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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Marijuana is no longer just a crumbled green plant rolled into a joint. It's concentrates, wax, gummies, sodas, shatter and more.

Why it matters: The newer products can boast higher levels of THC — the psychoactive component in cannabis — and lawmakers in a handful of states are exploring whether to put caps on potency.

THC limits are the next frontier in the marijuana debate, and serve as a proxy for the legalization fight.

  • The industry's critics believe caps are needed to reduce harm to children who get their hands on cannabis.
  • The industry's cheerleaders suggest it's a backdoor prohibition campaign and the low caps being proposed would crush the industry.
  • "The potency has just gone up and up and up so the standard is just that much higher, even for standard users they are getting exposed to much more THC," says Cinnamon Bidwell, a marijuana researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder.

What's happening: Colorado lawmakers discussed potency limits back in 2016 and critics even bought a billboard labeling marijuana "a hard drug" and warning parents about the issue in 2019.

  • State Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D-Thornton), a physician, revived the debate this year with a proposal to cap potency at 15%. She says she's noticing more children in her medical clinic with regular use of higher-THC cannabis products and it's affecting their mental and physical health.
  • "I think that there's a strange juxtaposition with this thought that marijuana is completely safe … and then there's really mounting evidence that it's not necessarily the case," she tells Axios.

Be smart: Vermont approved THC caps on bud at 30% and concentrates at 60%, and Maine approved a measure to let the state regulate potency, according to Karmen Hanson, who monitors marijuana policy at the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

  • But potency caps failed to gain traction in Arizona and Washington state.

The intrigue: Caraveo is one of the first in her party to clash with the state's cannabis industry. And the backlash was swift as marijuana growers and retailers lobbied vociferously against the idea.

  • Now, whether her initial potency caps will make it into a bill is in doubt, but she says she still plans to bring a measure with other checks on the industry later this legislative session.

The other side: Morgan Fox with the National Cannabis Industry Association says potency limits are a bad idea because they will push people to the black market. Other industry advocates suggest the science is mixed and doesn't support new regulations on potency.

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Go deeper

House approves cannabis banking bill

A worker gathers hemp flowers for processing at a farm in Milton, New York. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The House voted 321-101 Monday to approve a cannabis banking bill that would allow banks to "provide services to cannabis companies" in states where marijuana is legalized.

Why it matters: In the past, banks have been hesitant to do business with companies involved with cannabis for fear of violating federal laws. If passed, this bill would remove one of the barriers to developing a national cannabis industry.

GOP Rep. Gonzalez retires in face of Trump-backed primary

Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R) Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R) announced his retirement on Thursday, declining to run against a Trump-backed primary challenger in 2022.

Why it matters: Gonzalez has suffered politically since siding with House Democrats to impeach the 45th president after the Capitol riot.

Swing voters oppose Texas abortion law

Protesters at a rally at the Texas State Capitol. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

All 10 swing voters in Axios’ latest focus groups — including those who described themselves as "pro-life" — said they oppose Texas' new anti-abortion law.

Why it matters: If their responses reflect larger patterns in U.S. society, this could hurt Republicans with women and independents in next year's midterm elections. The swing voters cited overreach, invasion of privacy and concerns about frivolous lawsuits jamming up the courts.