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March 3, 2002

Welfare Ban For Drug Offenders Denied Financial Aid To 92,000 Women Since 1996, Study Says

NORML Calls Feds' Little Known Provision "Mean and Excessive"

Washington, DC: An estimated 92,000 women and 135,000 children have been adversely impacted by a 1996 amendment barring felony drug offenders from receiving assistance-based federal entitlements, according to a report by Washington DC's Sentencing Project think-tank.

"Since the inception of the 'War on Drugs,' children have been some of the most affected innocent casualties of misguided drug policies," concludes the report, entitled Life Sentence: Denying Welfare Benefits To Women Convicted of Drug Offenses. "The welfare ban is yet another example of such misguided policies."

Felony drug offenders, including most anyone convicted of growing or selling even small amounts of marijuana, are ineligible to receive cash assistance and food stamps for life under Section 115 of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), who sponsored the lifetime ban provision, defends his measure, arguing "If we are serious about our drug laws, we ought not to give people welfare benefits who are violating [them.]" No other criminal offenses, including murder or rape, preclude individuals from receiving financial assistance.

According to the Sentencing Project report, 42 states enforce the ban in full or in part. Of those, California imposed the ban on the greatest number of women - some 38,000 - between 1996 and 1999. Among states that fully enforce the lifetime ban, California, Georgia and Missouri imposed it on the greatest number of female drug offenders.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation lifting the ban.

"This little known provision is mean-spirited and excessive," said Keith Stroup, Executive Director of NORML. "It singles out and disproportionately penalizes marijuana smokers and other drug offenders long after they have already been punished by the criminal justice system."

In 1998, Congress passed a similar amendment to the Higher Education Act barring federal aid to any applicant who has ever been convicted of a drug crime, including minor pot offenses. No other criminal conviction triggers such a ban. To date, more than 48,000 student applicants have been partially or fully denied aid under the law.

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML, at (202) 483-5500. A copy of the report is available online at:

Campus Drug Busts Top 11,000, U.S. Education Department Says

Convicted Offenders Will Be Barred From Receiving Federal Student Aid

Washington, DC: Police made more than 11,000 drug arrests on college campuses in 2000, an increase of more than 10 percent from the previous year, according to newly released data from U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Drug violations far exceeded the total number of arrests for violent crimes - including aggravated assault, robbery and forcible sex offenses. Under a 1998 provision to the Higher Education Act (HEA), virtually all drug offenders will be ineligible to receive any future federal student aid. Other student criminal offenders face no such penalty.

The five college campuses that recorded the highest number of drug arrests were Pennsylvania State University at University Park, Michigan State University, Indiana University at Bloomington, University of California at Berkeley and the University of Iowa. The majority of these arrests were for marijuana, The Chronicle reported.

The arrest figures are based on data from 6,269 nonprofit and for-profit educational institutions. It is only the second year the federal government has compiled statistics on campus crime, as required under provisions of the 1998 Higher Education Act.

Federal legislation to amend the HEA provision barring aid to drug offenders is currently pending before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness. The bill, H.R. 786 sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), has 57 co-sponsors.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation, at (202) 483-8751. To learn more about legislation to amend the Higher Education Act of 1998, please visit NORML's website at:

Scotland's Drug Czar Backs Pot Decrim, Declares End To "War on Drugs"

Glasgow, Scotland: Scotland's drug minister Dr. Richard Simpson said he backs a move by England's Home Office to reclassify marijuana so that it is no longer an arrestable offense, in an interview with The Scotland Sunday Herald earlier this week.

"We need to concentrate on the most dangerous drugs, ... such as heroin and cocaine," he said. "The reason for changing the classification of cannabis ... is to send a clear message about priorities. It says to young people that we recognize all drugs aren't the same."

British Home Office Secretary David Blunkett announced last October that marijuana would be reclassified as a "Class C" or "soft" drug sometime later this year. Although possession of "Class C" drugs technically carries a two-year maximum prison term, only offenses punishable by at least five years imprisonment are arrestable in England.

Simpson further pledged to upgrade Scotland's drug treatment and harm reduction services, and made it clear that he no longer supports U.S.-styled criminal approaches to drug enforcement. "The only time you will hear me use terms such as 'War on Drugs' and 'Just Say No' is to denigrate them," he said.

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation at (202) 483-8751.

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March 5, 2002 - Special Release

Science Challenges JAMA Report Linking Pot To Cognitive Decline

Cognition Unaffected by Long-Term Marijuana Use, Previous Studies Show

Washington, DC: Numerous studies published between 1999 and 2001 challenge a report published today in JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) that marijuana smoking negatively impacts cognitive function.

"The only significant long-term impact marijuana has upon cognitive function is upon those who continue to irrationally demonize and criminalize this plant," said Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation.

The JAMA study measured the cognitive skills of long-term marijuana users seeking treatment for perceived cannabis dependence, many of whom voiced previous concerns about perceived cognitive impairments. Controls (short-term and non-users of marijuana) were selected from the general population. Researchers found that long-term users who had abstained from marijuana for an average of 17-hours performed significantly worse than controls on tests of memory and attention.

However, previous studies of long-term marijuana smokers not in treatment have reached the opposite conclusion.

In October, researchers at Harvard University reported that regular marijuana smokers who abstain from pot for one week or more performed no differently on cognitive tests than non-smokers. According to findings published in The Archives of General Psychiatry, chronic daily smokers "showed virtually no significant differences from control subjects (those who had smoked marijuana less than 50 times in their lives) on a battery of 10 neuropsychological tests." The researchers concluded that their findings "do not support the hypothesis that long-term heavy cannabis use causes irreversible cognitive deficits."

A recent meta-analysis of neuropsychological studies of long-term marijuana smokers presented this summer at the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) Workshop on the Clinical Consequences of Marijuana also found no deficits in 7 of 8 neuropsychological ability areas. "The studies ... yielded no basis for concluding that long-term cannabis use is associated with generalized neurocognitive decline," the researchers concluded.

Additionally, a 1999 study of 1,300 volunteers published in The American Journal of Epidemiology found that marijuana smoking, even long-term, failed to significantly impact cognition. Researchers administered subjects Mini-Mental State Examinations (MMSE) in 1981 and 1982, and then measured their performance on follow up tests some 12 to 15 years later. In all, researchers found "no significant differences in cognitive decline between heavy users, light users, and nonusers of cannabis."

Large government-sponsored studies conducted during the 1970s in Jamaica, Greece and Costa Rica on marijuana smoking and cognition also reported no significant differences between long-term smokers and non-smokers.

NORML Foundation Chair and City University of New York (CUNY) medical professor John P. Morgan M.D. said, "Based on this evidence, it does not appear that long-term marijuana use causes any significant permanent harm to intellectual ability."

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation at (202) 483-8751.

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