News Release

1001 Connecticut Ave, NW - Ste 710 - Washington, DC 20036
Tel. 202.483.8751 - Fax 202.483.0057 - E-mail - Internet

August 6, 1998

Marijuana Poses Few Health Risks, New Zealand Health Ministry Says

        August 6, 1998, Wellington, New Zealand:  Smoking marijuana poses few serious health risks, Health Ministry officials told a Parliament select committee last week.  The ongoing hearings are in response to a report issued in April by a coalition of New Zealand scientists and health care professionals who support legalizing marijuana.
        "Overall, the current public health risks of cannabis use are small to moderate in size, and are less than the public health risk of tobacco or alcohol use," the Ministry said in a written statement.
        NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said the Health Ministry's position echoes those of other international health organizations.  "Both the World Health Organization and the French medical institute INSERM concluded earlier this year that marijuana smoking causes less harm to public health than alcohol and cigarettes," he said.
        The Ministry also said that most New Zealanders only use the drug occasionally, and downplayed health dangers even among long-term heavy users.  Dr. Nick Judson, deputy director of mental health, said that no more than two to three percent of the population were at serious risk from marijuana abuse.
        Dr. David Hadorn, director of the New Zealand Drug Policy Forum Trust, testified in favor of establishing a system to regulate marijuana consumption.  "By driving cannabis use underground, we surely make the situation far worse than would be the case under a controlled, regulated system of cannabis distribution," he said.  "Creating a flourishing black market for a widely used substance inevitably fosters criminal activity."
        Assistant Police Commissioner Ian Holyoake told the committee that he opposed marijuana legalization, but remained open to the possibility of decriminalization.  He admitted that criminalizing the drug had not reduced marijuana use.
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.  Dr. David Hadorn of the New Zealand Drug Policy Forum Trust may be contacted via e-mail at:

States Certify More Medical Marijuana Initiatives For Fall Ballot

        August 6, 1998, Washington, DC:   Voters in Washington state and Nevada will decide whether to legalize medical marijuana this fall, state officials affirmed last week.  Voters in five states and the District of Columbia anticipate voting on this issue in November.
        Washington's Initiative 692 and the Nevada proposal seek to exempt seriously ill patients from state criminal marijuana penalties if they use marijuana under the supervision of their physician.
        State officials in Alaska and Oregon previously certified similar initiatives for the November 3 ballot.
        "These tightly worded proposals recognize that patients who use marijuana at the advice of their physician should not be victims of the 'war on drugs,'" NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said.
        Nevada state guidelines mandate the initiative to win voter approval this November and again in November 2000 before it can become law.   Petitioners qualified for the ballot after a recount determined that more than 70 signatures disqualified by county officials were actually valid signatures.
        For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights @ (301) 394-2952.

California Marijuana Arrests Soar Despite 215's Passage

        August 6, 1998, Sacramento, CA:   California law enforcement arrested more citizens on marijuana charges in 1997 than in any year since 1985, newly released figures from the Bureau of Criminal Statistics revealed.  The rising number of arrests one full year after voters legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes alarmed many activists who question whether police are continuing to punish patients despite the new law.
        "The government has spent more money trying to persecute medical marijuana patients than trying to implement Prop. 215," charged California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer.  "Not only has Attorney General Dan Lungren ignored Prop. 215's mandate to establish a plan for 'safe and affordable distribution' of medical marijuana, he is wasting taxpayers' money prosecuting those who do."
        Law enforcement arrested 57,667 Californians on marijuana charges in 1997, the data showed.  Seizures of cultivated marijuana also rose to near-record levels in 1997, law enforcement statistics indicated.
        "These arrest figures fly in the face of prohibitionist claims that the passage of Proposition 215 'legalized' marijuana for recreational use," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said.   "Police continue to arrest marijuana smokers in California -- many of whom are valid medical patients -- at a record pace despite the protections allotted by the new law."
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751 or Dale Gieringer of California NORML @ (415) 563-5858.

Indian Tribe Approves Ordinance Supporting Hemp Cultivation

        August 6, 1998, Pine Ridge, S.D.:   Council members of the Oglala Sioux Indian Tribe approved legislation recognizing hemp as a "safe and profitable" crop.  The ordinance amends the Tribal Penal Code to legally distinguish between hemp and marijuana, and opens the door for legal cultivation of the low-THC strain of the plant.
        The passage of this ordinance "sets the stage for land-based economic development on the reservation and probably a legal challenge by the tribe in federal court," said ordinance spokesman Joe American Horse.
        At least one other Indian tribe, the Navajo Nation, has passed legislation supporting hemp cultivation on sovereign land.
        For more information, please contact either Paul Armentano or attorney Tanya Kangas of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.   Tom Cook of the Slim Butte Land-Use Association may be contacted @ (308) 432-2290.

Three Recent Polls Reveal Overwhelmingly Support For Marijuana Reform

        August 6, 1998, Washington, DC:   Three recent polls conducted by the BBC, Time Magazine, and the Internet news journal demonstrate overwhelming public support for marijuana reform.
        Ninety-six percent of respondents to a July 28 BBC telephone poll answered that marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes.   The two American polls examined the broader issue of reforming criminal penalties against marijuana and other illicit drugs.  Over 90 percent of respondents to the Time Magazine survey answered that the government should legalize marijuana and other "recreational" drugs for adults only.  More than 80 percent of respondents to the poll said that legalizing marijuana and other drugs would be their "next step ... in America's 'war on drugs.'"
        Allen St. Pierre, executive director of The NORML Foundation, said that the polls' outcomes were not surprising.  "These results demonstrate that a significant portion of the public strongly disapprove of arresting and jailing marijuana smokers, and approve of the medical use of marijuana under the supervision of a licensed physician," he said.
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.