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June 15, 1999

NORML Tells Congress: Legalize Marijuana!
Says There Is Nothing Wrong With Responsible Marijuana Use By Adults


The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has been a voice for Americans who oppose marijuana prohibition for nearly 30 years.  A nonprofit, public-interest lobby, NORML represents the interests of the millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens who smoke marijuana responsibly.  We are a consumer lobby.

NORML was initially invited to testify at this week's "Drug Legalization" hearing scheduled for Wednesday, June 16, before the House Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, but were later removed from the list of participants.  We are concerned that the subcommittee is attempting to avoid a full discussion of the alternatives to current marijuana policy by omitting from the panel any organization that supports legalization, and we believe the hearings would have been more useful had they included at least one advocate for this important policy alternative.  This is a summary of the statement NORML would have presented to the subcommittee, had we been permitted to testify.

Marijuana Policy

Current marijuana policy is a dismal and costly failure.  The debate over marijuana policy in this country needs to be expanded beyond the current parameters to include an analysis of (1) decriminalizing the marijuana smoker and (2) legalizing and regulating the sale of marijuana to eliminate the black market.

According to the government's latest surveys, more than 70 million Americans have smoked marijuana at some point in their lives; 18-20 million smoked during the last year; and 10-12 million smoked during the last month.  Marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug of choice for Americans, exceeded only by alcohol and tobacco in popularity.

Like most Americans, the vast majority of these millions of marijuana smokers are good citizens who work hard, raise families and contribute to their communities.  Other than their marijuana smoking, they are indistinguishable from their non smoking peers.  They are not part of the crime problem and should not be treated like criminals.

In 1997, the most recent year for which FBI arrest statistics are available, police arrested 695,000 Americans on marijuana charges; 87% of those arrests were for simple possession, not sale.  This is the most marijuana arrests ever recorded in this country, with one American being arrested on marijuana charges every 39 seconds.

Arresting and jailing otherwise law-abiding citizens who smoke marijuana is a wasteful and incredibly destructive policy.  It wastes valuable law enforcement resources that should be focused on violent and serious crime; it invites government into areas of our private lives that are inappropriate; and it frequently destroys the lives, careers and families of genuinely good citizens. It is time to end marijuana prohibition.

Led by the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse in 1972, a number of prestigious governmental commissions have examined this issue over the last 30 years, and virtually all have reached the same conclusion: the dangers of marijuana smoking are greatly overblown and the private use of marijuana by adults should not be a criminal matter.[1]  What former President Jimmy Carter said in a speech to Congress in 1977, citing a key finding of the Marijuana Commission, is equally true today: "Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.  Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use."[2]

NORML supports the removal of all penalties for the private possession and responsible use of marijuana by adults, cultivation for personal use, and the casual nonprofit transfers of small amounts.  NORML also supports the development of a legally controlled market for marijuana.  The current problems of crime and violence associated with an uncontrolled and unregulated black market could be eliminated, as was the case when alcohol prohibition was ended in 1929, by providing consumers with an alternative legal market.

Led by Oregon in 1973, 11 states adopted policies that removed criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession and substituted a small civil fine enforced with a citation.[3]  Today, approximately 30% of the population of this country live under some type of marijuana decriminalization law, and their experience has been favorable.  The only U.S. federal study ever to compare marijuana use patterns among decriminalized states and those that have not found, "Decriminalization has had virtually no effect on either marijuana use or on related attitudes about marijuana use among young people."[4]  Dozens of privately commissioned follow up studies from the U.S. and abroad confirm this fact.[5]  As a result, no state legislature has moved to recriminalize marijuana, and in 1998 Oregonians voted 2 to 1 to reject a proposal that would have reimposed criminal penalties for marijuana smokers.

As with alcohol consumption, marijuana smoking should be limited to adults.  Driving or operating heavy equipment after smoking marijuana should be prohibited.  The NORML Board of Directors has adopted the attached "Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use", also available on our web site (, to define acceptable conduct.

It is time we adopted a marijuana policy that recognizes a distinction between use and abuse, and which reflects what millions of Americans know to be true: there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana by adults and it should be of no interest or concern to the government.

In the final analysis, this debate is only incidentally about marijuana; it is really about personal freedom.

(For more information, contact R. Keith Stroup, Esq., Executive Director of NORML at 202-483-5500; 1001 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 710, Washington, DC 20036.)


1 New Zealand Parliamentary Health Select Committee, "Inquiry into the Mental Health Effects of Cannabis," Parliament House, Wellington, New Zealand, 1998; Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse National Working Group on Addictions, "Cannabis Control in Canada: Options Regarding Possession," Toronto, 1998; Connecticut Law Review Commission, "Drug Policy in Connecticut and Strategy Options: Report to the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly," Hartford, CT, 1997; Drug & Alcohol Services Council (South Australia), Monitoring, Evaluation & Research Unit, "The Effects of Cannabis Legislation in South Australia on Levels of Cannabis Use," Parkside, South Australia, 1991; California Research Advisory Panel, "Twentieth Annual Report of the Research Advisory Panel," Sacramento, CA, 1989; Committee on Substance Abuse and Habitual Behavior, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences on Education, National Research Council, "An Analysis of Marijuana Policy," National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1982, California Legislature Senate Select Committee on Control of Marijuana, "Final Report: Marijuana: Beyond Misunderstanding," Sacramento, CA, 1974; First Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, "Marijuana: Signal of Misunderstanding (The Shafer Report)," U.S. Govt. Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 1972; Le Dain Commission, "Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs," Queens Printer, Ottawa, Canada, 1972; Advisory Committe on Drug Dependence, "Cannabis: Report by the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence (The Wooten Report)," Her Majesty's Stationary Office, London, 1968.

2 Message to Congress, August 2, 1977.

3 Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon.

4 Johnson, L.D., O'Mally, P.M., and Bachman, J.G. "Marijuana Decriminalization: The Impact on Youth 1975-1980," Monitoring the Future, Occasional Paper Series, paper 13, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 1981.

5 National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base," National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1999; Australian Institute of Criminology and the University of New South Wales Department of Politics, "Marijuana in Australia, patterns and attitudes," Monograph Series No. 31, Looking Glass Press (Public affairs), Canberra, 1997; Connecticut Law Review Commission, "Drug Policy in Connecticut and Strategy Options: Report to the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly;" 1997; Donnelly, N., Hall, W. and Christie, P. "The effects of partial decriminalization on cannabis use in South Australia, 1985 to 1993," Australian Journal of Public Health 19 (1995); National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, "Patterns of cannabis use in Australia," Monograph Series No. 27, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1994; Theis, C. and Register, C. "Decriminalization of Marijuana and the Demand for Alcohol, Marijuana and Cocaine," The Social Sciences Journal 30 (1993); Drug & Alcohol Services Council (South Australia), Monitoring, Evaluation & Research Unit, "The Effects of Cannabis Legislation in South Australia on Levels of Cannabis Use," 1991; Single, Eric "The Impact of Marijuana Decriminalization: an Update," Journal of Public Health Policy 10 (1989); Johnson, L.D., O'Mally, P.M., and Bachman, J.G. "Marijuana Decriminalization: The Impact on Youth 1975-1980