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busted: america's war on marijuana
Availability, Price, and Potency

Marijuana, a Schedule I controlled substance and product of the Cannabis sativa L. plant, remained the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. Two additional Schedule I controlled substances derived from the cannabis plant--hashish and hashish oil--were in limited demand in the United States. Marijuana remained readily available in the continental United States during 1996.

Both the cannabis plant and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant's primary psychoactive chemical, are controlled substances. Marijuana is made from the flowering tops and leaves of the plant, which are collected, trimmed, dried, and then smoked in a pipe, or as a cigarette called a "joint." The flowering tops, also known as colas or buds, are prized because of their higher THC content. Some users hollow out commercial cigars and replace the tobacco with marijuana. On the street, such marijuana cigars are known "blunts." While joints contain an average 500 milligrams of marijuana, blunts may contain as much as six times this amount. The smoking of blunts, once limited to East Coast cities, is now widespread throughout the United States. In 1996, the use of cigars filled with a combination of marijuana and crack cocaine or PCP was reported in several large metropolitan areas. Marijuana often is smoked in combination with methamphetamine on the West Coast.

During the early 1980s, prices for commercial grade marijuana ranged from $350 to $600 a pound. In the first six months of 1996, the absolute price for a pound of marijuana ranged from $200 to $4,000, though it typically sold for $800 a pound. The cost of sinsemilla, the unpollinated flowering tops of the female plant with an inherently higher THC content, ranged from $1,000 to $2,000 per pound over a decade ago. Through mid-1996, the price ranged from $700 to $8,000 per pound, though the sale price typically did not fall below $1,300 per pound.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the THC content of commercial grade marijuana averaged below 2 percent. By comparison, the average in 1996 was just above 4.62 percent. The average THC content of sinsemilla in 1996 was 8.9 percent, up from 1995's 7.5 percent. Marijuana with significant THC content was seized most frequently from indoor cultivators who focus their efforts on hybridizing, cloning, and growing high potency material. The most potent material analyzed to date was seized in 1993 at an indoor site in Copper Center, Alaska, and found to have a THC content of 29.8 percent. In 1996, marijuana seized in Alaska, where the indoor cultivation was predominant, had a THC content of 23.4 percent. High potency marijuana (with a THC content over 20 percent referred to as "skunk," "skunkweed," or "nederweek" also was available from Dutch and Latin American sources. Similarly named hashish products had THC contents of almost 40 percent.


According to the 1995 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse , approximately 65.5 million Americans--about one third of the general population--reported that they had tried marijuana at least once in their lifetime; and 17.7 million reported that they had used marijuana at least once in the past year. Current use of marijuana, defined as any use during the past month, declined steadily from 1979, when there were 22.5 million current users, through 1993. Marijuana use increased from 9.6 million current users in 1993 to 10.1 million in 1994. In 1995, past month use declined to 9.8 million users.

In 1996, past-month marijuana use by 12th graders stabilized, while marijuana use increased among 8th and 10th graders at all prevalence levels. According to the 1996 Monitoring the Future Study, 44.9 percent of high school seniors claimed to have used marijuana at least once, up from 41.7 percent in 1995. Annual use also increased from 21.9 percent of 12th graders in 1992, to 34.7 percent in 1995, and 35.8 in 1996. Current use, which increased to 21.2 percent in 1995 from 11.9 percent in 1992, remained stable in 1996 at 21.9 percent. Among 10th graders in 1995, and current use increased to 39.8 percent from 34.1 percent the previous year. Marijuana use among 8th graders increased for the fifth consecutive year. In 1996, 23.1 percent of respondent admitted to lifetime use compared to 19.9 percent in 1995 and 11.2 percent in 1992. Annual use increased from 15.8 percent in 1995, to 18.3 percent in 1996, and current use from 9.1 percent to 11.3 percent.

Upward trends in marijuana use among 8th and 10th graders were discouraging. Within the context of marijuana's widespread availability and the perception that its abuse causes minimal harm, the increase in reported use among this impressionable population group especially was troubling. The newest trend in marijuana use, the smoking of blunts, appeared to be confined to younger users and may have been responsible for the rise in many marijuana use indicators among this age group.


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