What is marijuana?
Marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in America (behind
only alcohol and tobacco), and has been used by nearly 100 million Americans. According
to government surveys, some 20 million Americans have smoked marijuana in
the past year, and more than 14.5 million do so regularly despite harsh laws against
its use. Our public policies should reflect this reality, not deny it. See
Who smokes marijuana?
According to recent statistics provided by the federal government, nearly 100 million
Americans admit having smoked marijuana. Of these, twenty million Americans
smoked marijuana during the past year. The vast majority of marijuana smokers,
like most other Americans, are good citizens who work hard, raise families, pay
taxes and contribute in a positive way to their communities. They are certainly
not part of the crime problem in this country, and it is terribly unfair to continue
to treat them as criminals.
Many successful business and professional leaders, including many state
and elected federal officials, admit they have smoked marijuana. We must
reflect this reality in our state and federal laws, and put to rest the myth that
marijuana smoking is a fringe or deviant activity engaged in only by those
on the margins of American society. Marijuana smokers are no different from
their non-smoking peers, except for their marijuana use.
Why should we decriminalize or legalize marijuana?
As President Jimmy Carter acknowledged: "Penalties against drug use should not be
more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this
more clear than in the laws against the possession of marijuana in private
for personal use."
Marijuana prohibition needlessly destroys the lives and careers
of literally hundreds of thousands of good, hard-working, productive citizens each
year in this country. More than 800,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana
charges last year, and more than 5 million Americans have been arrested
for marijuana offenses in the past decade. Almost 90 percent of these arrests
are for simple possession, not trafficking or sale. This is a misapplication of
the criminal sanction that invites government into areas of our private lives that
are inappropriate and wastes valuable law enforcement resources that should be focused
on serious and violent crime.
What about kids and marijuana?
Marijuana, like other drugs, is not for kids. There are many activities in
our society that we permit adults to do, but forbid children, such as motorcycle
riding, skydiving, signing contracts, getting married and drinking alcohol or smoking
tobacco. However, we do not condone arresting adults who responsibly engage in these
activities in order to dissuade our children from doing so. Nor can we justify arresting
adult marijuana smokers on the grounds of sending a message to children.
Our expectation and hope for young people is that they grow up to be responsible
adults, and our obligation to them is to demonstrate what that means.
The NORML Board of Directors has adopted a set of principles called the
"Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use," and the first
principle is "Cannabis consumption is for adults only; it is irresponsible
to provide cannabis to children."
Critics claim that marijuana is a "gateway
drug." How do you respond to this charge?
There is no conclusive evidence that the effects of marijuana are causally
linked to the subsequent use of other illicit drugs. Preliminary animal studies
alleging that marijuana "primed" the brain for other drug-taking behavior
have not been replicated, nor are they supported by epidemiological human data.
Statistically, for every 104 Americans who have tried marijuana, there is
only one regular user of cocaine, and less than one user of heroin. Marijuana
is clearly a "terminus" rather than a gateway for the overwhelming majority of marijuana
For those minority of marijuana smokers who do graduate to harder
substances, it is marijuana prohibition -- which forces users to associate
with the illicit drug black market -- rather than the use of marijuana itself,
that often serves as a doorway to the world of hard drugs. The more users become
integrated in an environment where, apart from cannabis, hard drugs can also
be obtained, the greater the chances they will experiment with harder drugs.
In Holland, where politicians decided over 25 years ago to separate
marijuana from the illicit drug market by permitting coffee shops all over the
country to sell small amounts of marijuana to adults, individuals use marijuana
and other drugs at rates less than half of their American counterparts.
But isn't marijuana addictive?
Substantial research exists regarding marijuana and addiction. While the
scientific community has yet to achieve full consensus on this matter, the majority
of epidemiological and animal data demonstrate that the reinforcing properties of
marijuana in humans is low in comparison to other drugs of abuse, including
alcohol and nicotine. According to the U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM), fewer than one in 10 marijuana smokers
become regular users of the drug, and most voluntary cease their use after 34 years
of age. By comparison, 15 percent of alcohol consumers and 32 percent of tobacco
smokers exhibit symptoms of drug dependence.
According to the IOM, observable cannabis withdrawal symptoms are rare
and have only been identified under unique patient settings. These remain limited
to adolescents in treatment facilities for substance abuse problems, and in a research
setting where subjects were given marijuana or THC
daily. Compared with the profound physical syndrome of alcohol or heroin withdrawal,
marijuana-related withdrawal symptoms are mild and subtle. Symptoms may include
restlessness, irritability, mild agitation and sleep disruption. However, for the
overwhelming majority of marijuana smokers, these symptoms are not severe
enough to re-initiate their use of cannabis.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that the U.S. Justice Department,
including the Drug Enforcement Agency, may prosecute state-authorized medical marijuana
patients for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act. What does this decision
mean for seriously ill patients and for the ongoing tension between state and federal
Laws in sixteen states (Alaska,
New Jersey, New Mexico,
Rhode Island, Vermont
and Washington) and
the District of Columbia
remain in effect despite the Supreme Court's decision.
The US Supreme Court decided 6-3 in Gonzalez v. Raich that the Justice
Department has the authority to prosecute state-authorized
medicinal cannabis patients for violating the federal Controlled Substances
The Ninth Federal Circuit Court had previously ruled 2-1 in December
2003," The intrastate, non-commercial cultivation, possession and use of marijuana
for personal medical purposes on the advice of a physician - is, in fact, different
in kind from drug trafficking," and issued an injunction barring the US Justice
Department from taking legal action against the appellants,
California medical cannabis patients Angel McClary Raich and Diane Monson,
for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Justice Department appealed
that decision to the Supreme Court, which ruled on June 6, 2005.
The Supreme Court's 2005 decision did not expand the powers of federal
law enforcement agencies like the DEA; it only affirmed that they can enforce federal
laws prohibiting the use of controlled substances, regardless of state, county,
or municipal law. It is not anticipated that federal agents will step up efforts
against state-authorized growers, dispensaries, or patients because of
this decision. State and local law enforcement officers, who are responsible for
the enforcement of state and municipal laws, will most likely continue to honor
the democratic decisions that their residents have made about marijuana policy.
Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said
that he longs for the day when medicinal cannabis advocates "may be
heard in the halls of Congress." NORML's chief complaint is directed at Congress,
not at the Court, for allowing the federal/state inconsistency in medical marijuana laws to exist.
Why does Congress refuse to reschedule marijuana to permit its use as a medicine
under federal law?
Many members of both parties in Congress have confused a public health issue,
medical marijuana, with the politics of the War on Drugs. In doing so, they
have denied an effective medication to the seriously ill and dying.
Didn't Congress vote on a measure to
prevent the federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients in 2005?
On June 15, 2005, the House voted 264 to 161 against a bi-partisan measure,
sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), that would
have barred the US Department of Justice (DOJ) from targeting patients who use marijuana
medicinally in accordance with the laws of their states.
The 161 House votes in favor of the patient-protection provision was
the highest total ever recorded in a Congressional floor vote to liberalize marijuana laws. Of those who voted in support
of the Hinchey/Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment, 15 were Republicans
and 128 were Democrats. The House's only Independent Congressman also voted in favor
of the amendment.
Many Congressional battles are won only after several failed attempts.
Please contact your representative now and urge their support
for federal medical marijuana legislation.
Critics of the medical use of marijuana say (1) there are traditional
medications to help patients and marijuana is not needed; and, (2) permitting the
medical use of marijuana sends the wrong message to kids. How do you respond to
For many patients, traditional medications do work and they do not require or desire
medical marijuana. However, for a significant number of serious ill patients,
including patients suffering from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain
among others, traditional medications do not provide symptomatic relief as effectively
as medicinal cannabis. These patients must not be branded as criminals or
forced to suffer needlessly in pain.
Dronabinol (trade name Marinol) is a legal, synthetic THC alternative to cannabis. Nevertheless, many patients
claim they find minimal relief from it, particularly when compared to inhaled marijuana.
The active ingredient in Marinol, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is only one of the
compounds isolated in marijuana that appears to be medically beneficial to
patients. Other compounds such as cannabidiol (CBD), an anti-convulsant, and cannabichromine
(CBC), an anti-inflammatory, are unavailable in Marinol, and patients only have
access to their therapeutic properties by using cannabis.
Patients prescribed Marinol frequently complain of its high psychoactivity.
This is because patients consume the drug orally. Once swallowed, Marinol passes
through the liver, where a significant proportion is converted into other chemicals.
One of these, the 11-hydroxy metabolite, is four to five times more potent than
THC and greatly increases the likelihood of a patient experiencing an adverse psychological
reaction. In contrast, inhaled marijuana doesn't cause significant levels
of the 11-hydroxy metabolite to appear in the blood.
Marinol's oral administration also delays the drug from taking peak effect
until two to fours hours after dosing. A 1999 report by the US
Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded: "It is well recognized that Marinol's
oral route of administration hampers its effectiveness because of slow absorption
and patients' desire for more control over dosing. ... In contrast, inhaled marijuana
is rapidly absorbed." In a series of US state studies in the 1980s, cancer patients
given a choice between using inhaled marijuana and oral THC overwhelmingly chose
As to the message we are sending to kids, NORML hopes the message we
are sending is that we would not deny any effective medication to the seriously
ill and dying. We routinely permit cancer patients to self- administer morphine
in cancer wards all across the country; we allow physicians to prescribe amphetamines
for weight loss and to use cocaine in nose and throat operations. Each of these
drugs can be abused on the street, yet no one is suggesting we are sending the wrong
message to kids by permitting their medical use.
Don't alcohol and tobacco
use already cause enough damage to society? Why should we legalize another intoxicant?
While there are indeed health and societal problems due to the use of alcohol and
nicotine, these negative consequences would be amplified if consumption of either
substance were prohibited.
Marijuana is already the third most popular recreational drug
in America, despite harsh laws against its use. Millions of Americans smoke it responsibly.
Our public policies should reflect this reality, not deny it.
In addition, marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco.
It fails to inflict the types of serious health consequences these two legal drugs
cause. Around 50,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning. Similarly, more
than 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to tobacco smoking. By comparison,
marijuana is nontoxic and cannot cause death by overdose. According to the
prestigious European medical journal,
The Lancet, "The smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not
harmful to health. It would be reasonable to judge cannabis as less of a
threat than alcohol or tobacco."
No one is suggesting we encourage more drug use; simply that we stop
arresting responsible marijuana smokers. In recent years, we have significantly
reduced the prevalence of drunk driving and tobacco smoking. We have not achieved
this by prohibiting the use of alcohol and tobacco or by targeting and arresting
adults who use alcohol and tobacco responsibly, but through honest educational campaigns.
We should apply these same principles to the responsible consumption of marijuana.
The negative consequences primarily associated with marijuana -- such as
an arrest or jail time -- are the result of the criminal prohibition of cannabis,
not the use of marijuana itself.
What is industrial hemp?
How does it differ from marijuana?
Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis
sativa L. It is a tall, slender fibrous plant similar to flax or kenaf. Farmers
worldwide have harvested the crop for the past 12,000 years for fiber and food,
and Popular Mechanics once boasted that over 25,000 environmentally friendly products
could be derived from hemp.
Unlike marijuana, hemp contains only minute (less than 1%) amounts
of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
In addition, hemp possesses a high percentage of the compound cannabidiol (CBD),
which has been shown to block the effects of THC. For these reasons, many botanists
have dubbed industrial hemp "anti- marijuana."
More than 30 industrialized nations commercially grow hemp, including
England and Canada. The European Union subsidizes farmers to grow the crop, which
is legally recognized as a commercial crop by the United Nations Single Convention
on Narcotic Drugs, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Nevertheless, US law forbids farmers from
growing hemp without a federal license, and has discouraged all commercial hemp
production since the 1950s. NORML is working to allow American farmers to once again
have legal access to this agricultural commodity.
How can I help?
The most important step you can take is to contact your elected officials
at all levels of government (local, state and federal), and let them know you oppose
arresting responsible marijuana smokers. As a constituent, you hold special
influence over the politicians who represent your district. It is critical you let
them know how you feel.
Because the marijuana smoking community remains largely "in the
closet" and is all too often invisible politically, our core constituency currently
exercises far less political power than our numbers would otherwise suggest. The
only way to overcome this handicap is for more of us to take an active role, and
routinely contact our elected officials.
A majority of the American public opposes sending marijuana smokers
to jail, and 3 out of 4 support the medical use of marijuana. Yet many elected
officials remain fearful that if they support these reform proposals, they will
be perceived as "soft" on crime and drugs and defeated at the next election.
Tell your elected officials that you know the difference between marijuana
and more dangerous drugs and between marijuana smoking and violent crime,
and that you do not support spending billions of dollars per year incarcerating
nonviolent marijuana offenders.
To make that easy, NORML has a program on our web site that will identify
your state and federal elected officials, and provide a sample letter that you can
e-mail to Congress and state legislators. Additionally, we encourage
you to join NORML and help us with this fight for personal freedom.
We depend on contributions from private individuals to fund our educational and
lobbying campaign, and our ability to move reform efforts forward is partially a
question of resources. Please join with us and let's end marijuana prohibition,
once and for all.