U.S. OFFICIAL: CANADIAN POT NO SOFT DRUG
White House Drug Czar Claims High-Powered Marijuana Sends Teens To Emergency Wards
WASHINGTON -- The number of American teenagers and adults who are ending up in emergency wards or seeking treatment because of marijuana use has soared in recent years and seems linked to the "dramatically" growing influx of high-test Canadian pot, the White House drug czar said Thursday.
John Walters estimated the industry is also funnelling "billions" of dollars into the pockets of organized crime north of the border and said Canadian prosecutors tell him they need tougher laws to combat the growing-operations bonanza.
"It has grown dramatically," he said of the northern pot trade.
"The question that is always on our side of the border, and on theirs, when these problems arise is: 'How many more people will suffer until we are able to change the trend line?' "
The elevated THC content -- which is the active ingredient in pot -- of Canadian marijuana means it can no longer be considered a soft drug, argued Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
His concerns, voiced at a news conference, reflect a growing anxiety among some politicians and government officials in the United States about Canada, a country not traditionally viewed as a major supplier of drugs.
The export of ecstasy pills made in Canadian labs and of the chemical ingredients of illicit narcotics, such as methamphetamine, have also caught the attention of the Americans, as underlined in a State Department report released last week.
But Walters focused Thursday on marijuana.
The number of Americans admitted to hospital emergency wards because of marijuana use has doubled to 120,000 annually in the last five years, he said. Meanwhile, the number of teenagers seeking treatment for marijuana dependency has grown to the point where it is more than for all other drugs combined, including alcohol, said the official.
The phenomenon has paralleled a growing potency of marijuana available in the North America, from containing one to two per cent THC less than a decade ago to eight to nine per cent and, in some cases, 20 per cent or more in recent years, he said.
Other countries, such as Mexico, do supply such high-powered marijuana, Walters acknowledged. "But the big new factor on the scene is . . . the enormous growth of very high potency marijuana coming from Canada."
He said most people, especially those who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, view marijuana as a soft drug that does not warrant much concern. But the higher potency means that one in five pot-smoking Americans age 12 to 17 progress to needing treatment or "intervention" for marijuana abuse, he said.
"That was not the way marijuana use was moving a decade ago or two decades ago."
Walters praised the cooperation that American authorities have had from Canadian police, especially the RCMP, which he described as "one of the finest police organizations in the world." But he said prosecutors have told him that the current Criminal Code sanctions are not stiff enough to deter growing-operation criminals and "without the ability to use more extensive enforcement pressure, they're concerned about how this will continue to grow."
A spokesman for the Canadian Embassy in Washington said Thursday that Canadian marijuana still only accounts for one to two per cent of the product sold in the U.S., while Canada imports most of its cocaine from the U.S.
Denise Rudnicki, a spokeswoman for federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, noted that new legislation before Parliament that would de-criminalize simple possession of marijuana would also double maximum penalties for those running marijuana growing operations to 14 years from seven. In some cases, judges who did not impose a prison term would have to provide written justification.
Meanwhile, Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan has said that judges need to get tougher on those behind the operations and suggested the marijuana bill could be further strengthened.