Pubdate: Mon, 15 Jun 2009
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2009 Independent Media Institute
Author: Paul Armentano


They say that every action spurs an opposite reaction. Well, that 
certainly seems to be the case in Congress. Just days after 
Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Barney Frank, along with 13 cosponsors, 
reintroduced HR 2835, the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act of 
2009 in Congress, Republican Rep. Mark Kirk (Illinois) has called for 
federal legislation to sentence certain first-time marijuana 
offenders to up to 25 years in prison.

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk to push tougher sentences for more-potent 
marijuana  via The Chicago Tribune

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk will call for legislation Monday that would 
toughen drug-trafficking laws regarding a highly potent form of 
marijuana, with penalties of up to 25 years in prison for a first-time offense.

The law would target offenders who sell or distribute marijuana that 
has a THC content exceeding 15 percent.

Drug dealers are increasingly cross-breeding plants to produce 
high-potency variants of marijuana, which are called "kush" in street 
slang when they have 20 percent THC, Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran 
said. "When you amplify the strength of it, you are increasing the 
harm to the system," said Curran, who supports the legislation, which 
would amend a federal law. "They are more dangerous behind the wheel 
of a vehicle. It's not a good idea to have people that messed up."

The Republican North Shore lawmaker said he plans to release more 
information during a news conference in Chicago on Monday, where he 
will be joined by representatives from the Lake County Sheriff's 
Department, the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group and 
Waukegan Police Department.

Okay, where to begin? Well, we can start with U.S. Representative 
Mark Kirk. According to the Congressman's website, Rep. Kirk is 
"pro-personal responsibility." Unless, of course, we're talking about 
allowing responsible adults (or patients) the choice to relax (or 
medicate) in the privacy of their own homes with a substance that is 
objectively safer than alcohol (or most prescription 
pharmaceuticals). Then, naturally, all bets are off.

Representative Kirk's website also alleges that the five-time-elected 
Congressman is "pro-science." Unless, of course, we're talking about 
cannabis - in which case he is actually "pro-ideology" and 
"anti-science." After all, if Rep. Kirk was truly interested in the 
science of cannabis he would already know that:

1) According to a 2008 review (see page 12) of marijuana potency by 
the University of Mississippi, the average THC in domestically grown 
marijuana - which comprises the bulk of the U.S. market - is less 
than five percent, a figure that's remained unchanged for nearly a decade.

2) THC - regardless of potency - is virtually non-toxic to healthy 
cells or organs, and is incapable of causing a fatal overdose. 
Currently, doctors may legally prescribe a FDA-approved pill that 
contains 100 percent THC, and curiously, nobody among Rep. Kirk's 
staff or at the Lake County Sheriff's office seems to be overly 
concerned about its potential health effects.

3) Survey data gleaned from cannabis consumers in the 
Netherlands-where users may legally purchase pot of known 
quality-indicates that most cannabis consumers prefer less potent 
pot, just as the majority of those who drink alcohol prefer beer or 
wine rather than 190 proof Everclear or Bacardi 151. When consumers 
encounter unusually strong varieties of marijuana, they adjust their 
use accordingly and smoke less.

Of course, if Rep. Kirk (write him here!) was really concerned about 
potential risks posed by supposedly stronger marijuana, he would 
support regulating the sale of drug (as opposed to jailing first-time 
pot sellers for a quarter of a century) so that its potency would be 
consistent and this information would be publicly displayed to the 
consumer. This same advice applies to the members of the Lake County 
Sheriff's Department and the Waukegan Police Department - who claim 
"we don't make the laws; we just enforce them" - yet seem to have no 
problem whatsoever lobbying for increased federal pot penalties while 
on company time.

Fortunately, the likelihood is that Rep. Kirk's proposed legislation 
will be all bark and no bite. One, I suspect that few if any of Rep. 
Kirk's colleagues in Congress will even consider supporting such an 
asinine measure. Two, even if such legislation were to become law 
(and it won't) - who would test each and every seized marijuana 
sample for THC potency and who would pay for it? Currently, only the 
University of Mississippi engages in such potency testing, which is 
highly expensive and requires the use of a gas chromatography mass 
spectrometer device. In short, it appears that the misguided 
Congressman from Illinois is simply trying to make headlines.

One can't blame him for trying. After all, across the pond, 
unsubstantiated claims regarding the dangers of 
often-talked-about-but-never-actually-defined supposedly "lethal" 
'skunk' weed caused a national frenzy and resulted in Parliament 
hastily deciding to reclassify pot possession offenses from a verbal 
warning to up to five years in jail. Never mind that, under Britain's 
short-lived experiment with decriminalization, marijuana potency 
actually fell - as did the number of adolescents using the drug.

Of course, as the latest actions of the so-called "pro-science, 
pro-personal liberty" Congressman show, facts play virtually no role 
in political drug policy debate, and ignorance hardly disqualifies 
someone from holding elected office.

Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for the NORML Foundation 
in Washington, DC.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart