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Treatment expert informs about higher THC in marijuana and cannabis products

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Posted at 2:18 AM, Apr 17, 2024

BILLINGS - The Billings City Council heard an update on the community impact of legalized marijuana, from one man who has made the subject his passion.

"We've long known that this conversation is much more around the use of THC, the psychoactive component in the cannabis plant rather than cannabis as a whole.," Ben Cort, a national policy and treatment expert, said at a work session on Monday night.

Those higher levels of THC in marijuana products lead to "a greater chance of harmful reaction" and "may explain the rise in emergency room visits involving marijuana use," according the National Institutes of Health.

Cort talked with several groups in Billings and has scheduled stops in Miles City, Great Falls, and Helena this week.

He returns to Montana in May for presentations in Bozeman, Butte, Dillon, and Missoula.

"The biggest hope that I have for Montana is that you consider potency caps," Cort said. "Right now there's absolutely no limit on how strong the products can be."

Cort is the CEO of NRT Behavioral Health in Colorado.

He would like caps on THC because of what he sees and people he tries to help.

"Everything from depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, all the way up through the extreme forms of schizophrenia, seeing and hearing things that nobody else is, extreme paranoia," Cort said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows these mental issues along with suicide and states on its website:

"Scientists don’t yet know whether marijuana use directly causes these health issues, but it may make symptoms more severe."

Marijuana dispensary 406 Organix in Shepherd is halfway between Billings and Roundup on U.S. Highway 87.

While it's outside the city limits, the owner has concerns about putting a cap on THC.

"Product information that you give to the consumers they make a more balanced choice,” said Nathan Pierce, who also is the founder of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association. “And so it's not necessarily about the potency or the effect that comes out just from THC.

Pierce also disagrees with Cort about mental health issues and marijuana and cites the Montana Office of Public Instruction Youth Risk Survey, which shows a slight decrease in marijuana usage among high school students over a 20-year period.

"There's quite a few factors that can play an effect that cannabis may be attributed to but that actually isn't the core reason for the psychosis or the mental issues that the persons are dealing with,” Pierce said.

Cort helps people trying to overcome addictions and he recovered from marijuana addiction in 1996.

"The majority of people in my life I went through this with are no longer alive," Cort said.

Councilman Tom Rupsis says he supports the legalization of marijuana but says it should be in a regulated environment with control over dosages for medical marijuana.

He said he would support THC caps.

“Scientifically, you're in the right, politically you're dead if you do that,” Cort said at the city council work session. “I'd love it if somebody died on that hill."

"Can send me suggested language,” Rupsis said in response to Cort. “I'm willing to die on that hill."

Rupsis also hopes to propose an ordinance by this summer.