(The Center Square) – Concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in marijuana are higher than ever before, and that has some lawmakers in Washington state – where recreational weed is legal – concerned about the psychoactive drug’s health impact on users.

One of those lawmakers is state Rep. Lauren Davis, D-Shoreline, who along with Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, has introduced House Bill 2320. It would raise awareness of the dangers associated with high-potency cannabis, fund medical interventions for individuals most at risk, and raise the minimum age for purchasing high-THC marijuana to 25.

“The issue that I’m trying to address here is that the cannabis we have that is sold today is an entirely different drug than the cannabis plant that voters legalized in 2012,” she told the House Regulated Substance & Gaming Committee on Tuesday.

In 2012, Washington became the first state in the country to legalize recreational use of marijuana and the first to allow recreational marijuana sales.

“At the time, the black market potency was less than 10% in the state of Washington,” Davis continued. “Today it’s up to 99% potency.”

That’s nearly a 10-fold increase in potency from 12 years ago, she observed.

High-potency cannabis products have been linked to a number of health issues, including short-term memory and coordination issues, impaired cognitive functions, psychosis, increased risk of anxiety, depression and dependence when used over a long period of time.

Long-term use of marijuana with high levels of THC can also result in a condition where users experience nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, Davis added.

“We didn’t see a lot of these diagnoses 10 years ago with the low-potency black market,” she noted.

Davis referenced a consensus statement released in a 2020 report by the University of Washington and Washington State University about the public health risks posed by high-THC products.

The statement notes “the use of cannabis with high THC concentration increases the chances of developing cannabis use disorder or addiction to cannabis, particularly among adolescents ... Daily cannabis use, particularly of high-potency products, increases the risk of developing a psychotic disorder, like schizophrenia, and is related to an earlier onset of symptoms compared to people who do not use cannabis.”

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A new approach to deal with the current high-potency cannabis is needed, according to Davis.

“So, if we have a different drug, we need a different policy response,” she reasoned.

Aaron Smith, co-founder and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Cannabis Industry Association, disagreed.

“This legislation is misguided, primarily because it would do nothing but drive more young adult consumers who seek higher potency products to the illegal, unregulated market for those products,” he told The Center Square in an email. “Just as some alcohol consumers prefer whiskey over beer or wine, cannabis consumers have different preferences for the types of products they use, and, just like alcohol, they use those products very differently.”

He warned HB 2320 could, if passed by the Legislature and signed into law, bolster the illegal marijuana trade in the Evergreen State.

“The legal cannabis industry provides products that are tested for potency and purity and properly labeled so that consumers know what they are purchasing,” Smith explained. “The criminal market has none of those safety measures in place and making that market the only option for adults under 25 would only cause more product misuse since consumers won't have the benefit of labeling or education provided by state-licensed providers.”

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