News Release

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December 31, 1998

New Zealand Health Committee Advocates Relaxing Marijuana Laws,
Finds Moderate Use Harmless

        December 31, Wellington, New Zealand:  A Parliamentary health committee recommends that government officials review the appropriateness of existing marijuana policies after it determined that moderate use of the drug posed few health hazards.
        "Based on the evidence we have heard in the course of this inquiry, the negative mental health impacts of cannabis appears to have been overstated, particularly in relation to occasional adult users of the drug," a committee spokesman said.  "The weight of available evidence suggests that long-term heavy use of cannabis does not produce severe or gross impairment of cognitive function.  ... Moderate use of the drug does not seem to harm the majority of people [who try it.]"
        The ten-member health select committee examined evidence regarding marijuana's potential health effects for eight months before issuing its conclusions.  In July, officials from the New Zealand Health Ministry testified before the committee that moderate marijuana use posed less of a public health risk than alcohol or tobacco.
        Committee chairman Brian Neeson said he hoped parliament would reconsider the legal status of marijuana when it convenes in February.   He voiced concern that the drug's illegality may dissuade some people from seeking treatment for marijuana-related problems.
        Chris Fowlie, a spokesman for NORML New Zealand praised the committee's findings.  "The Inquiry heard that many of the harms often associated with cannabis are actually created by its prohibition, while the actual harms presented by cannabis have been exaggerated," he said.  "NORML [New Zealand] welcomes [these] recommendations to review the [federal] law and demands an immediate moratorium on arresting cannabis users."
        The New Zealand government has three months to respond in writing to the health committee's recommendations.  The inquiry is the first since 1973 to review federal marijuana policy.
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.   Additional information is also available online from NORML New Zealand at: or from the New Zealand Drug Forum at:

Marijuana May Offer Protection Against Tumors, Research Shows

        December 31, 1998, Madrid, Spain:   Cell studies performed by researchers at Madrid's Universidad Complutense demonstrate that THC, one of the active compounds in marijuana, can induce cell death in certain brain tumor cells without effecting the surrounding healthy cells.
        Dr. Franjo Grotenhermen of the German-based Association for Cannabis as Medicine (ACM) proposed that marijuana's constituents may one day play a role in cancer treatment.  "It is desirable to have a substance that induces programmed cell death in tumor cells but not in health cells for the treatment of cancer," he wrote in the December 13 issue of the ACM-Bulletin.   "It has been demonstrated by the Spanish scientists ... that THC could be such a substance."
        The Spanish research team said that their findings "might provide the basis for a new therapeutic application of cannabinoids."
        At least one previous American animal study documents that THC may potentially protect against malignancies.  The study, which went unpublicized by federal officials for more than 2 1/2 years, found that rats given high doses of THC suffered from fewer cancers than those not treated with the agent.   The $2 million federal study became known only after copies of the draft report were leaked to the publication AIDS Treatment News in January of 1997.  The Boston Globe broke the story nationwide days later.
        Details of the Spanish cell research are available in the latest editions of the scientific journals FEBS Letters and Molecular Pharmacology.
        For more information, please contact The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.  For additional information, please contact the ACM online at: or by e-mail at:

Maine Will Decide Medical Marijuana Question In '99

        December 31, 1998, Augusta, ME:   Voters will likely decide this November whether to allow the medical use of marijuana under a doctor's supervision.
        Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky said proponents turned in sufficient signatures to place the measure on the 1999 state ballot.  The proposal seeks to allow seriously ill patients to possess and cultivate marijuana for medical purposes if they have a recommendation from their physician.
        Maine law mandates that all ballot questions must first go before the Legislature.  Unless lawmakers approve the initiative exactly as proposed, voters have the opportunity to accept or reject it in November.
        The proposal asks, "Do you want to allow patients with specific illnesses to grow and use small amounts of marijuana for treatment, as long as such use is approved by a doctor?"
        Maine's medical marijuana is modeled after an unsuccessful 1997 Senate bill that sought to exempt patients from criminal penalties if their use of marijuana was approved by a physician.
        For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup, Esq. or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.  Additional information is also available from Americans for Medical Rights @ (310) 394-2952.

New California A.G. Says Legalizing Medical Marijuana Will Be A Priority

        December 31, 1998, Sacramento, CA:   Properly implementing California's two-year old medical marijuana law is one of the top ten priorities for Attorney General-elect Bill Lockyer, The San Francisco Examiner reported this week.
        Lockyer said he supports the law and criticized outgoing Attorney General Dan Lungren for opposing its adoption.  "I think [Lungren] was overly zealous in continuing to oppose [Prop. 215] even after the [voters approved it,]" he said.  "I joke that there are days when I thought Dan had a copy of 'Reefer Madness' at home."
        Lockyer appointed a task force to examine ways to better implement Proposition 215, and said he backs a regulated system for distributing the drug.
        California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer called Lockyer's victory critical toward helping officials better define the state's medical marijuana policies.  Americans for Medical Rights spokesman Dave Fratello agreed.  "The change from Lungren is potentially very significant," he said.  "Lockyer has said he understands the conflict we have with federal law and would like to see this initiative work."
        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.