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January 8, 1998

"Smoke A Joint, Lose A Limb?"
Pending Mississippi Bill Threatens Dismemberment For Convicted Drug Violators

        January 8, 1998, Jackson, MS:   Persons found guilty of possessing marijuana in Mississippi could face the removal of a limb if proposed legislation becomes law.  House Bill 196, introduced by Rep. Bobby Moak (R-Lincoln County), authorizes "The removal of a body part in lieu of other sentences imposed by the court for violations of the Controlled Substances Law."
        NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup called the measure "political posturing at its most extreme.
        "This is a truly barbaric proposal that shocks the conscience," he added.
        Moak told reporters that he introduced the legislation because he felt the state wasn't doing enough to combat drug use.  Moak admits, however, that the measure has slim chances of passing.
        Provisions in the bill mandate that the convicted person and the court "must agree on which body part shall be removed."
        For more information, please contact either R. Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

CASA Prison Study Reaffirms That Marijuana Plays No Role In Violent Crime

        January 8, 1998, New York, NY:   Findings of a study conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) conclude that marijuana alone plays no statistically significant role in influencing one to commit a violent crime.  The three year study, entitled "Behind Bars" -- purports to be "the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of the relationship of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction to the character and size of America's prison population."
        Of the findings reported by CASA, less than one percent of both state and jail inmates were under the influence of marijuana alone when they committed a violent crime.  More than one-quarter of jail inmates and 21 percent of state inmates were under the influence of alcohol alone when they committed a violent crime.  The percentage of inmates who committed violent crimes solely under the influence of hard drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin stood between four and one percent.
        "These findings show that alcohol is the chief intoxicant in America that influences its users to commit violent crimes," announced Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation.   "Not surprisingly, marijuana plays virtually no role in encouraging violence among its users."
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

ACLU Argues For Change In Ballot Title For Upcoming Marijuana Measure

        January 8, 1998, Salem, OR:   Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday that the title of an upcoming marijuana ballot measure is intentionally vague and confusing to voters.  Attorneys urged the court to clarify the title by using more specific language.
        The ballot measure in question allows voters to reject or accept a 1997 law passed by the Legislature that increases the penalty for simple marijuana possession from a non-criminal "violation" to a class C misdemeanor crime.  Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) signed the measure into law on July 2, 1997, but marijuana activists froze the legislation from taking effect by filing a successful referendum with the Secretary of State.  Persons convicted under the pending law could face 30 days in jail, the loss of their driving privileges for six months, and have their property seized by law enforcement.
        At issue in Tuesday's oral arguments was whether the ballot title approved by the state attorney general's office was misleading to voters.  It reads: "Makes possession of limited amount of marijuana [a] Class C Misdemeanor."
        ACLU Attorney Katherine McDowell said that the title must inform voters that passage of the measure enhances current marijuana penalties.   "The average person reading this ballot title may not know whether this [bill] increases or decreases the penalty [for less than one ounce of marijuana,] she told the court.
        The Supreme Court did not indicate when it would issue a ruling.
        Voters will decide on the measure this November.
        For more information, please contact either Todd Olsen of Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement @ (503) 239-0575 or R. Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

House Speaker Calls For Increased "War On Drugs"

        January 8, 1998, Washington, D.C.:   House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) called on his fellow politicians to dramatically increase federal anti-drug efforts, at a January 5 speech to his constituents.
        "Just say, now, what does it take to seal off the border?" Gingrich asked.  "What does it take to go after drug dealers?  What does it take, frankly, to raise the cost for drug users?"
        The Speaker urged Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey to map a "World War II-style battle plan," to end drug use in America.
        Presently, state and federal agencies spend over $30 billion waging America's "War on Drugs."  NORML estimates that between $7.5 and $10 billion is spent on marijuana enforcement alone.
        "Marijuana enforcement remains the cornerstone of America's 'War on Drugs,'" NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup said.  "In other words, Gingrich's rhetoric is really a call to step up the assault on marijuana smokers."
        Currently, Gingrich is the sponsor of a federal bill (H.R. 41) that calls for the death penalty for individuals convicted of importing illicit drugs -- including marijuana -- into the United States.  Although Gingrich claims that the bill would ordain the execution of only large drug traffickers, its language states that it applies to all offenses involving "100 usual dosage amounts" of an illicit drug.  Relying on federal marijuana-weight estimates, NORML calculates that the death penalty could conceivably apply to anyone convicted of importing more than 50 grams of marijuana across U.S. borders.
        "Gingrich's rhetoric and actions are some of the most extreme attempts yet to demonize and excessively punish marijuana smokers," Stroup said.
        For more information, please contact either R. Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Former NORML Head Launches On-Line Magazine

        January 8, 1998, Fort Worth, TX:   A new on-line journal examining marijuana prohibition is now available on the Internet at http://www.marijuananews.com.   Former NORML National Director Richard Cowan is heading the project.
        Cowan calls his new site "a personal newsletter on the cannabis controversies."  The site will feature daily updates on marijuana news and will strongly support NORML and other effective reform organizations, he said.