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Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Decriminalizing Marijuana and Marijuana Use

Who smokes marijuana?
According to recent statistics provided by the federal government, nearly 80 million Americans admit having smoked marijuana. Of these, twenty million Americans 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.

Why should we decriminalize or legalize marijuana?
As 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 700,000 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.

The Supreme Court recently ruled that federal law makes no exceptions for growing or distributing marijuana, even if the goal is to help seriously ill patients using marijuana as a medicine. How does this decision impact patients in the nine states that have legalized the medical use of marijuana under state law? Why does Congress refuse to reschedule marijuana to permit its use as a medicine under federal law?

Laws in ten states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) legalizing the medical use of marijuana remain in effect despite the Supreme Court's decision. The Court ruled on the very narrow issue of whether patient support groups (so-called "buyer's clubs") that provide medical marijuana to seriously ill patients in California were protected from federal prosecution by a common law defense known as "medical necessity." The court ruled 8-0 that the federal law - passed by Congress in 1970 - defining marijuana as "having no accepted medical use" leaves no exception for medical use.

Many in Congress have confused a public health issue with the war on drugs, and in so doing, they have denied an effective medication to the seriously ill and dying. Pending legislation in Congress, H.R.2592[8], introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX), would resolve this problem by permitting physicians to prescribe marijuana in those states that have legalized its medicinal use under state law. The Frank-Paul bill, entitled the "States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act," would also allow legislatures in states where the use of medical marijuana is permitted to designate a legal source of medical marijuana. The public needs to contact their members in Congress and demand action be taken on this specific proposal.

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.

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. 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. According to the prestigious European medical journal, The Lancet, "The smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health. It would be reasonable to judge cannabis as less of a threat than alcohol or tobacco."

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.

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.

Join the Drive to Decriminalize Marijuana

Marijuana is illegal under federal law and medical marijuana is not recognized under federal law. Even though California state law recognizes medical marijuana, the list of clinics, physicians, and patient groups found on this website is for information ONLY and LANORML does not, in any way, recommend or verify the legitimacy or the activities of any clinics, physicians. patient groups listed herein.
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We do not endorse any clubs, compassionate centers, mail order facilities, etc... and in no way are we responsible for the actions of any these groups, nor do we suggest or otherwise represent that they are acting legally under the law. We have not investigated backgrounds, methods of operations, or any other facet of their facilities or activities. Any contact that you may wish to make with them is at your own risk.

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