March 22, 1996

Dale H. Gieringer, Ph.D
Coordinator, California NORML
3514 Dwight Way
Berkeley, California 94704

Dear Dr. Gieringer:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your opinions.  As your Senator, it's important for me to hear from you.

I appreciate your comments regarding proposals to legalize certain illicit drugs as an attempt to address the problems of drug abuse and drug-related crime in America.  However, I firmly believe drug use is wrong and harmful and that it must stop.  This includes marijuana, a drug proven to be both harmful to the user and a major gateway drug for other, more dangerous substances.  Eighty-five percent of people who use harder drugs such as cocaine or crack admit to first having used marijuana.

The effects of marijuana use are well documented.  Using marijuana produces a dreamy state of consciousness in which ideas seem disconnected, uncontrollable, and free-flowing.  Time, color, and spatial perceptions may be distorted and enhanced.  Communicative and motor abilities are decreased during the use of these drugs.  Difficulty in depth perception and altered sense of timing, both of which are particularly hazardous, are also known effects of using marijuana.  Marijuana is addictive, causes difficulty with persistent memory and cognitive functions, causes personality changes, creates abnormalities in the lungs, creates abnormalities in the unborn, has residual effects on fetuses exposed in utero, and suppresses the immune system.

The argument that the dangers of marijuana are overstated were more plausible in the 1960s and 1970s, when less was known about the full effects of this and many other drugs.  Today, supporting the idea of smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes is similar to supporting tobacco for weight or anxiety control.  There are better, safer, and more effective alternatives that are readily available whose side effects and interactive dangers are known.

Claims that drug users only effect themselves and pose no threat to society are also misguided.  People who use drugs do so to alter their perceptions of reality.  When someone is high, they cannot be as alert to dangers that are always around us, dangers such as a boiling pot on the stove, a burning candle, or even something as simple as an open window.  Drug using workers are 3 to 4 times as likely to have on-the-job accidents, 4 to 6 times more likely to have off-the-job accidents, 2 to 3 times more likely to file medical claims, 5 times more likely to file workman's compensation, and 25 percent to 35 percent less productive on the job.  To claim that drug use affects only the user is to deny the reality that whatever we do effects those around us.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) survey numbers on hospital admissions for drug related emergencies further confirms the alarming problems created by drug use.  At least 500,000 Americans ended up in hospital emergency rooms in 1994 because of drug-related episodes, 40,100 of these episodes were directly related to marijuana.  Marijuana is likely to be mentioned in combination with other substances, particularly alcohol and cocaine.  In 1994, alcohol and cocaine were mentioned during 48 percent of marijuana-related episodes.

Please look at the statement that I made on the floor of the Senate that further addresses the idea of drug legalization.  Drugs are illegal because they are dangerous, they are not dangerous because they are illegal.  We need to work to keep our drug laws strong and effective.

Once again, thank you for communicating your views to me.  Although we may disagree at times, I nonetheless appreciate and encourage your communication with me.  Knowing your concerns helps me to do the best job I can as your U.S. Senator.

Charles E. Grassley
United States Senator
721 Federal Building
210 Walnut Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50309-2140
(515) 284-4890