News Release
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August 23, 2001

Jamaica Commission Recommends Decriminalizing Marijuana

Kingstown, Jamaica: Following months of public and private hearings across the island, the official government appointed National Commission on Ganja has recommended that Jamaica decriminalize the private use of ganja (marijuana) by adults and the sacramental use for religious purposes. "Marijuana's reputation among the people as a panacea and a spiritually enhancing substance is so strong that it must be regarded as culturally entrenched," said the commission's report.

Prime Minister P.J. Patterson established the governmental commission nine months ago, appointing the dean of social sciences at Kingston's University of the West Indies, Professor Barry Chevannes, to head the seven-member commission.

Between 20 and 40 percent of the country's 2.6 million people are believed to smoke marijuana, many openly. Indian indentured servants are thought to have brought marijuana to Jamaica in the 19th century. Its use as a medicinal herb spread rapidly among plantation workers, with some using ganja tea to alleviate aches, and others using rum-soaked marijuana as remedy for coughs and fevers. But it was not until the 1960s and 1970s, with the emergence of Bob Marley and other reggae bands, that marijuana began to gain acceptance outside poor neighborhoods.

Not all observers were satisfied with the commission's recommendations.  "Ganja offenses have clogged up the court system for years and diverted the police from the real problems, which are crack and cocaine," said Paul Burke, a high-ranking member of the ruling People's National Party. "It (the commission's report) is a welcome step," Burke added," but it is far short for a country where thousands of people use ganja. It's part of the culture."

Any change in existing law would have to be approved by Parliament.  An aide to the Prime Minister said that while few elected officials have yet to comment on the report, "My gut feeling is that the commission's recommendation will be followed."

To no one's surprise, a U.S. Embassy spokesman issued a statement saying "The U.S. opposes the decriminalization of marijuana."

For more information, please contact Jamaica NORML Director Paul Chang, or NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre at 202-483-8751.

DEA Head Says Feds to Enforce Laws Against Medical Users

Washington, DC: Newly installed DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson, a three-term Congressman from Arkansas and a former federal prosecutor, speaking to reporters on his first day on the job, said the federal government would "send the right signal" by striving to enforce the federal ban on the medical use of marijuana. "Currently, it's a violation of federal law," Hutchinson told reporters. "You're not going to tolerate a violation of the law. The question is how you address that from an enforcement standpoint."

Ignoring the findings of the Institute of Medicine's March 1999 report entitled Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, Hutchinson said the scientific and medical communities had thus far found no legitimate use for marijuana.

For more information, please contact the NORML Foundation's Allen St. Pierre at 202-483-8751.

Woody Harrelson Surprise Speaker at Seattle Hempfest; 150,000 Protest Marijuana Prohibition

Seattle, WA: The Seattle Hempfest, the world's largest marijuana legalization rally, was a smashing success again this year, with actor and hemp activist Woody Harrelson a surprise featured speaker. A total crowd estimated at 150,000 attended the 2-day event, held on Saturday, August 18 and Sunday, August 19, 2001.

Harrelson, who took the main stage to speak at 4:20 pm on Sunday to chants from the crowd of "Woody, Woody," began by acknowledging the cultural significance of the time. "It's now officially 4:20," he said. "If you folks need to do something now, just go ahead." He added, "I recently decided to stop smoking." When the groans from the crowd subsided, he finished by adding, "but I thought more about it and decided I didn't want to be a quitter!"

Harrelson, who has long advocated the use of industrial hemp, more recently has broadened his goals to include an end to marijuana prohibition altogether.

For more information and details regarding the 2001 Seattle Hempfest, including a collection of photos, visit their web site at

NORML Benefit Party Scheduled for Tiburon, CA

Tiburon, CA: The third annual NORML Tiburon benefit party will be held on Saturday evening, October 13, at 6:30 PM at a private home atop Ring Mountain in Tiburon, CA. This event is co-chaired by Richard Louis Miller, Ph.D., our host for the evening, and Marsha Rosenbaum, Ph.D., the west coast director of the Lindesmith Center - Drug Policy Foundation.

The official host committee for this event includes San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan; spiritualist Ram Dass; recently released marijuana prisoner (originally sentenced to 93 years) Will Foster; marijuana prisoner Todd McCormick (in absentia); state Senator John Vasconcellos; and criminal defense attorneys Michael Stepanian and Tony Serra, among many luminaries.

"We look forward to this event each year," said NORML's Keith Stroup. "Please join us for an evening of good fun, good food, and good fellowship, and learn about NORML's plans for the year ahead in California and beyond."

Attendees are asked to make a minimum $100 contribution. There will also be a silent art auction. Proceeds will be used to continue and expand NORML's program in California.

Individuals can register for the benefit party online at For additional information, please contact Kris Krane of NORML at 202-483-5500.

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