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About Marijuana

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 is the third most popular recreational drug in America (behind only alcohol and tobacco), and has been used by nearly 100 million Americans. According to government surveys, some 25 million Americans have smoked marijuana in the past year, and more than 14 million do so regularly despite laws against its use. Our public policies should reflect this reality, not deny it.

Marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. Around 50,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning. Similarly, more than 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to tobacco smoking. By comparison, marijuana is nontoxic and cannot cause death by overdose.

Personal Marijuana Use

NORML supports the adoption of a legally controlled market for marijuana, where consumers can buy marijuana for personal use from a safe legal source. This policy, generally known as legalization, was adopted by voter initiative in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

Voters in Washington, DC approved the removal of criminal and civil penalties regarding the adult possession of up to two ounces of cannabis and/or the cultivation of up to six plants, but a regulatory framework for the regulation of a commercial cannabis market is not established.

NORML also supports the removal of all penalties for the private possession and responsible use of marijuana by adults, including cultivation for personal use, and casual nonprofit transfers of small amounts. This policy, known as decriminalization, removes the consumer -- the marijuana smoker -- from the criminal justice system.

More than 25 percent of the U.S. population lives under some form of marijuana decriminalization, and according to government and academic studies, these laws have not contributed to an increase in marijuana consumption nor negatively impacted adolescent attitudes toward drug use.

Enforcing marijuana prohibition costs taxpayers an estimated $10 billion annually and results in the arrest of more than 600,000 individuals per year -- far more than the total number of arrestees for all violent crimes combined, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

US Marijuana Arrests

Of those charged with marijuana violations in 2015, approximately 89 percent, about 575,000 Americans were charged with possession only. The remaining individuals were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes all cultivation offenses, even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use. Recently enacted changes in law in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have resulted in fewer marijuana arrests in those jurisdictions.

Medical Use

Marijuana Medicine Bottle

Marijuana, or cannabis, as it is more appropriately called, has been part of humanity's medicine chest for almost as long as history has been recorded. Of all the negative consequences of marijuana prohibition, none is as tragic as the denial of medicinal cannabis to the tens of thousands of patients who could benefit from its therapeutic use.

Modern research suggests that cannabis is a valuable aid in the treatment of a wide range of clinical applications. These include pain relief -- particularly of neuropathic pain (pain from nerve damage) -- nausea, spasticity, glaucoma, and movement disorders. Marijuana is also a powerful appetite stimulant, specifically for patients suffering from HIV, the AIDS wasting syndrome, or dementia. Emerging research suggests that marijuana's medicinal properties may protect the body against some types of malignant tumors and are neuroprotective.While much of the renewed interest in cannabinoid therapeutics is a result of the discovery of the endocannabinoid regulatory system, some of this increased attention is also due to the growing body of testimonials from medical cannabis patients and their physicians.

Currently, more than 60 U.S. and international health organizations support granting patients immediate legal access to medicinal marijuana under a physician's supervision.

Legal Issues

Driven by the Drug War, the U.S. prison population is six to ten times as high as most Western European nations. In 2015, more than 643,000 people were arrested in this country for marijuana-related offenses alone. Marijuana prohibition causes more problems than it solves, and ruins thousands more lives than it supposedly tries to save.

NORML's State Laws outlines the laws & penalties for marijuana conduct in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and under federal law. Marijuana laws change rapidly and are enforced and interpreted differently even in the same legal jurisdiction. Please consult a criminal defense lawyer if you have been busted or if you want to know how a particular conduct might be punished. The NORML Legal Committee provides legal support and assistance to victims of the current marijuana laws. NORML also monitors developments in state and federal law, and files appellate and amicus curiae ("friend of the court") briefs in cases which may affect the interpretation of existing marijuana laws, or which will, hopefully, change them.

Industrial Hemp

Hemp Plants

Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa L. that contains minimal (less than 1%) amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It is a tall, slender, fibrous plant similar to flax or kenaf. Various parts of the plant can be utilized in the making of textiles, paper, paints, clothing, plastics, cosmetics, foodstuffs, insulation, animal feed and other products.

Hemp produces a much higher yield per acre than do common substitutes such as cotton and requires few pesticides. In addition, hemp has an average growing cycle of only 100 days and leaves the soil virtually weed-free for the next planting.

The hemp plant is currently harvested for commercial purposes in over 30 nations, including Canada, Japan and the European Union. Although it grows wild across much of America and presents no public health or safety threat, hemp is nevertheless routinely uprooted and destroyed by law enforcement. Each year, approximately 98% of all the marijuana eliminated by the DEA's "Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program" is actually hemp.

Marijuana Research Library

For over 40 years, NORML has served as a clearinghouse for marijuana-related information that includes health reports, the latest national and state polls, written testimony, and arrest data. To date, there are approximately 22,000 published studies or reviews in the scientific literature referencing the cannabis plant and its cannabinoids, nearly half of which were published within ten years.