News Release

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May 17, 2001

Canada, British Docs Opine for Drug-Law Reform
CMAJ Says Decriminalize Marijuana,
U.K.'s Lancet Blasts U.S. Drug War

        Washington, DC:  Two of the world's leading medical journals have thrown their support behind amending North America's drug laws.
        Editors of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) opine in their current issue that the recreational use of marijuana should no longer be a criminal offense.  They argue that the health and social risks posed by marijuana are minimal compared to the negative consequences of a criminal arrest and record, and urge Parliament to amend the law.
        They write:

        "The possession of small quantities [of marijuana] for personal use should be decriminalized.  The minimal negative health effects of moderate use would be attested to by the 1.5 million Canadians who smoke marijuana for recreational purposes.  The real harm is the legal and social fallout.  About half of all drug arrests in Canada are for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana. ...  Many lead to jail terms or fines that result in that indelible social tattoo: a criminal record.  This means that for anyone who's ever been caught with a stash in his or her pocket, the question 'Have you ever had a criminal conviction?' during a job application or medical school interview can force higher aspirations to go up in a puff of smoke."

        Editors also praise Health Canada's recent decision to codify the medical use of marijuana for qualified patients, noting that about 400,000 patients nationwide use it medicinally.  They urge professional organizations such as the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) -- which supports the decriminalization of marijuana, but has failed to endorse physician-supervised medical access to the drug -- to "move quickly to issue guidelines for physicians who, increasingly, will be asked for advice by their patients."  The CMAJ represents the country's 50,000 doctors.
     Justice statistics reveal that some 500,000 Canadians have criminal records for marijuana possession -- a figure slightly less than the average number of Americans arrested for pot possession each year.  The CMAJ recommendation aligns them with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, who also advocate removing marijuana possession offenses from the Criminal Code.
     A separate editorial appearing in the March 31 issue of The Lancet -- the United Kingdom's top medical journal -- further criticizes the futility of drug prohibition and America's present anti-drug strategies.  Entitled "Rethinking America's 'War on Drugs' as a public health approach," editors call upon U.S. politicians to "redirect many of the resources currently used for law enforcement," and pursue harm reduction strategies such as expanded treatment for addicts.
        Editors opine:

        "Since the 1970s, the USA has spent billions in a largely futile effort to stem the influx of drugs, imprisoned hundreds of thousands of men and women, many with long sentences for minor offenses, and poured billions into media and school-based education campaigns of questionable effectiveness.
     The alternative is to treat drug abuse as a public health problem. ...  Study after study has shown that treatment and prevention help far more people at far less cost than do current measures. It is time for America to move beyond its moral crusade and adopt a public health approach to the problem of drug abuse, an approach that is likely to be much more successful and certainly more humane."

        NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said the editorials offer a unique critique of America's drug war.  "From both an international and scientific perspective, America's war on marijuana users is ineffective and refuted by the existing evidence," he said.
     For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation, at (202) 483-8751.

California Medical Pot Clubs Remain Open Despite Court Ruling

        San Francisco, CA:  Medical marijuana dispensaries in northern California and elsewhere throughout the state remain open despite Monday's Supreme Court ruling stating there exists no medical exemption for the manufacture and distribution of marijuana under federal law.
     According to yesterday's San Francisco Examiner, medical marijuana proprietors "reacted with a shrug ... and said they plan to continue holding regular hours until someone tells them otherwise."  The Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Cooperative -- which was the sole defendant in the Supreme Court case -- also remains open as a patient resource center, but no longer distributes medicinal marijuana.
     California NORML Executive Director Dale Gieringer said it would be a "serious mistake" for the federal government to try and close the state's medical marijuana dispensaries.  "The clubs provide a valuable service to their members and their communities," he said.  "Not only do they provide countless thousands of patients with relief from otherwise intractable illnesses, but they also promote public safety by taking the marijuana traffic out of the hands of street dealers."
     Rather than cracking down on dispensaries, "the government would be better advised to change its policy," he said.  "The federal government lacks the manpower, competence and moral authority to prevent the medical use of marijuana."
     For more information, please contact either Dale Gieringer, California NORML Executive Director, at (415) 563-5858, or Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500.

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