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FAQs

  1. What is marijuana?
  2. What is NORML and what does the organization stand for?
  3. What does NORML do?
  4. What is the NORML Foundation?
  5. Who smokes marijuana?
  6. Why should we decriminalize or legalize marijuana?
  7. What about kids and marijuana?
  8. Critics claim that marijuana is a "gateway drug." How do you respond to this charge?
  9. But isn't marijuana addictive?
  10. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the U.S. Justice Department, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, may prosecute state-authorized medical marijuana patients for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act. What does this decision mean for seriously ill patients and for the ongoing tension between state and federal laws?
  11. Why does Congress refuse to reschedule marijuana to permit its use as a medicine under federal law?
  12. Critics of the medical use of marijuana say (1) there are traditional medications to help patients and marijuana is not needed; and, (2) permitting the medical use of marijuana sends the wrong message to kids. How do you respond to these concerns?
  13. Don't alcohol and tobacco use already cause enough damage to society? Why should we legalize another intoxicant?
  14. What is industrial hemp? How does it differ from marijuana?
  15. How can I help?

What is marijuana?

Marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in America (behind only alcohol and tobacco), and has been used by an estimated 100 million Americans. According to government surveys, one out of ten Americans has smoked marijuana in the past year, and nearly 17 million do so regularly despite harsh laws against its use. Our public policies should reflect this reality, not deny it. See About Marijuana.

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What is NORML and what does the organization stand for?

NORML is a nonprofit, public-interest lobby that for more than 40 years has provided a voice for those Americans who oppose marijuana prohibition. We represent the interests of the tens of millions of Americans who smoke marijuana responsibly and believe the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana should no longer be a crime.

NORML supports the removal of all criminal penalties for the private possession and responsible use of marijuana by adults, including the cultivation for personal use, and the casual nonprofit transfers of small amounts. This model, similar to that recommended to Congress by President Nixon's esteemed Shafer Commission in 1972, is called "decriminalization."

NORML additionally supports the development of a legally controlled market for marijuana, where consumers could purchase it from a safe, legal and regulated source. This model is referred to as "legalization."

NORML believes that marijuana smoking is not for kids and should only be used responsibly by adults. As with alcohol consumption, it must never be an excuse for misconduct or other bad behavior. Driving or operating heavy equipment while impaired from marijuana should be prohibited.

NORML strongly supports the right of patients to use marijuana as a medicine when their physician recommends it to relieve pain and suffering. NORML has advocated for the legal use of medicinal marijuana since 1972.

Lastly, NORML supports the right of farmers to commercially cultivate the non-psychoactive strain of cannabis known as hemp for industrial purposes, such as food and fiber production.

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What does NORML do?

NORML lobbies Congress and state legislatures for more rational and cost- effective marijuana policies. We provide expert witnesses for legislative hearings in support of marijuana reform legislation and to provide testimony to assist defendants charged with marijuana offenses. NORML also serves as a marijuana-law reform advocate with the media nationwide and maintains a comprehensive web site, which includes a 50-state legislative tracking system, where visitors can inform themselves about the issue and send a free fax or an e-mail to their state and federal elected officials. In addition, we maintain a legal committee comprised of 350 criminal defense attorneys nationwide who specialize in the defense of individuals charged with marijuana-related offenses.

Because NORML lobbies state and federal elected officials, contributions to the organization are not tax deductible.

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What is the NORML Foundation?

Our sister organization, the NORML Foundation, is a 501(c)(3) educational, research and legal foundation. Founded in 1997, the NORML Foundation educates the public on marijuana policy through advertising and media campaigns. The Foundation distributes a weekly news advisory to more than 1,000 media outlets and 25,000 reform activists; conducts research and publishes special reports; and provides legal support and assistance to victims of the current marijuana laws.

Contributions to the NORML Foundation are tax-deductible.

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Who smokes marijuana?

According to survey data, nearly one out of two American adults admit to having smoked marijuana. Of these, about ten percent of Americans have smoked marijuana during the past year. The vast majority of marijuana smokers, like most other Americans, are good citizens who work hard, raise families, pay taxes and contribute in a positive way to their communities. They are certainly not part of the crime problem in this country, and it is terribly unfair to continue to treat them as criminals.

Many successful business and professional leaders, including many state and elected federal officials, admit they have smoked marijuana. We must reflect this reality in our state and federal laws, and put to rest the myth that marijuana smoking is a fringe or deviant activity engaged in only by those on the margins of American society. Marijuana smokers are no different from their non-smoking peers, except for their marijuana use.

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Why should we decriminalize or legalize marijuana?

As Former President Jimmy Carter acknowledged: "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 the possession of marijuana in private for personal use."

Marijuana prohibition needlessly destroys the lives and careers of literally hundreds of thousands of good, hard-working, productive citizens each year in this country. More than 749,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges last year, and more than 5 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana offenses in the past decade. Almost 90 percent of these arrests are for simple possession, not trafficking or sale. This is a misapplication of the criminal sanction that invites government into areas of our private lives that are inappropriate and wastes valuable law enforcement resources that should be focused on serious and violent crime.

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What about kids and marijuana?

Marijuana, like other drugs, is not for kids. There are many activities in our society that we permit adults to do, but forbid children, such as motorcycle riding, skydiving, signing contracts, getting married and drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco. However, we do not condone arresting adults who responsibly engage in these activities in order to dissuade our children from doing so. Nor can we justify arresting adult marijuana smokers on the grounds of sending a message to children. Our expectation and hope for young people is that they grow up to be responsible adults, and our obligation to them is to demonstrate what that means.

The NORML Board of Directors has adopted a set of principles called the "Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use," and the first principle is "Cannabis consumption is for adults only; it is irresponsible to provide cannabis to children."

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Critics claim that marijuana is a "gateway drug." How do you respond to this charge?

There is no conclusive evidence that the effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent use of other illicit drugs. Preliminary animal studies alleging that marijuana "primed" the brain for other drug-taking behavior have not been replicated, nor are they supported by epidemiological human data. Statistically, for every 104 Americans who have tried marijuana, there is only one regular user of cocaine, and less than one user of heroin. Marijuana is clearly a "terminus" rather than a gateway for the overwhelming majority of marijuana smokers.

For those minority of marijuana smokers who do graduate to harder substances, it is marijuana prohibition -- which forces users to associate with the illicit drug black market -- rather than the use of marijuana itself, that often serves as a doorway to the world of hard drugs. The more users become integrated in an environment where, apart from cannabis, hard drugs can also be obtained, the greater the chances they will experiment with harder drugs.

In Holland, where politicians decided over 25 years ago to separate marijuana from the illicit drug market by permitting coffee shops all over the country to sell small amounts of marijuana to adults, individuals use marijuana and other drugs at rates less than half of their American counterparts.

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But isn't marijuana addictive?

Substantial research exists regarding marijuana and addiction. While the scientific community has yet to achieve full consensus on this matter, the majority of epidemiological and animal data demonstrate that the reinforcing properties of marijuana in humans is low in comparison to other drugs of abuse, including alcohol and nicotine. According to the U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM), fewer than one in 10 marijuana smokers become regular users of the drug, and most voluntary cease their use after 34 years of age. By comparison, 15 percent of alcohol consumers and 32 percent of tobacco smokers exhibit symptoms of drug dependence.

According to the IOM, observable cannabis withdrawal symptoms are rare and have only been identified under unique patient settings. These remain limited to adolescents in treatment facilities for substance abuse problems, and in a research setting where subjects were given marijuana or THC daily. Compared with the profound physical syndrome of alcohol or heroin withdrawal, marijuana-related withdrawal symptoms are mild and subtle. Symptoms may include restlessness, irritability, mild agitation and sleep disruption. However, for the overwhelming majority of marijuana smokers, these symptoms are not severe enough to re-initiate their use of cannabis.

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The Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Justice Department, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, may prosecute state-authorized medical marijuana patients for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act. What does this decision mean for seriously ill patients and for the ongoing tension between state and federal laws?

Laws in twenty-one states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland (June 2014), Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) and the District of Columbia remain in effect despite the Supreme Court's decision.

The US Supreme Court decided 6-3 in Gonzalez v. Raich that the Justice Department has the authority to prosecute state-authorized medicinal cannabis patients for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The Ninth Federal Circuit Court had previously ruled 2-1 in December 2003," The intrastate, non-commercial cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for personal medical purposes on the advice of a physician - is, in fact, different in kind from drug trafficking," and issued an injunction barring the US Justice Department from taking legal action against the appellants, California medical cannabis patients Angel McClary Raich and Diane Monson, for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Justice Department appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which ruled on June 6, 2005.

The Supreme Court's 2005 decision did not expand the powers of federal law enforcement agencies like the DEA; it only affirmed that they can enforce federal laws prohibiting the use of controlled substances, regardless of state, county, or municipal law. It is not anticipated that federal agents will step up efforts against state-authorized growers, dispensaries, or patients because of this decision. State and local law enforcement officers, who are responsible for the enforcement of state and municipal laws, will most likely continue to honor the democratic decisions that their residents have made about marijuana policy.

Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said that he longs for the day when medicinal cannabis advocates "may be heard in the halls of Congress." NORML's chief complaint is directed at Congress, not at the Court, for allowing the federal/state inconsistency in medical marijuana laws to exist.

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Why does Congress refuse to reschedule marijuana to permit its use as a medicine under federal law?

Many members of both parties in Congress have confused a public health issue, medical marijuana, with the politics of the War on Drugs. In doing so, they have denied an effective medication to the seriously ill and dying.

Critics of the medical use of marijuana say (1) there are traditional medications to help patients and marijuana is not needed; and, (2) permitting the medical use of marijuana sends the wrong message to kids. How do you respond to these concerns?

For many patients, traditional medications do work and they do not require or desire medical marijuana. However, for a significant number of serious ill patients, including patients suffering from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain among others, traditional medications do not provide symptomatic relief as effectively as medicinal cannabis. These patients must not be branded as criminals or forced to suffer needlessly in pain.

Dronabinol (trade name Marinol) is a legal, synthetic THC alternative to cannabis. Nevertheless, many patients claim they find minimal relief from it, particularly when compared to inhaled marijuana. The active ingredient in Marinol, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is only one of the compounds isolated in marijuana that appears to be medically beneficial to patients. Other compounds such as cannabidiol (CBD), an anti-convulsant, and cannabichromine (CBC), an anti-inflammatory, are unavailable in Marinol, and patients only have access to their therapeutic properties by using cannabis.

Patients prescribed Marinol frequently complain of its high psychoactivity. This is because patients consume the drug orally. Once swallowed, Marinol passes through the liver, where a significant proportion is converted into other chemicals. One of these, the 11-hydroxy metabolite, is four to five times more potent than THC and greatly increases the likelihood of a patient experiencing an adverse psychological reaction. In contrast, inhaled marijuana doesn't cause significant levels of the 11-hydroxy metabolite to appear in the blood.

Marinol's oral administration also delays the drug from taking peak effect until two to fours hours after dosing. A 1999 report by the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded: "It is well recognized that Marinol's oral route of administration hampers its effectiveness because of slow absorption and patients' desire for more control over dosing. ... In contrast, inhaled marijuana is rapidly absorbed." In a series of US state studies in the 1980s, cancer patients given a choice between using inhaled marijuana and oral THC overwhelmingly chose cannabis.

As to the message we are sending to kids, NORML hopes the message we are sending is that we would not deny any effective medication to the seriously ill and dying. We routinely permit cancer patients to self- administer morphine in cancer wards all across the country; we allow physicians to prescribe amphetamines for weight loss and to use cocaine in nose and throat operations. Each of these drugs can be abused on the street, yet no one is suggesting we are sending the wrong message to kids by permitting their medical use.

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Don't alcohol and tobacco use already cause enough damage to society? Why should we legalize another intoxicant?

While there are indeed health and societal problems due to the use of alcohol and nicotine, these negative consequences would be amplified if consumption of either substance were prohibited.

Marijuana is already the third most popular recreational drug in America, despite harsh laws against its use. Millions of Americans smoke it responsibly. Our public policies should reflect this reality, not deny it.

In addition, marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. It fails to inflict the types of serious health consequences these two legal drugs cause. According to a recent World Health Organization report alcohol consumption is linked to four percent of all deaths worldwide. Similarly, more than 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to tobacco smoking. By comparison, marijuana is nontoxic and cannot cause death by overdose.

No one is suggesting we encourage more drug use; simply that we stop arresting responsible marijuana smokers. In recent years, we have significantly reduced the prevalence of drunk driving and tobacco smoking. We have not achieved this by prohibiting the use of alcohol and tobacco or by targeting and arresting adults who use alcohol and tobacco responsibly, but through honest educational campaigns. We should apply these same principles to the responsible consumption of marijuana. The negative consequences primarily associated with marijuana -- such as an arrest or jail time -- are the result of the criminal prohibition of cannabis, not the use of marijuana itself.

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What is industrial hemp? How does it differ from marijuana?

Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa L. It is a tall, slender fibrous plant similar to flax or kenaf. Farmers worldwide have harvested the crop for the past 12,000 years for fiber and food, and Popular Mechanics once boasted that over 25,000 environmentally friendly products could be derived from hemp.

Unlike marijuana, hemp contains only minute (less than 1%) amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. In addition, hemp possesses a high percentage of the compound cannabidiol (CBD), which has been shown to block the effects of THC. For these reasons, many botanists have dubbed industrial hemp "anti- marijuana."

More than 30 industrialized nations commercially grow hemp, including England and Canada. The European Union subsidizes farmers to grow the crop, which is legally recognized as a commercial crop by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Nevertheless, US law forbids farmers from growing hemp without a federal license, and has discouraged all commercial hemp production since the 1950s. NORML is working to allow American farmers to once again have legal access to this agricultural commodity.

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How can I help?

The most important step you can take is to contact your elected officials at all levels of government (local, state and federal), and let them know you oppose arresting responsible marijuana smokers. As a constituent, you hold special influence over the politicians who represent your district. It is critical you let them know how you feel.

Because the marijuana smoking community remains largely "in the closet" and is all too often invisible politically, our core constituency currently exercises far less political power than our numbers would otherwise suggest. The only way to overcome this handicap is for more of us to take an active role, and routinely contact our elected officials.

A majority of the American public opposes sending marijuana smokers to jail, and 3 out of 4 support the medical use of marijuana. Yet many elected officials remain fearful that if they support these reform proposals, they will be perceived as "soft" on crime and drugs and defeated at the next election.

Tell your elected officials that you know the difference between marijuana and more dangerous drugs and between marijuana smoking and violent crime, and that you do not support spending billions of dollars per year incarcerating nonviolent marijuana offenders.

To make that easy, NORML has a program on our web site that will identify your state and federal elected officials, and provide a sample letter that you can e-mail to Congress and state legislators. Additionally, we encourage you to join NORML and help us with this fight for personal freedom. We depend on contributions from private individuals to fund our educational and lobbying campaign, and our ability to move reform efforts forward is partially a question of resources. Please join with us and let's end marijuana prohibition, once and for all.

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