Pubdate: Sat, 03 Aug 2013
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Copyright: 2013 The Times-Herald
Author: Paul Armentano


Additional context and clarifications are sorely needed in regards to 
the Times-Herald cover story, ("Potent plants: Officials: Little 
known locally about 'earwax' variety, its dangers." (Front and Center, July 28)

Most troublingly, reporter Marie Estrada implies throughout the story 
that so-called "earwax" is a distinct strain of the marijuana plant. 
This is not the case. Rather, "earwax" (or "wax") is slang for 
concentrated extracts derived from the cannabis plant. These gooey 
concoctions do not resemble cannabis in either appearance or texture, 
are typically ingested in a different manner than one would consume 
marijuana, and are typically labeled by dispensary providers as 
possessing far higher concentrations of THC - the primary 
psychoactive compound in marijuana - than standard plant material.

Access to such products is typically limited to those who have legal 
right of entry to dispensary facilities and also possess the 
disposable income to afford their relatively high-end retail price 
(often between $30 and $40 per gram).

Are these concentrated products more potent than the cannabis flowers 
they are derived from? Yes. As such, consumers - particularly those 
who are relatively naive to the plant's effects - ought to proceed 
with caution if and when they decide to ingest such products. Are 
these products for everyone? Arguably, they are not. Most adults who 
socially consume alcohol drink beer or wine, not Bacardi 151 or 
Everclear. Most adults who take pain relievers consume Advil or 
Tylenol, not Oxycodone. And similarly, most adults who consume 
cannabis - whether they do so for therapeutic or recreational 
purposes - do not consume wax concentrates, which comprise only a 
fraction of the present marijuana market.

Of course, it remains to be seen how much local demand for these 
niche products may increase following the Times-Herald sensationalist 
coverage. At no time did Estrada make it clear that cannabis, 
regardless of THC content, is incapable of causing lethal overdose. 
(The same can't be said for alcohol, caffeine, sodium, or even 
aspirin - all of which have lethal dose potential in humans.) Nor did 
the story emphasize that nobody among the marijuana law reform 
community is advocating or encouraging that the substance be 
available to or be consumed by adolescents.

Those like myself, who advocate in favor of a legally regulated, 
above ground cannabis market, readily acknowledge that consuming 
cannabis may temporarily alter mood and judgment and may potentially 
pose other risks. But these concerns do not validate the substance's 
continued criminalization.

Just the opposite is true. There are numerous adverse health 
consequences associated with alcohol, tobacco and prescription 
pharmaceuticals - all of which modern scientific inquiry has 
determined to be far more dangerous and costlier to society than 
cannabis - and it's precisely because of these consequences that 
these products are legally regulated and their use is restricted to 
particular consumers and specific settings.

Similarly, a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for limited, 
licensed production and sale of cannabis to adults but restricts use 
among young people - coupled with a legal environment that fosters 
open dialogue between parents and children about cannabis' potential 
harms - best reduces the risks associated with the plant's use or 
abuse. It is this precise policy that in recent years has discouraged 
teen use of cigarettes to historic lows. Similar regulatory 
principles ought to govern the way society addresses marijuana.

Paul Armentano

Deputy director, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

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