Taboos about drugs are lying shattered across the United States (US) like the debris after a party. But even as some US states have begun to decriminalise or legalise Cannabis, and other jurisdictions across the America's including Canada and Mexico are looking to decriminalisation and even outright legalisation, there is an argument that is making some hesitate and ask: "Aren’t many drugs and herbals, even Cannabis, much more potent today than they were in the 1960's when the boomers formed their views on drug use? Hasn’t Cannabis morphed into 'super-skunk'? Aren’t people who used legal painkillers like OxyContin and Percocet sliding into heroin addiction - suggesting legally accessible drugs are a slippery slope toward the abuse of harder drugs?"
Here’s the irony. Drugs are more potent today and people are taking more powerful drugs but that’s largely because of the drug war, not despite it. To grasp why, you need to understand a counter-intuitive phenomenon best explained by the writer Mike Gray in his book “Drug Crazy”. In January 1920, the day before Prohibition went into effect, the most popular alcoholic drinks were beer and wine. Once alcohol was legalised again, in December 1933, the most popular drinks were again beer and wine, as they remain today. But between those dates, beer and wine virtually vanished and the only alcoholic beverages available became hard spirits such as whiskey, vodka and 'moonshine'.
|Some strains of Cannabis available at a co-operative in San Diego, California, US|
Gray points out that you can watch this dynamic any weekend if you go to the stands of any US college football game. Students prefer beer, but most college stadiums don’t allow or sell any alcohol. It’s a zone of prohibition. So what do the students do? They smuggle in hard liquor in flasks. The technical term for this (coined by drug reform advocate Richard Cowan in 1986) is “the iron law of prohibition”. As crackdowns on a drug become more harsh, the milder forms of that drug disappear and the most extreme forms become most widely available. So US presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina was right when she said during the CNN Republican debate, “the marijuana* that kids are smoking today is not the same as the marijuana* that Jeb Bush smoked 40 years ago”. Today’s 'pot' is significantly richer in THC, much like hard spirits have a higher alcohol content than beer. But using that fact as an argument against legalisation misrepresents what is going on. Most Cannabis users don’t want to get totally baked on 'super skunk', any more than most social drinkers want to get smashed on Smirnoff. But the milder stuff isn’t available because the market basically prohibits it from happening.
Adapted from Marijuana Stronger Today by Johann Hari, author of “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs”
*Cannabis sativa L., is the correct botanical term, marijuana is a North American colloquialism