.Democrats vs. Republicans on Cannabis Reform

Prohibitionist Republicans exploit tragic death with proposed resolution for research

Navigating the partisan politics of cannabis can be challenging because there are Republicans and Democrats on both sides of most reform initiatives. That makes cannabis politics almost unique in these days of Republicans automatically opposing any reforms that might be deemed “liberal,” or that might help Democrats win or keep office.

This has led some reform advocates to support, or at least normalize, Republicans like Matt Gaetz, the Florida congress creature who is awful in nearly every way but who supports federal legalization and other reforms. Make no mistake though: the opposition to sane cannabis policy comes overwhelmingly from the Republican side of the aisle, and when it comes, it’s often irredeemably stupid.

As if to prove the point, three of the most prohibitionist Republicans in Congress have decided to exploit a tragic death with “Randy’s Resolution,” which would call for more research into the supposed dangers of high-THC cannabis products, as well as the creation of “education” programs on the topic. The proposed resolution is sponsored in the House by Andy Harris of Maryland and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, and in the Senate by Pete Sessions. The trio promoted the resolution alongside the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

There already is research into those products, of course, but generally not the kind that is aimed at creating a moral panic. To be sure, more research is needed: while there’s no indication that high-THC products are particularly dangerous (especially in relation to alcohol and many other substances), that doesn’t mean they’re totally safe, and we still don’t know enough about their effects to create sound policy around them. The stuff can be mind-bending, especially for the uninitiated.

On the other hand, if “mind-bending” is the only criterion, maybe we don’t need any specific policy at all. Or maybe we do, since there are some indications that pot with a THC content greater than 10% might play a role in the development of psychosis, among other potential problems.

But either way, Randy’s Resolution is based on nonsense and heartless exploitation. The proposed resolution (which wouldn’t actually create any law or policy) makes a bunch of claims that are dubious at best, such as the assertion that “adolescent and teen marijuana abuse increased by 245% from 2000 to 2020.”

That astonishing number, which runs counter to the many studies indicating that cannabis use among young people hasn’t risen much, if at all, in recent years, comes from a study published in 2022 by the journal Clinical Toxicology. But it didn’t measure cannabis use, or even “abuse” (as the study’s own authors incorrectly stated); it measured cannabis-related reports to poison control centers aggregated by the National Poison Data System.

Not surprisingly, the greatest increase in reports of cannabis “poisoning” came in recent years, after legalization led to huge increases in sales of edibles and high-potency concentrates. That is surely an issue of concern, but the fact is that most people who call poison control centers due to cannabis are parents of kids who accidentally ingested edibles, or people who unwisely or accidentally ingested too much weed, and freaked out. In all cases, after they came down, they were fine, because that’s just how it works.

Randy’s Resolution is named for Randy Bacchus, a 21-year-old who apparently had mental problems and committed suicide in Colorado in 2021. His Minnesota-dwelling parents blamed his weed consumption, particularly the high-THC products he was using. It’s possible that cannabis contributed to those problems, but there is zero hard evidence that they did.

Not only have craven politicians latched onto this tragic story, but so have media outlets. Every story I could find about Bacchus’s case credulously blamed pot for the guy’s suicide, such as the one by a local Fox News affiliate with the headline “Too High: Family Lost Son to Suicide, Cannabis.” Even more responsible outlets failed to question the thesis: The non-profit MinnPost flatly declared with no supporting evidence that Bacchus’s suicide was a result of “cannabis-induced psychosis.”

Given that Randy’s Resolution, if passed, wouldn’t have the force of law, all of this would seem like an empty exercise except for the fact that the lawmakers who introduced it are some of the most effective and successful blockers of cannabis reform in Congress. The sad fact is that this stuff works.

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