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Minimum age of 25 proposed for high-THC cannabis

To protect young people from the dangers of high-strength cannabis, two bills have been proposed in this year’s Washington State Legislature.

SB 6220, recently passed in the Senate, establishes the minimum purchase age for high-THC cannabis at 25 and older. The bill defines high THC as greater than 35% THC and mandates the Liquor and Cannabis Board to define concentration levels following extensive market research. THC is the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana.

“When we legalized marijuana, we thought we were legalizing the plant,” Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, said. “I am not trying to make the statement that marijuana is bad for everybody. I am just trying to protect kids.”

Prime sponsor Salomon labels this bill a “second crack” at addressing the mental health implications, particularly the onset of psychosis in youth using high-potency marijuana.

According to a 2023 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adolescent hospitalizations related to marijuana in the 15-24 age bracket have increased significantly.

Since recreational marijuana became legal in 2012 and with store openings in 2014, the cannabis market has expanded. In 2023, Washington earned $468.5 million in marijuana income, according to the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board.

In the second bill under consideration, Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, aims to curb youth consumption of high-THC cannabis by imposing a tax based on THC content. Bipartisan SB 6271 passed in the Senate on Feb. 5 with a 44-5 vote.

She supports the outreach, prevention, point of sale and public awareness that Salomon’s bill could bring, but thinks banning high-THC products for individuals under 25 will not work and will just create a gray market. She explains this ban of sales as counterproductive and is not sure if the selected age has a basis in science.

Keiser specifically highlights concerns about the potency of liquid THC and thinks these kinds of products should come with warning labels, especially for adolescents.

“They are not the old cannabis that used to be grown and processed.” Keiser said. “They are more of a chemical.”

Under Keiser’s proposal, initially, the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) would collect information regarding THC levels in commercial cannabis items. Subsequently, the LCB would impose a tax, with rates linked to THC levels. Products with lower THC content would face lower taxes than the current 37% rate, while those with higher THC levels would face higher taxes.

Recent survey data from 2,700 cannabis consumers found that 32% reported harm from cannabis use. One-third reported panic attacks, fainting, vomiting, hallucinations, psychosis, and flashbacks, while 20% sought emergency room care or called poison control, reported Dr. Beatriz Carlini, research associate professor at the University of Washington.

Vicki Christophersen from the Cannabis Alliance supports SB6271 as a preferable alternative to "prohibition." Another representative from the Cannabis Alliance, Caitlein Ryan testified against 6220 noting that the cannabis industry faces the highest taxation nationwide and suggested focusing efforts on dissuading people from purchasing such products rather than regulating the entire market.

Ezra Eickmeyer of Producers NW opposed the bill, citing the state's inadequate response to youth cannabis use and deeming the proposed system unworkable. While supportive of youth prevention campaigns in the age bill, he opposes the age limit of 25.

Lukas Hunter from Harmony Farms argued against the bill's economic feasibility and expressed concerns that it does not align with the desired outcome of the public health community.

The objective, Keiser explained, is to maintain current revenue while lowering the usage of high-THC products. She likened it to Washington state's tobacco tax, which effectively reduced youth nicotine consumption.

After further research on THC is conducted, Keiser intends to draft legislation aimed at prohibiting THC products targeted at children. Additionally, she wants to address psilocybin use, noting that society has become "lackadaisical" regarding drugs.

Connecticut and New York have adopted a similar tax-based approach. The LCB must deliver a report to the Legislature by November 14, 2025.

Under 2990, the LCB must define high-THC products by July 1, 2026, with the age restriction taking effect on July 1, 2027.

The University of Washington Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute proposed policies to address high-potency marijuana almost identical to these bills.