News Release

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July 5, 2001

Portugal Decriminalizes Marijuana, Drug Possession
EU Turning Its Back on U.S., U.N.-backed Anti-Drug Strategies

        Lisbon, Portugal:  Police may no longer prosecute marijuana or other minor drug offenders under a new law that took effect Friday.  The law change, adopted by the Portuguese government last November, reflects the European Union's (EU) growing tolerance toward drug use and non-violent drug users, and its support for harm reduction policies.
        Under the new law, police will treat the possession of up to a ten-day supply of cannabis or narcotics as an administrative rather than a criminal offense.  Drug offenders will be evaluated by a special commission composed of physicians, lawyers, and social workers who will refer them to counseling or treatment.  The commission may also impose a fine.
        Any pot or narcotics found by police will be confiscated.
        "The EU in general and Portugal specifically are wisely electing to tackle drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal one," said NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup.  "Their decision is a clear refutation of the 'do drugs-do time' approach espoused by the United States and the United Nations."
        Not surprisingly, the decision drew an immediate response from U.N. anti-drug officials in Vienna, who claim that liberalizing criminal drug laws sends the wrong message to users.  "The law, in effect, says that it's okay to consume narcotics," said Akira Fujino, deputy head of the U.N.'s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).  He added, "There is a clear trend in Western Europe to decriminalize use and possession of narcotics and to view addicts as patients [and] ... we are deeply concerned over this trend."
        The newly implemented Portuguese model is similar to existing drug decriminalization policies in Spain and Italy.  Earlier this year, Belgium and Luxembourg endorsed reforms exempting marijuana smokers from criminal penalties.  Presently, only four EU nations -- Finland, France, Greece and Sweden -- maintain criminal penalties for marijuana consumption.
        Portuguese officials are hoping the new policy will curb the nation's rising number of addicts and HIV infections, both of which have increased sharply over the past ten years.
        For an overview of recent European drug reforms, please visit the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction at: For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500.

Medical Pot Legal in Canada
Canadian Government First to Regulate Marijuana for the Sick

        Ottawa, Ontario:  Canadian officials gave final approval Wednesday to regulations that will allow qualified patients to grow and possess marijuana for medicinal purposes.  The new guidelines take effect on July  30.
        Health Minister Allan Rock said that Wednesday's decision was a "landmark in our ongoing effort to give Canadians suffering from grave and debilitating illnesses access to marijuana for medical purposes.  This compassionate measure will improve the quality of life of sick Canadians."
        Canada is the first country in the world to adopt a federal regulatory scheme for the possession and use of medical marijuana.
        Under the new law, terminally ill patients or those suffering from symptoms associated with a serious medical condition may apply for a federal license allowing them or their designated caregiver to possess up to a 30-day supply of marijuana.  Non-terminal patients must possess the recommendation of a general practitioner and a medical specialist certifying that they have found all alternative therapies to be ineffective.  Full text of the pre-published regulations is available online at:
        Health Canada also announced Wednesday that it will commence clinical trials on the efficacy of smoked marijuana for patients with the AIDS wasting syndrome, and that the government will use confiscated marijuana seeds to begin growing pot for research purposes.  Health Canada had intended to import marijuana seeds from the U.S. government, but Washington officials refused to allow their exportation.
        Canadian officials hope to have 185 kilograms of marijuana by December to use in clinical trials.
        For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Body's Natural 'Cannabis' May Play Role in Lowering Blood Pressure

        Bethesda, Maryland:  A marijuana-like substance that occurs naturally in the body may play a significant role in lowering blood pressure, according to research published in the new issue of Nature Medicine.
        Researchers at the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse report that the endogenous cannabinoid known as anandamide acts on the blood vessel walls to cause dilation and allow blood to flow more freely.  In animal studies, scientists found an association between rats with elevated levels of anandamide and low blood pressure.  Researchers raised blood pressure in test subjects by blocking the effects of anandamide.
        Scientists said that the findings may offer new approaches for treating patients with advanced cirrhosis, who often suffer from high blood pressure and ruptured blood vessels.
        "This preliminary research indicates that marijuana and cannabinoids may someday play a role in the treatment of a range of cardiovascular diseases," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup said.
        Currently, between 10 and 20 percent of Americans suffer from hypertension.
        For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500.

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