News Release
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August 30, 2001

Eliminating Pot Penalties Doesn't Violate International Treaties, Study Says

London, United Kingdom: Governments may abolish criminal penalties for pot possession and other drug crimes without breaching international treaty obligations, according to a legal study published this week by a London think-tank.

"For many years a major impediment to drug reform has been the belief that UN [United Nations] conventions restrict any change," said Roger Howard, chief executive of DrugScope, which published the study. "This study dispels the myth that [governments] are tied rigidly by the UN conventions, and shows we have considerable flexibility within them to radically modernize our drug laws."

The study, entitled "European Drug Laws: the Room for Maneuver," examines varying drug policies of six European Union (EU) nations: France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain and Sweden. Authors found that although each conforms to UN drug conventions, several governments have successfully eliminated jail sentences for drug possession and small-scale supply. They concluded that there exist no provisions in the conventions requiring nations to use criminal laws exclusively to control personal drug possession.

Instead, the study's authors recommended that governments would be better off sanctioning drug users with civil fines rather than criminal arrest and imprisonment. Such policies have already been implemented in Italy, Portugal and Spain.

"Eleven U.S. states and numerous municipalities have already decriminalized small amounts of marijuana," explained NORML Foundation Legal Director Donna Shea. "National decriminalization of marijuana would not be a violation of the UN conventions."

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Donna Shea of The NORML Foundation at (202) 483-8751. Copies of the study are available at:

USA Today/Gallup Poll: Record Percentage of Americans Back Marijuana Legalization

Washington, DC: More than one in three Americans say that the use of marijuana should be legal, according to the results of last week's annual USA Today/Gallup poll. The 34 percent support, up from just 25 percent in 1995, is the highest level ever recorded by Gallup.

"The American public are fed up with the 'war on drugs' and are looking for alternative policies," said NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup. "Increasingly, they are supporting marijuana legalization as a way to reduce costs, reduce harm and protect our children."

America's rapidly rising public support for marijuana legalization mimics dramatic upticks recently recorded in England and Canada. According to a July poll commissioned by the Independent on Sunday newspaper, approximately half of all Britons support legalizing marijuana - up from 26 percent in 1996. In Canada, 47 percent of adults now back marijuana legalization, double the percentage recorded in 1990. Governments in both of those nations recently established commissions to conduct scientific inquiries into the decriminalization of marijuana.

The USA Today/Gallup poll found support for legalization to be strongest among 18- to 49-year-olds, people in the West and independent voters. Opposition was greatest among the elderly, regular churchgoers and Republicans.

More than 1,000 adults participated in the poll.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation, at (202) 483-8751.

Pot Violators Comprise Largest Percentage of Federal Drug Offenders, Department of Justice Study Shows

Washington, DC: Marijuana offenders are referred for federal prosecution in greater numbers than any other drug offenders, according to a study released Sunday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Authors reported that of the 38,288 suspects referred to U.S. attorneys in 1999 by federal law enforcement agencies, nearly one-third were involved with marijuana. Twenty-eight percent were suspected of powder cocaine violations, 15 percent for crack, 15 percent for methamphetamine, and seven percent for opiates. About 84 percent of all suspects referred were eventually charged in federal court.

"Despite the government's denials, these statistics show that that America's 'war on drugs' is primarily a war on marijuana smokers," said NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup.

The study also found that the total number of drug defendants nearly tripled from 1984 to 1999. Drug prosecutions now comprise 32 percent of the total federal criminal caseload, authors reported.

For more information, please contact Donna Shea, Legal Director of The NORML Foundation, at (202) 483-8751. Copies of the DOJ study are available online at:

NORML Schedules Annual Key West Legal Seminar

Washington, DC: NORML is now accepting registrations from criminal defense attorneys for its annual Key West Legal Seminar. This year's event will be held from Thursday, November 29 through Saturday, December 1 at the Pier House Resort and Caribbean Spa in Key West.

NORML's annual legal seminar - now in its 16th year - is fully accredited in every state that requires continuing legal education (CLE) for attorneys.

For more details, or to register online, please visit our website at: or contact Kris Krane of NORML at (202) 483-5500.

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