News Release

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October 14, 1999

Jamaican Parliament Approves Commission To Look At Decriminalization

        Oct. 14, 1999, Kingston, Jamaica:  The Jamaican Senate has unanimously approved a resolution establishing a commission to explore the decriminalization of marijuana.
        Trevor Munroe, the Independent senator who sponsored the resolution, has also suggested that the commission look into legalizing medical marijuana and the clearing of criminal records for Jamaicans who were arrested with small quantities of marijuana intended for personal use.
        "What it (the resolution) is saying is that it is unfair and wrong to make a criminal, particularly of a young person with a spliff in personal usage in private premises, so that there are disadvantages in applying for a visa in getting a job," Munroe said.  "At the same time it is not illegal to consume alcohol and use tobacco, two substances which are in fact regarded as being even more dangerous than ganja."
        This is not the first commission set up by the Jamaican Parliament to look at marijuana decriminalization.  A similar commission concluded 22 years ago that there should be no penalty for private use, a $10 fine for public use and that marijuana should be legally prescribed by doctors.  Politicians refused to implement the recommendations in the 1970s for fear of offending its trade partners such as the United States.
        "Clearly, if it were not for the United States' economic and military dominance of this hemisphere, Jamaica would certainly have reformed its American-inspired marijuana laws decades ago -- then again, most other countries would likely do the same," said Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director.
        The ruling People's National Party also favors setting up a similar commission to investigate the uses of industrial hemp.
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director at (202) 483-8751.

Survey Shows Marijuana Use Has Not Risen In States With Medical Marijuana

        Oct. 14, 1999, Washington, DC:  In 1996, medical marijuana initiatives passed in California and Arizona.  Prohibitionists were quick to claim that by allowing marijuana use for medicinal purposes recreational marijuana use would rise, especially among young people.
        "Teens stop using drugs when they become aware of the risks involved.  Sending them the wrong message that marijuana is medicine will cause drug use to skyrocket," said Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey before 1996's California and Arizona elections.
        The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), funded by grants from the University of Maryland and the Maryland Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, published last week that, "The percentage of California residents who reported using marijuana in the past month has remained unchanged at around 6 percent."
        CESAR analyzed the data from the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, the annual survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
        The survey estimates that in 1995, 5.2 percent of all Californians were current marijuana smokers (defined as having smoked within the last month).  In 1998, 5.5 percent were current marijuana smokers, a figure consistent with the national level at 5 percent.
        The drug czar's claims were again proven wrong by this government study.  In 1995, 6.5 percent of 12-17 year-olds in California were current marijuana smokers which was less than the national average of 8.2 percent. In 1998, 7.4 percent of 12-17 year-olds in California were current marijuana smokers which was still less than the national average of 8.3 percent.
        "More often than not, the wild-eyed rhetoric of prohibitionists like General McCaffrey is contradicted by readily available data," said Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director.
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director at (202) 483-8751.  The survey can be viewed at

Decriminalization Efforts Begin To Take Shape In Arizona

        Oct. 14, 1999, Phoenix, AZ:  Marijuana decriminalization efforts in Arizona stepped up on Wednesday when an initiative for the 2000 ballot was filed with the state attorney general.
        The initiative, financed by the backers of the successful 1996 medical marijuana initiative in Arizona, would establish a $500 maximum fine, rather than jail time, for the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana.  The penalty would be enforced with a citation instead of an arrest.
        Hoping to strengthen the state's medical marijuana law, a state-run marijuana distribution network would be created by the initiative as well.  The distribution of the medical marijuana would be overseen by the state attorney general.
        The initiative would also ban police departments from directly benefiting from civil asset forfeiture proceeds, to stop the obvious conflict of interest under current law.  Proceeds would be earmarked for drug education and treatment.
        "People are unhappy with the drug war, and they don't want legalization," said Sam Vagenas, Director of The People Have Spoken, the group that backed Arizona's medical marijuana initiative in 1996 and 1998.  "They want something between legalization and what we're doing now."
        The initiative's supporters must now collect 101,762 signatures by July 6, 2000, for the initiative to appear on the November 2000 ballot.
        For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director at (202) 483-5500 or Sam Vagenas, Director of The People Have Spoken at (602) 285-0468.