News Release

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June 18, 1998

Canadian Government Health Agency Calls For Decriminalizing

        June 18, 1998, Toronto, Ontario:   The simple possession of marijuana should no longer be a criminal offense, concluded a recently released Canadian government report. 
        "The available evidence indicates that removal of jail as a sentencing option would lead to considerable cost savings without leading to increases in rates of cannabis use," determined researchers at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) National Working Group on Addictions Policy.   The CCSA report, "Cannabis Control in Canada: Options Regarding Possession," further advises the government to replace current federal law criminalizing the possession of marijuana with a "fine only" option.
        "The civil violation option offers the best opportunity to achieve the most appropriate balance between the need to reduce the harms associated with cannabis use and the need to restrain the cost and harms involved in attempts to control use," researchers concluded.  "It would remove cannabis possession from the criminal law, preclude imprisonment due to failure to pay fines, and eliminate the criminal record consequences of a conviction."
        The new policy would remain consistent with Canada's international treaty obligations to discourage marijuana possession, and mimic the laws of ten U.S. states that have decriminalized offenses involving the simple possession of marijuana.  The report noted that criminalizing marijuana seemed to have little effect on an individual's decision to use the drug.
        "The enforcement of current law against cannabis possession has a very limited deterrent effect," the authors stated.   "Cannabis use remains high despite a high level of law enforcement and there is no clear relationship between changes in enforcement and levels of illicit drug use over the past several decades."
        Finally, the study found that Canadians strongly supported decriminalizing marijuana.  "The vast majority of Canadians no longer favor jail sentences for simple possession of cannabis," researchers declared.
        Despite funding the CCSA policy paper, the Canadian government remains hesitant of any proposal to relax the country's marijuana laws.  "Moving too swiftly to liberalize the use of marijuana may result in an inability to control problematic use in the future," stated Health Department officials in a memo obtained by the Ottawa Citizen.
        "Virtually every federally commissioned report ever examining the issue of marijuana and the law recommends decriminalization," said Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation.  "It is time for governments to begin implementing the recommendations of the very commissions they appoint."
        The CCSA was created by Parliament in 1988 to promote debate on substance abuse issues and to support organizations involved in drug prevention and treatment.
        Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in Canada, with possession accounting for about half of the estimated 60,000 drug offenses recorded annually.  By comparison, American law enforcement arrested almost 550,000 individuals for possession of personal amounts of marijuana in 1996.
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.  The CCSA report is available from The NORML Foundation upon request or on-line at:

French Government Report Says Marijuana Poses Less Dangers
Than Alcohol

        June 18, 1998, Paris, France:   Smoking marijuana poses less of a threat to public health than the regular consumption of alcohol, determined a French government commissioned report Tuesday. 
        "The report again shows that the basis [for policies prohibiting marijuana] is totally wrong," spokesman for the Greens party announced in a prepared statement.  The party is calling for a federal review of the nation's drug policies.
        Marijuana has low toxicity, little addictive power, and poses only a minor threat to social behavior, researchers at the French medical institute INSERM concluded.  The report identified alcohol, heroin, and cocaine as the drugs most dangerous to health.  Tobacco, psychotropic drugs, tranquilizers, and hallucinogens were placed in a second, less harmful group.  Marijuana was classified in a third category of substances defined as posing relatively little danger.
        "This federally commissioned report concludes, just as the World Health Organization did earlier this year, that marijuana smoking does less harm to public health than drink and cigarettes," said Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation.
        Junior Health Minister Bernard Kouchner said that the report's findings would not encourage the federal government to consider decriminalizing the simple possession of marijuana.  He called the report "toxicologically correct but politically wrong." 
        Kouchner's office paid for the INSERM study.
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

Military Judge To Rule On Third Hemp Seed Oil Case In Seven Months

        June 18, 1998, New Orleans, LA:   A military administrative law judge will rule shortly on whether to acquit a Coast Guard engineer of charges that he smoked marijuana after hearing evidence that the consumption of legal hemp oil may cause and individual to test positive for the drug on a urine test.  The case marks the third time in seven months that a military serviceman has raised the "hemp oil defense" to challenge a positive drug test.
        Both prior rulings found in favor of the defendants.
        Christopher Dresser, 38, said that the regular consumption of a hemp seed oil nutritional supplement caused him to test positive for marijuana on a November drug test.  He denies that he smoked marijuana.
        "There is little doubt that the ingestion of some legal hemp oil products will cause one to test positive on a urine test shortly after consumption," explained NORML Publications Director Paul Armentano.  A series of studies conducted this past summer and reported in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology indicated that regular users of the oil may test positive for low levels of THC.  Those studies, along with two recent acquittals of military officers, prompted some within the drug testing industry to call on Congress to amend federal law to prohibit the possession and sale of hemp products.
        Tulane University Law Professor Julian Murray, a former federal prosecutor who testified during the hearing, said that a government ban on the oil would eliminate the confusion on drug tests.
        NORML board member Don Wirtshafter, Esq. of The Ohio Hempery, who has followed this issue closely, criticized any forced regulation on the American hemp industry based upon concern from drug testing companies.  "This is not a health issue," he said.  "To me the onus is on the drug testing industry and the employers.  They are the ones putting out a faulty product that is not able to differentiate between the legal consumption of hemp products and the illegal consumption of drugs."
        Hemp health products, such as hemp seed oil, are sold commercially in nutrition stores across the nation and consumed for their high concentrations of amino and fatty acids.
        For more information, please contact either Paul Armentano or Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.  Don Wirtshafter may be contacted @ (740) 662-4367.