The last few years, marijuana advocates have made impressive strides. As of this week, 24 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medicinal marijuana, and more cities and states are moving toward legalizing recreational use or decriminalizing it all together. However, as advocates and regulators grapple with weed’s changing legal status, there’s a big question on many people’s minds: how large should a standard dose of weed be.
When it comes to alcohol, this was settled a long time ago. A “standard” drink in Canada contains 14 grams of pure alcohol. In terms your bartender would understand, that’s how much booze is usually found in either a 12-ounce glass of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or a 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof liquor. But while marijuana and alcohol affect people differently, there is no similar standard of what a single “unit” of weed should be. Because Alcohol is distilled or brewed this is much easier to arrive at a standard measure. With today’s very potent pot compared to twenty years ago the plants flowers are dried and smoked. THC content can change from strain to strain plant to plant and from grower to grower. There are many factors that contribute to this.
“Understanding your dose is essential,” George McBride, a policy officer at the Beckley Foundation, a UK-based drug policy think tank, tells the BMMC that recommended units in alcohol is rife with problems, but at least it gives you a means to compare a shot of tequila with a pint of ale. Cannabis users have no way to compare a dab with a joint, or a bong blast with a hit from a vaporizer.
Most often, weed is sold in units according to its mass or weight. Its potency, however, can vary wildly from strain to strain and has gotten much stronger over time. A recent study by researchers in Colorado found that on average marijuana is about 20 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), its primary psychoactive chemical. That’s a big jump up from the 1980s, when weed often contained only about 4 percent THC.
In clearly marking what the dose is, hopefully that will lead to more responsible use and public education,” John Lord, who owns several Colorado pot shops, told BMMC. “It keeps us safe, and it provides uniformity for the product itself.”
Modern weed may be much stronger than in the old days, but its potency can also vary greatly depending on how a person ingests it. Right now, the closest there is to a standard “unit” of marijuana is any quantity that contains 10 milligrams of THC. As of 2015, that’s the legal limit of THC that an individually wrapped edible can contain in Colorado. But while that seems simple enough to figure out, several reports made during the last few years have found that edible manufacturers often misrepresent how much THC is in their products, albeit likely unintentionally, .and the same amount of THC can affect someone very differently depending on whether it is eaten, smoked, or inhaled via vaporizer.
Part of the problem comes from the fact that marijuana’s legal status in the United States is left up to individual states instead of being decided at the federal level. Unlike The US Canada While many regulations on food and beverages are levied by agencies like the Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, lawmakers have to approach it on a case-by-case basis, which can make it confusing for consumers and producers alike.
Settling on a regulatory standard of how big a hit should be might be tough, but some in the rapidly growing marijuana industry say that they would welcome the change. While it might mean more scrutiny of their products, settling on a standard would make it easier for producers, patients and recreational users alike to know just what it is they are getting in each puff or bite. The liberal government of Canada and their task force set to bring Canada wide legalization to the country come this spring, will also face this challenge. Time will tell if they can solve this puzzle.