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April 16, 2004 - The Drug War Chronicle (US - Web)

US Drug Czar Blames Canada for Marijuana Emergency Room Admissions

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The head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, drug czar John Walters, this week pointed the finger at high-potency Canadian marijuana as at least partly responsible for a doubling of pot-related emergency room admissions. Comparing Canadian weed to crack cocaine, Walters Wednesday urged the Canadian government to deal with the "extremely dangerous" problem.

"Canada is exporting to us the crack of marijuana and it is a dangerous problem," Walters said in Miami, where he kicked off a campaign to cut marijuana use by Hispanic youths, according to an Associated Press report. "We need to have political leadership in Canada that recognizes the problem," he said. "Addiction is going to spread in Canada dramatically. It has in many places."

Walters went on to repeat what are rapidly becoming hoary shibboleths about the savage potency of Canadian-grown pot. Back in the days of the hippies, said Walters, marijuana only had 1% THC content, but today's Canadian product contains 20-30%, he said. "It is extremely dangerous. It is one of the reasons why we believe... we have seen a doubling of emergency room cases involving marijuana in the last several years from 60,000 to 120,000," Walters said.

Walters' remarks are merely the latest restatement of his and other US government officials' distaste for moves afoot in Canada to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, as well as their dismay over the relatively light penalties Canadian pot-growers face. Although penalties for commercial growing would increase under the Canadian government's proposal, that hasn't stilled criticism from Washington.

And, of course, it hasn't stopped Walters from mixing distortions and misrepresentations into his every utterance on the subject. For one thing, as the Drug War Chronicle has noted previously (, the emergency room mention statistics are dubious at best.

Based on the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) survey of metropolitan hospital emergency rooms, the statistics merely measure each time marijuana use was mentioned by an ER patient. To take a hypothetical example: A man smokes a joint in the afternoon, then shoots heroin all evening, then is admitted to the hospital with an overdose. This heroin overdose is listed as such, but because DAWN regulations allow for up to four drugs to be mentioned, it also becomes another "marijuana-related" ER admission.

Also, Canadian marijuana simply is not that big a factor in the US market. According to the drug czar's own web site, out of more than 2.4 million pounds of pot seized in 2002, less than 7,000 pounds were Canadian. And as disgruntled Pacific Northwest dope buyers will tell anyone who asks -- and sometimes even those who don't -- the Canadians have a reputation for keeping the best stuff for themselves and exporting lesser quality outdoor stuff.

And then there's the "not your daddy's marijuana" argument. Walters not only exaggerates the feebleness of 1960s and 1970s weed by using dusty samples from the University of Mississippi pot farm, as opposed to the actual Mexican, Jamaican, and Colombian varieties then prevalent, he also exaggerates the potency of current high-octane crops. While THC ranges of 25-30% are possible, they are rare, with most indoor marijuana coming in at around 10-15%.

Walters fails to acknowledge that there are discrete markets for marijuana, with commercial grade Mexican -- with a lower THC level -- leading in market share. With its low price, perhaps $100 an ounce, it is much more affordable for youthful smokers than high-grade, Canadian or otherwise, that goes for closer to $400 an ounce. And of course, Americans are quite capable of growing high-grade pot as well. Finally, marijuana is marijuana. If one smokes marijuana with a high THC content, one simply smokes less to get high.

In a few dozen words, drug czar Walters can pack a suitcase full of lies. That's a pretty impressive achievement.

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