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FAQs

  1. What is Marijuana/Cannabis?
  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/Cannabis?

The term 'marijuana' (sometimes spelled 'marihuana') is Mexican in origin and typically refers to any part of -- or any one of -- the three distinctive subspecies of the cannabis plant: cannabis sativa (which tends to grow tall and stalky), cannabis indica (which tends to grow smaller and bushier), or cannabis ruderalis (found primarily in Russia and Eastern Europe.) Grown outdoors, the cannabis plant typically achieves maturity within three to five months. Cultivated indoors under optimum heat and lighting, the plant may reach maturity within as few as 60 days. Marijuana remains popular among the American public despite its federal prohibition, with over half of all US adults having acknowledged having tried it. 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 discouraged and legally 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 hundreds of criminal defense attorneys nationwide who specialize in the defense of individuals charged with marijuana-related offenses; and hundreds of lawyers representing the newly state-legal marijuana businesses.

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. The NORML Foundation educates the public on marijuana policy through advertising and media campaigns. The Foundation distributes a weekly news advisory to media outlets and to NORML's members; conducts research and publishes special reports; and provides legal support and assistance to victims of the current marijuana laws.

The Foundation also sponsors two annual legal seminars to train attorneys who specialize in the legalization area: one in Aspen in early June; and the other in Key West in early December.

Contributions to the NORML Foundation are tax-deductible.

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Who smokes marijuana?

According to survey data, nearly a majority of American adults admit to having used marijuana. The vast majority of marijuana consumers, 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 stigmatize them and 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 half a million Americans are arrested arrested annually for violating marijuana laws. 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?

The majority of American adults acknowledge having tried cannabis, but the overwhelming majority of these individuals never go on to try another illicit substance. Moreover, by the time these individuals reach age 30, most of them have significantly decreased their cannabis use or no longer indulge in the substance at all.

Further, nothing in marijuana's chemical composition alters the brain in a manner that makes users more susceptible to experimenting with other drugs. That's why both the esteemed Institute of Medicine and the Rand Corporation's Drug Policy Research Center conclude that "[M]arijuana has no causal influence over hard drug initiation."

In contrast, a growing body of evidence now exists to support the counter notion that for many people, pot serves as a path away from the use of more dangerous substances, including opioids, alcohol, prescription drugs, cocaine, and tobacco.

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But isn't marijuana addictive?

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 consumers become regular users of the drug, and most voluntary cease their use by mid-life. 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. 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 over 30 states and the District of Columbia remain in effect despite the Supreme Court's 2005 decision. Since 2014, members have Congress have passed budgetary restrictions prohibiting the federal government from spending money to target and prosecute state-compliant, medical marijuana specific activities. At present, a federal Department of Justice memorandum also remains in effect deprioritizing such activities.

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What about rescheduling marijuana under federal law?

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration in August 2016 rejected a pair of administrative petitions that sought to initiate rulemaking proceedings to reschedule marijuana under federal law – opining that marijuana possesses "a high potential for abuse"; it must have "no currently accepted medical use" in the United States; and, the substance must lack "accepted safety for use … under medical supervision." It therefore remains up to Congress to amend federal law in a manner that comports with the available science and changing legal landscape.

NORML argues that Congress ought to remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act altogether rather than reschedule it to a different classification. Specifically, reclassifying cannabis from I to II (or even to Schedule III) continues to misrepresent the plant's safety relative to other controlled substances such as methamphetamine (Schedule II), anabolic steroids (Schedule III) or alcohol (unscheduled), and fails to provide states with the ability to regulate it free from federal interference.

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?

Contrary to popular presumption, those of us who advocate for the legalization and regulation of the adult use marijuana market do not opine that the plant is altogether harmless or that it cannot be misused. In fact, it is precisely because marijuana use may pose potential risks to both the individual consumer and to public safety that lawmakers ought to regulate it accordingly.

Such regulations already exist governing the use, production, and retail distribution of alcohol and tobacco – two substances that are far more dangerous and costlier to society than is the responsible adult use of marijuana. The enforcement of these regulations, coupled with the promotion of public awareness campaigns designed to better educate consumers as to these products' health effects, have proven effective at reducing the public's use of these two substances, particularly among teens. In fact, according to the latest federal government survey data, teens' use of alcohol and tobacco now stand at historic lows.

NORML welcomes the opportunity to bring these necessary and long overdue controls to the marijuana market. A pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the legal, licensed commercial production and retail sale of marijuana to adults but restricts its use among young people – coupled with a legal environment that fosters open, honest dialogue between parents and children about its' potential harms – best reduces the risks associated with the plant's use or abuse. By contrast, advocating for the marijuana's continued criminalization only compounds them.

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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.

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 consumers have for too long remained "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.

According to national polls, an estimated six out of ten Americans believe that the adult use of marijuana ought to be legal and more than nine out of ten citizens endorse legalizing marijuana for therapeutic use. 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 it makes no sense from a fiscal perspective, a health and safety perspective, or from a moral perspective to continue to stigmatize and criminalize adults who choose to responsible consume marijuana rather than alcohol or prescription pills.

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 donate to 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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