News Release

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August 20, 1998

Relative Safety Of Moderate Marijuana Smoking Not Challenged
By New Study

        August 20, 1998, Los Angeles:   Long-term marijuana smokers may develop pre-cancerous changes in bronchial cells at similar rates to tobacco smokers, suggests a UCLA study reported in this week's Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
        NORML board member Dr. John Morgan of the City University of New York (CUNY) Medical School said that the data must not overshadow decades of research illustrating the relative safety of moderate marijuana smoking.   "There are no epidemiological or aggregate clinical data showing higher rates of lung cancer in people who smoke marijuana," he said.  Morgan noted that a decade long study completed by Kaiser Permanente last year found no increase in deaths among 14,000+ marijuana smokers when compared to nonsmokers.
        "Like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke contains a number of irritants and carcinogens," Morgan said.  "However, most marijuana-only smokers in the United States probably do not ingest enough smoke to cause serious lung damage."  Marijuana smokers in the UCLA study admitted smoking 10 joints or more per week for the past five years.  Most recreational marijuana users smoke far less than that, Morgan speculated.
        Morgan added that THC, one of the chief active ingredients in marijuana, does not appear to be carcinogenic and may offer protection against the development of some malignancies.  He pointed to the results of a $2 million federal study demonstrating that rats fed huge doses of THC over long periods failed to develop cancer and had fewer tumors than rats not given the compound.
        The UCLA study found that 54 percent of tobacco smokers and 67 percent of marijuana smokers showed evidence of potentially cancerous molecular alternations in their lung tissues.  Only 11 percent of nonsmokers showed any pre-cancerous changes.
        Habitual smokers of tobacco and marijuana had a 100 percent incidence of basal cell hyperplasia, a genetic marker associated with increased risk of lung cancer.  One hundred and four people participated in the study.
        NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said the study's findings do not justify arresting and jailing marijuana smokers.   "Any risk presented by marijuana smoking falls well within the ambit of choice we permit the individual in a free society," he said.  "We do not suggest that marijuana is totally harmless or that it cannot be abused.  That is true for all drugs, including those which are legal.  Clearly, however, marijuana's relative risk to the user and society in no way warrants arresting more than 642,000 marijuana smokers each year."
        Stroup added that the research strengthened the need to reform federal and state laws that forbid the use of paraphernalia that limits the amount of noxious smoke inhaled by marijuana consumers.  "Any potential health risk from marijuana smoking comes from the consumption of carcinogenic smoke, not the active compounds in marijuana.  It is counter-productive for the government to forbid the use of products like vaporizers that can greatly reduce this particular risk to the lungs."
        For more information, please contact either Dr. John Morgan of CUNY Medical School @ (212) 650-8255 or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.  Copies of the 1997 Kaiser Permanente marijuana and mortality study are available upon request from The NORML Foundation.

Best Selling Author Jailed On Medical Marijuana Charges Expected To Post Bail Tonight

        August 20, 1998, Los Angeles, CA:   Best selling author and medical marijuana user Peter McWilliams will likely post $250,000 bail tonight after serving nearly one month in jail on allegations that he conspired to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes.
        McWilliams, who was diagnosed with AIDS and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in March 1996, uses marijuana to combat the nausea caused by his life-saving medical treatments.  Police arrested McWilliams and eight others on July 23 and charged him with conspiracy to cultivate marijuana.  He entered a formal plea of not guilty to the charges.
        "I am a vocal and occasionally effective proponent of medical marijuana and that is why I am in jail," said McWilliams, who was featured in May on the ABC News special "Sex, Drugs, and Consenting Adults."   "I use marijuana to treat the nausea caused by my AIDS medications.  If I do not keep the medications down, I will not live.  Medical marijuana, for me, is a matter of life and death."
        NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. criticized the federal campaign against McWilliams and called his bail excessive.   "This case is an example of the worst abuses of the drug war," he said.   "It is unconscionable to treat sick and dying medical marijuana patients like criminals."
        The arrest of McWilliams proves the federal government is "fanatically determined to wage its 'war on drugs' -- even if it means putting sick and dying people in jail," Libertarian Party National Director Ron Crickenberger said.  "Peter McWilliams is the latest victim of the federal government's campaign to arrest and discredit advocates of medical marijuana."
        McWilliams is a #1 best-selling author whose 30+ books include "How to Survive the Loss of a Love" and "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do," a stinging criticism of victimless crimes.  He is also owner of Prelude Press, a West Hollywood publishing house.
        For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or attorney Tanya Kangas of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.  Additional updates are available online from

West Australia Decriminalizes Marijuana On "Trial" Basis

        August 20, 1998, West Australia, Australia:  Government officials announced last week that first time marijuana users will no longer face criminal charges for possessing less than 50 grams of the drug.  West Australia is the fifth state to enact marijuana decriminalization in recent years.
        Police Commissioner Bob Falconer said that the new policy will take effect October 1 on a trial basis in the Mirrabooka and Bunbury police districts.  If the trial proves successful, leaders will extend the measure statewide.
        "Western Australia's experimental marijuana policy is similar to the laws of ten U.S. states where marijuana users face a civil 'violation' rather than criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of the drug," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said.  "It is encouraging to see other regions around the globe adopt these reforms.  It is our hope that West Australian political leaders will adopt this policy statewide and not just in select regions."
        Under the new system, individuals will receive a warning for possessing marijuana as long as they attend a lecture on the potential misuse of the drug.  "It's not synonymous with being tough on drugs to crunch people for small quantities of cannabis when it's essentially about an education issue," Falconer said.  He and other law enforcement officials lobbied the government for the policy change arguing that valuable police and judicial resources were being wasted prosecuting marijuana smokers.
        Other Australian states to recently adopt a marijuana "caution" system are the Australian Capitol Territory (ACT), the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Victoria.  This spring, the Drug and Alcohol Council of South Australia concluded a two year national study finding that the decriminalization of marijuana does not lead to increased use.
        For more information, please contact Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.