Does there need to be a potency limit for legal pot?

Click to play video: 'Concerns about strength of pot after legalization in Washington' Concerns about strength of pot after legalization in Washington
WATCH: Ottawa isn't expected to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana until next year, but several American states have already done it. As Robin Gill discovered, Washington state has run into an unexpected problem — legislators didn't consider how potent pot has become – Jun 3, 2016

VANCOUVER — Doctors at Washington’s Providence St. Peter Hospital are dealing with an unusual emergency: patients showing up with panic attacks and psychotic episodes. That’s because they’re smoking stronger pot than they’re used to.

“These are mostly older folks who tried marijuana in high school and are using it again,” said Kristi Weeks with the Washington State Department of Health. “They’re surprised at how much stronger it is now.”

READ MORE: Legalized marijuana: Capitalizing on cannabis or profiting from potheads?

When Washington state made pot legal in 2012, no one predicted THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) potency would be an issue. THC is what produces the high in cannabis.

“We need to look at potency limits because there are no limits,” said Rick Garza, director of the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board. “You can get concentrates of THC that are 75 to 80 per cent or higher.”

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States like Colorado, where pot is also legal, are trying to limit it to 15 per cent. But public policy experts say it’s too late.

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Click to play video: 'Washington rakes in the green from budding pot business' Washington rakes in the green from budding pot business
Washington rakes in the green from budding pot business – Jun 2, 2016

“The legal industry has cultivated a bunch of consumers who have used so much that they have a tolerance and need potent pot to get stoned,” said Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University who advised the state on how to proceed with its public health policy.

Washington made recreational pot legal to put an end to the black market, but a THC potency limit may allow the underground market to survive.

“There will be smuggling of high potency pot from, say, a place like Vancouver,” said Kleiman.

READ MORE: Marijuana companies have budding aspirations for pot legalization in Canada

Derek Franklin rallied against the legalization of pot, concerned that young people will get hooked on these higher THC levels.

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“When we normalize it, the barriers come down,” said Franklin. “So far, the youth who do use are using higher potency marijuana.”

Studies show that abuse of drugs can affect the development of young people’s brains up until the age of 25.

Washington lawmakers tried to ensure kids aren’t a target for the recreational marijuana industry, by making sure pot shops and billboards are at least 300 metres away from schools, parks, and libraries.

The state health department can only count on that – and an education campaign – to make sure young people don’t get hooked.

But the potency predicament may be a whole other ballgame.

“Maybe we are leading people to smoke more then,” said Weeks.

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