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News (Media Awareness Project) - Amsterdam: Dutch Classify High-Potency Marijuana As Hard Drug
Title:Amsterdam: Dutch Classify High-Potency Marijuana As Hard Drug
Published On:2011-10-08
Source:Seattle Times (WA)
Fetched On:2011-10-10 06:01:53

The Dutch Government Said Friday It Would Move to Classify
High-Potency Marijuana Alongside Hard Drugs Such As Cocaine and
Ecstasy, the Latest Step in the Country's Ongoing Reversal of Its
Famed Tolerance Policies.

The decision means most of the cannabis now sold in the Netherlands'
weed cafes would have to be replaced by milder variants. But skeptics
said the move would be difficult to enforce, and that it could simply
lead many users to smoke more of the less potent weed.

Possession of marijuana is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but
police do not prosecute people for possession of small amounts, and it
is sold openly in designated cafes. Growers are routinely prosecuted
if caught.

Economic Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen said weed containing more
than 15 percent of its main active chemical, THC, is so much stronger
than what was common a generation ago that it should be considered a
different drug entirely.

The high potency weed has "played a role in increasing public health
damage," he said at a press conference in The Hague.

The Cabinet has not said when it will begin enforcing the

Jeffrey Parsons, a psychologist at Hunter College in New York who
studies addiction, said the policy may not have the benefits the
government is hoping for.

"If it encourages smoking an increased amount of low-concentration THC
weed, it is likely to actually cause more harm than good," he said,
citing the potential lung damage and cancer-causing effects of extra

The Dutch Justice Ministry said Friday it was up to cafes to regulate
their own products and police will seize random samples for testing.

But Gerrit-Jan ten Bloomendal, spokesman for the Platform of Cannabis
Businesses in the Netherlands, said implementing the plan would be
difficult "if not impossible."

"How are we going to know whether a given batch exceeds 15 percent
THC? For that matter, how would health inspectors know?" he said. He
predicted a black market will develop for highly potent weed.

The ongoing Dutch crackdown on marijuana is part of a decade-long
rethink of liberalism in general that has seen a third of the windows
in Amsterdam's famed prostitution district shuttered and led the
Netherlands to adopt some of the toughest immigration rules in Europe.

The number of licensed marijuana cafes has been reduced, and earlier
this year the government announced plans to ban tourists from buying
weed. That has been resisted by the city of Amsterdam, where the
marijuana cafes known euphemistically as "coffee shops" are a major
tourist draw.

Marjan Heuving of the Netherlands' Trimbos Institute, which studies
mental health and addiction, said there is a growing body of evidence
that THC causes mental illnesses.

She said it stands to reason "the more THC the body takes in, the more
the impact." But it has not been demonstrated scientifically that high
THC weed is worse for mental health, she said.

Parsons of Hunter College said it remains difficult to be sure whether
marijuana causes mental problems or whether people predisposed to,
say, depression seek it out as a form of self-medication.

The Trimbos Institute says the average amount of THC in Dutch
marijuana is currently around 17.8 percent. It has been declining
since 2004 after increasing steadily from 4 percent or so in the 1970s.

By comparison, in the United States the average level of THC in
marijuana is around 10 percent and rising, according to the last
measure released by the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2009.

Heuving agreed with Ten Bloomendal that determining THC levels outside
of a laboratory setting would prove difficult, as exact content varies
widely from batch to batch and even within a single plant.

"I don't know of any home test," she said. "How this is going to work
in practical terms, I have no idea."
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