NSW Premier Morrris Iemma is set to introduce legislation to the NSW Parliament increasing penalties for growing cannabis with hydroponic means. Iemma has been sucked in by the fear campaign run by anti-cannabis campaigners over the supposed "7 times greater stength" of cannabis grown by hydroponic methods. The greater strength of ‘modern’ cannabis is quoted by anti-drug pressure groups as anywhere between a few times to up to 50 times (or more) the strength of cannabis grown in the 1960s.
Hydroponics is a means of delivering fertiliser to the roots of a plant in a liquid form, while the plant’s roots attach themselves to an inert material (such as gravel or lava rock) to hold the plant upright, instead of growing the plant in conventional soil. The plant simply gets its food from a liquid nutrient solution instead of extracting it from organic fertilisers contained in soil.
The characteristics of any plant- flavour, colour, size, shape, and in the case of cannabis, the psychoactive ingredient content- are determined by its particular DNA structure. Hydroponic growing does not alter the DNA of a plant any more than feeding a person intravenously will change that person’s eye colour.
Tomatoes and lettuce are also commonly commercially grown with hydroponic techniques. Tomatoes are no more tomato-y nor is lettuce any crisper when grown with hydroponics. In the same context, cannabis is no stronger simply because it has been grown with hydroponic techniques. Strangely, ‘hothouse’ or hydroponically grown tomatoes and lettuce are not similarly in the sights of legislators.
The "Not Your Father’s Marijuana" myth is repeated constantly by anti-drug campaigners- but not because it is the truth. Such misinformation merely suits the goals of the pressure groups. Cannabis has not suddenly become dangerous in the last few years. Anti-cannabis pressure groups are simply now getting the ears of politicians with the ‘hydroponics!!‘ buzzword.
The justification proffered by anti-drugs campaigners that ‘modern’ cannabis is ‘X’ times stronger than that smoked by hippies in the 1960s & 70s is based in data collected by the US DEA from seized cannabis. The DEA did in fact record an upward change in the content of the psychoactive component in cannabis, but it wasn’t because of any miraculous discoveries in hybridising, genetic engineering or cultivation methods.
Most of the psychoactive delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) component in cannabis is contained in the flowers or ‘buds’ with next to none contained in the leaves, stems and seeds of the plant. Dried cannabis seized by the DEA in the 1960s and 70s contained not just the flowers but also the largely inert leaves, stems and seeds. Cannabis users through the 1980s expressed a preference to buy only the buds, so growers began to discard the inert material. When DEA seized cannabis in the 1980s and forward, the amount of THC measured by weight appeared to increase when compared to earlier seizures which included the inert materials. If the statistics are corrected to reflect the omission of inert material, cannabis from the 1960s is virtually identical to ‘modern’ cannabis. The DEA did not discover any new ‘super cannabis,’ but rather tracked a user preference trend.
Premier Iemma should get on the phone to people who have real scientific knowledge about cannabis, like Dr Alex Wodak of Sydney’s St. Vincent’s Hospital Drug and Alcohol treatment unit, instead of listening to fearmongering pressure groups. However, hard scientific data about cannabis is hard to come by because governments often refuse to fund proper research.
Let’s base our drug laws in replicatable scientific facts rather than in scare campaigns.
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