1930, Congress rewrote the Volstead Act, which defined the intoxicating beverages that the 18th Amendment prohibited, from covering anything with more than 0.5 percent alcohol to covering anything with more than 3.2 percent alcohol. That allowed brewers to get (light) beer flowing immediately, while the states took the next eight months to ratify the 21st Amendment. Imagine taking the same route today by rewriting hemp laws to include all cannabis up to, let’s say, 12 percent THC.
[‡] This is called The Iron Law of Prohibition. During Prohibition, the bootlegger had the trunk of his car in which to smuggle forbidden alcohol from Canada. Whiskey fetches greater profits than beer, and a load of either gets him just as busted, so he picks the whiskey. On the drinker’s side, if two bootleggers are selling whiskey at the same price, the scarcity of whiskey makes the drinker opt for the more potent whiskey, which he could dilute more to get by. If you prohibit a drug, you will get more potent versions of it. See also: crack, meth and carfentanil.
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