UN World Drug Report Calls for Global Ban on Marijuana Advertising & THC Potency Caps

Laments Historically Low Rate of Perceived Harm from Marijuana Use in U.S. Youth

Yesterday, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released the latest edition of the annual World Drug Report, which highlighted the fact that while use of marijuana among young people has increased to levels not seen since the early nineties, the perception of harm from use among the same demographic is at a historic low. The report also called for a global ban on marijuana advertising and the implementation of a cap on THC potency in marijuana products where the marijuana industry has expanded.

This report is a wakeup call for the world, and in particular the United States, the nation with the highest level of marijuana use in the world,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and a former senior drug policy advisor to the Obama Administration. “The reduced perception of harm among young people comes at a time when young people are increasingly using harmful, high potency products commercialized by a growing industry. We simply must do more to deal with the growing issue of today’s marijuana and reverse the prevailing narrative that it is harmless.

In the United States, over 29 million people 18 and older were estimated to be past year users, among whom some 45 percent, or 14 million people, were daily or near-daily users. The most concerning revelation concerning use is the recent, rapid increase of daily or near-daily use of marijuana among high school students. In 2020, such use among high school students was estimated at 4.1 percent. In 1991, such use among high school students was below 1 percent.

The report highlights this increase in marijuana use among high school students is “in stark contrast to the decline in tobacco and alcohol use.” The rate of past-month use of tobacco among high school students has dramatically declined from nearly 12 percent in 2011 to 5 percent in 2020 while the same rate of alcohol use dropped from 26 percent in 2011 to 21 percent in 2020.

Highlighting data from the 2020 Monitoring the Future survey, the report shows that while past-month use among tenth graders in the U.S. has risen to the highest level since 2001, the perception of perceived risk from regular marijuana use is at the lowest level in history. This decline in the perception of harm from the use of marijuana comes at a time when marijuana potency is dramatically increasing, as jurisdictions are allowing for the commercialization of the drug without the implementation of regulations on THC potency.

According to the report, “a comprehensive ban on advertising, promoting, and sponsoring marijuana would ensure that public health interests prevail over business interests. Such a ban would need to apply across all jurisdictions. The measures could work in a way similar to the provisions of The Who Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.” In conjunction with a ban on advertising, the report also calls for the implementation of regulations that cap the potency of THC in marijuana products where legal markets have been expanded.

Finally, due to the drastic increase in drug use and overdose deaths that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNODC is urging nations to invest sufficient levels of funding for drug use prevention and treatment that will be direly needed to combat the increase in drug use and improve the quality of such efforts to reduce negative outcomes. The report emphasized that the pandemic “exacerbated the factors that rule the vicious cycle of socio-economic vulnerability and drug use disorders,” such as poverty, limited employment, and limited education.