Pubdate: Sat, 19 Jun 1999
Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Author: Paola Totaro


A new report has debunked claims by campaigners against drug law
reform that the potency of cannabis in Australia has increased by as
much 30 times in recent years.

Widespread claims that the so-called "soft drug" has become much more
powerful - and linking this to illnesses such as schizophrenia - have
spear-headed arguments against any relaxation of drug laws.

This argument has formed a key plank of the anti-reform campaigns to
be launched at a rally in Sydney today by the Keep Our Kids Alive group.

The new report, prepared by the National Drug and Alcohol Research
Centre, at the University of NSW, has been provided to the
Attorney-General, Mr Shaw, who called for new scientific data on
cannabis potency in the wake of the State Drug Summit.

The Government is now finalising its response to the summit's
recommendations, including introducing police cautions for people
caught with cannabis for personal use.

The report says Australian police forces do not test cannabis samples
for potency but such tests in the United States have found only minor

Only the US has monitored and collected data on THC content in
cannabis over several decades. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the
major psycho-active substance in cannabis. Concentrations of THC,
which can vary between types of cannabis such as marijuana leaf or
hashish oils, determine its potency.

The document says the most recent data collected in the US reveals
that, at most, cannabis seizures tested for potency have shown small
increases in THC content from 2 per cent to 3.4 per cent in the two
decades since 1980.

And the New Zealand Government, which has intermittently tested
samples of cannabis over the past decade, has also failed to find any
sizable increases, rejecting suggestions that hydroponically grown
cannabis is to blame for massive rises in potency.

The document concludes that while there is no evidence of 10 to
30-fold increases in cannabis strength, there is indirect evidence of
a marginal increase.

"What may have changed in recent times is that more potent forms of
cannabis such as 'heads' and 'hash' have become more widely available
and more widely used among cannabis users," it says.

It says data showing Australians have begun to try cannabis at an
earlier age is a far greater problem.

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