Marijuana Reports

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Marijuana Crop Reports

Remarkably, despite being illegal for nearly 65 years, domestically grown marijuana is one of the top cash crops in the U.S.

By most rankings, America’s domestic marijuana crop is easily valued in excess of $10 billion annually and usually ranks in the top 10 cash crops.

In the latest NORML Marijuana Cultivation Report, the organization ranked marijuana #4 as the most valued agricultural product in the U.S.

Ironically, back in the 1970s, there was virtually no commercial market for domestically cultivated marijuana. Today, thirty years later and after expending billions of wasted tax dollars, domestically grown marijuana now constitutes, according to the U.S. government’s anti-drug bureaucracies, upwards of 35% of the marijuana consumed is “Made in the U.S.A.”

Regretfully, unlike dozens of agricultural products, the tremendous wholesale and retail tax benefits from America’s multi-billion dollar domestic marijuana industry is totally unrealized tax revenue for local, state and federal governments. Additionally, the government-inspired policy of marijuana prohibition creates myriad criminal justice and social problems.

Domestic Production

1998 Marijuana Crop Report

An Evaluation of Marijuana Production, Value, and Eradication Efforts in the United States

Prepared by:
Jon Gettman
Paul Armentano

State Crop Reports


DEA’s 2005 Spreadsheet on Plant Eradication [PDF]

October 1998

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

I. Establishing Marijuana’s Rank Compared to Other Crops

II. Establishing the Value of Marijuana

III. Establishing the Number of Marijuana Plants Grown in 1997

IV. Establishing the Annual Cost of Marijuana Prohibition

V. Introduction to Exhibits

VI. Notes on Ditchweed



1997 Top 50 U.S. Cash Crops

1997 U.S. Marijuana Eradication Profile

1997 Marijuana Production Estimates: State By State Assessment

Executive Summary

Marijuana remains the fourth largest cash crop in America despite law enforcement spending an estimated $10 billion annually to pursue efforts to outlaw the plant. In many states, marijuana ranked as the top cash crop for farmers. United States marijuana growers harvested a minimum of 5.5 million pounds of saleable marijuana in 1997 worth $15.1 billion to growers and $25.2 billion on the retail market. Government crop yield estimates place the value of these 8.7 million harvested plants at approximately $26.3 billion to growers and a street value of $43.8 billion. The report based its findings on Drug Enforcement Administration marijuana eradication statistics, a survey of state police eradication results, and marijuana price reports published in High Times Magazine. NORML published previous reports documenting marijuana’s national market value between 1982 and 1992.

I. Establishing Marijuana’s Rank Compared to Other Cash Crops

Marijuana ranked fourth out of all United States cash crops in 1997, amassing a greater value to farmers than tobacco, wheat, or cotton. In several states — Alabama, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia — marijuana stands as the largest revenue producing crop. Marijuana ranks as one of the top five cash crops in 29 others. Nationally, marijuana growers reaped an estimated $15.1 billion on the wholesale market. Only corn, soybeans, and hay rank as more profitable cash crops.

Farmers harvested an estimated 8.7 million marijuana plants in 1997. If each plant yields an average of ten ounces (280 grams) of usable marijuana, growers produced a total of 5.5 million pounds of saleable marijuana worth $25.2 billion at street value prices. The authors assessed marijuana’s value to growers at 60 percent retail value, or roughly $2,735 per pound. Had the authors calculated marijuana’s total value to growers by street market prices rather than wholesale prices, marijuana would decidedly rank as America’s number one cash crop.

It should be noted that law enforcement’s model when estimating marijuana’s weight and value differs from the above paradigm. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials have long argued that a typical marijuana plant grown to harvest yields one pound (454 grams) of marijuana. However, most experts argue that this estimate is highly unrealistic. For example, data gathered by the United States Sentencing Commission supported the conclusion that the actual average yield of marijuana plants is 100 grams. [1] Government- sponsored studies conducted at the University of Mississippi calculated the amount of dry, smokable material at a maximum of 177 grams for an indoor marijuana plant and 412 grams for an outdoor plant. [2] The ten ounce estimate used by The NORML Foundation in this report reflects this data as well as the premise that most U.S. marijuana is densely grown in gardens of nine square feet or less. Under such conditions, DEA publications admit that one marijuana plant will likely yield approximately 224 grams of marijuana. [3] Had the authors accepted the standard one pound per plant model, 1997’s national marijuana crop would have been worth $26.3 billion to growers and $43.8 billion at street market prices. Using these figures, marijuana’s approximate street value ranks as almost twice the value of America’s leading legal cash crop, corn.

II. Establishing the Value of Marijuana

We can estimate a dollar amount for harvested marijuana by examining recent marijuana price quotes printed in High Times Magazine. In past years, government analysts and their critics have found these estimates credible. [4] This report averaged price quote data from November 1996 to April 1997, the period when the 1997 crop hit the market. Prices were determined for each of the five zones in the country to account for regional influences. The weighted average price of marijuana reported for this period is $288 an ounce or $4610 per pound. Although volume sales of multiple pound amounts of marijuana likely sell at far less than this index, sales to individual consumers generally involve one ounce or less. Therefore, the ounce price is adopted as a moderate index for retail valuation of domestic production.

III. Establishing the Number of Marijuana Plants Grown in 1997

This report estimates that domestic marijuana growers planted 12.8 million plants for harvest in 1997. The authors further find that DEA, state and local law enforcement agencies seized 32 percent of these plants limiting growers to a total of 8.7 million harvested marijuana plants.

Federal and state law enforcement typically eradicate four to six million cultivated marijuana plants per year. The DEA defines cultivated marijuana as “hand tended, watered, and individually pruned” plants grown for personal consumption or eventual sale on the black market. [5] These plants are not to be confused with ditchweed, a wild, non-retail strain of marijuana eradicated by law enforcement in far greater amounts. DEA figures from the 1997 Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program indicate that law enforcement eradicated just over four million cultivated marijuana plants last year. [6]

From 1982 to 1992, the DEA published estimates of the percentage of domestic cultivated marijuana eradicated by law enforcement. These estimates ranged from as low as 33 percent in 1989 to as high as 52 percent in 1983. The DEA based these estimations on a subjective appraisal of the success of federal and local state marijuana eradication efforts. The DEA calculated the number of harvested plants by using the following formula: eradicated plants/estimated eradication proportion – eradicated plants.

To calculate 1997 figures, this report applied independently derived state eradication success estimates to the DEA model. This data includes responses from 25 state police agencies regarding the amount of marijuana seized in their state, as well as an assessment on their rank as domestic marijuana producers. These states typify major, moderate, and minor marijuana producing states in the United States.

Traditionally, NORML estimates have been based on a baseline eradication level of 25 percent in each state and a state by state appraisal of whether the local eradication trends justify raising or lowering the percentage. This year’s figures are based in part from prior years’ eradications statistics, DEA data ranking the various intensity of state eradication efforts, and the various responses from law enforcement agencies. These state level estimates were then totaled to produce a national estimate of total, eradicated, and harvested plants. The authors compared these figures with past national DEA eradication estimates and evaluated them accordingly.

IV. Establishing the Annual Cost of Marijuana Prohibition

While there is a lack of information on the precise annual costs of marijuana prohibition in the available literature, it is possible to estimate this figure using the available data.

Annual federal government expenditures on the “war on drugs” average $15.7 billion annually. [7] In addition, state and local governments also spend $16 billion per year enforcing drug laws. [8] In 1996, nearly 642,000 of the total 1.5 million drug arrests in America were for marijuana offenses. [9] This figure constituted 43 percent of all U.S. drug arrests and demonstrates that a significant portion of state and federal anti-drug funds are used exclusively to enforce marijuana laws. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that between 25 and 40 percent of the total $31 billion annual costs are related to marijuana prohibition. Using this basic calculation, marijuana prohibition costs the American taxpayers between $7.5 and $10 billion annually in enforcement alone.

A second way to quantify the costs of marijuana prohibition is to extrapolate national estimates from a California study that found the state saved an average 95.8 million dollars in criminal justice costs annually following the adoption of marijuana decriminalization. [10] Assuming that the state spent 50 percent of its criminal resources seeking and prosecuting recreational users, it is safe to assume that states similar in demographics to California spend at least 200 million dollars annually enforcing marijuana prohibition in criminal justice costs alone. [11]

While more sophisticated economic analysis is needed in this area, it is clear that the billions of dollars spent each year enforcing marijuana laws do little to prevent marijuana from consistently ranking as one of America’s top cash crops.

V. Introduction to Exhibits

The accompanying exhibits illustrate marijuana eradication profiles for each of the fifty states. A second series of charts provides a state by state comparison of marijuana’s value compared to other cash crops. National figures are listed separately.

The exhibits use data from the DEA, the United States Department of Agriculture, and estimates derived in the preparation of this report. Marijuana eradication figures were obtained from the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program monthly statistical report. Data on marijuana prices came from published reports in High Times Magazine. Figures regarding agricultural production and value for conventional crops were obtained from the USDA. Information regarding eradication percentages, marijuana production amounts, and total market values are estimates produced by this report.

VI. Notes on Ditchweed

Ditchweed, otherwise known as feral hemp, has no retail value or market value to farmers. Consequently, totals regarding ditchweed eradication and growth were not tabulated in this report. The majority of ditchweed plants are remnants from government subsidized plots grown during World War II’s “Hemp for Victory” campaign. This strain of cannabis holds no market value because it contains too little THC, the chief psychoactive agent in marijuana, to intoxicate users.

DEA statistics indicate that law enforcement eradicated over 237 million ditchweed plants in 1997 compared to only four million cultivated marijuana plants. [12] Critics of federal marijuana eradication programs call the DEA’s emphasis on ditchweed eradication misguided because the crop has no impact on the black market marijuana trade.

Had the authors assigned these additional plants any minimal wholesale or retail value, marijuana’s overall value would far surpass any other American cash crop.


Domestic marijuana cultivation remains responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal trade in almost every state in the country despite decades of prohibition. Conservative estimates regarding marijuana’s production and value place marijuana as the fourth largest cash crop in America while standard government estimates rank marijuana as the country’s economic frontrunner. Although federal eradication efforts yield some success in reducing the domestic marijuana market, clearly these efforts fail to significantly reduce consumer demand or the plant’s commercial value to farmers.

About the Authors

Jon Gettman is a nationally recognized expert on marijuana cultivation and frequently testifies as an expert witness in marijuana related criminal cases. He is the former National Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and is the author of previous “Marijuana Crop Reports.” He is currently pursuing his doctorate in Public Policy at George Mason University in Virginia.

Paul Armentano is the Director of Publications and Research for NORML and The NORML Foundation. He is the author of several NORML reports, including “Still Crazy After All These Years: Marijuana Prohibition 1937 – 1997,” and recently testified before the Drug Enforcement Administration in opposition to the agency’s federal marijuana eradication programs.


1. “The one plant = 100 grams of marihuana equivalency used by the Commission for offenses involving fewer than 50 marihuana plants was selected as a reasonable approximation of the actual yield of marihuana plants taking into account (1) studies reporting the actual yield of marihuana plants … (2) that all plants regardless of size are counted for guideline purposes while, in actuality, not all plants will produce useable marihuana …; and (3) that male plants, which are counted for guideline purposes, are frequently culled because they do not produce the same quality of marihuana as do female plants.” Federal Register 60 (May 10, 1995): 25078

2. Research conducted by James E. Urbanek, B.B.A., Research Professor and Assistant Director, Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Pharmacy, University of Mississippi. Studies cited in the written statement of attorney Jaralyn E. Merritt on behalf of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) before the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime, March 6, 1996.

3. 1992 Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program Report, Washington, D.C.: Drug Enforcement Administration (1993).

4. A. Chalsma et al., Marijuana Situation Assessment, Washington, D.C.: Office of National Drug Control Policy (1994): 38-40.

5. Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Monthly Report Terminology as it appeared in the State Auditor’s Report on the Domestic Cannabis Eradication Suppression Program and the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant, Montpelier, Vermont (1998).

6. 1997 Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program Monthly Summary Statistics, Washington, D.C.: Drug Enforcement Administration (1998).

7. Office of National Drug Control Policy, National Drug Control Strategy, 1997, Washington, D.C.: ONDCP (1997).

8. Office of National Drug Control Strategy, State and Local Spending on Drug Control Activities, Report from the National Survey on Local and State Governments, Washington, D.C.: ONDCP (1997).

9. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States, 1996, FBI Uniform Crime Report, Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office (1997). 213-214.

10. M. Aldrich et al., “Savings in California Marijuana Law Enforcement Costs Attributable to the Moscone Act of 1976 — A Summary,” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, January/March, 1988.

11. These costs fail to calculate taxpayer expenses such as state- sponsored marijuana research and education programs, specific law enforcement operations that target marijuana such as CAMP (Californians Against Marijuana Planting), etc.

12. 1997 Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program Monthly Statistical Report, Washington, D.C.: Drug Enforcement Administration (1998).

If you think marijuana should be legally controlled (in a manner not too dissimilar than the current alcohol control model), please join and support NORML’s law reform efforts!

Individual State Profiles: Marijuana Production and Eradication Estimates

Individual State Profiles:
Marijuana Production and Eradication Estimates

New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

1997 Top 50 U.S. Cash Crops

1997 Top 50 U.S. Cash Crops
(Rankings Exclude Fresh Vegetables)

Rank Crop Unit Planted Area [1] (000) Acres Harvested Area [1] (000) Acres Yield [1] Per Acre Production [1] (000) Units 1997 Street Price Per Unit [2,3] Dollars Value of Production
1 Corn for Grain Bu 80,227.00 73,720.00 127 9,365,574 2.6 $24,350,492
2 Soybeans for Beans Bu 70,850.00 69,884.00 39 2,727,254 6.5 $17,727,151
3 Hay, All Ton N/A 60,815.00 2.5 152,120 102.5 $15,592,300
4 Marijuana [4] Lb N/A N/A N/A 5,476 2765.19 $15,142,203
5 Wheat, All Bu 70,989.00 63,577.00 39.7 2,526,552 3.45 $8,716,604
6 Cotton, Upland Lb 13,566.00 130,325.00 679 8851200 0.669 $5,921,453
7 Tobacco, All Lb N/A 79727 2,106.00 1,678,821 1.803 $3,026,914
8 Grapes, All Ton N/A 77742 8.79 6,836 420 $2,871,120
9 Sorghum for Grain Bu 10,108.00 9,391.00 69.5 653,106 4 $2,612,424
10 Potatoes, All Cwt 1,362.00 13,255.00 347 459,912 5.68 $2,612,300
11 Apples, All Commercial Lb N/A 45422 22,500.00 10,226,600 0.22 $2,249,852
12 Oranges, All Box N/A 8418 352 296,620 6.41 $1,901,334
13 Rice, All Cwt 3,056.00 3,034.00 5,896.00 178,896 9.75 $1,744,236
14 Sugarbeets [5] Ton 14,592.00 14,278.00 20.9 29,874 45.4 $1,356,280
15 Almonds Lb N/A 420 1,790.00 750,000 1.55 $1,162,500
16 Peanuts for Nuts Lb 1,429.00 14,058.00 2,522.66 3,546,360 0.261 $925,600
17 Barley Bu 6,910.00 6,425.00 58.3 374,478 2.4 $898,747
18 Sugarcane, for Sugar [5] Ton N/A 8625 34.2 29,492 28.3 $834,624
19 Peaches, All Lb N/A 1679 15,790.00 2,651,100 0.247 $654,822
20 Beans, All Dry Edible Cwt 18,518.00 17,202.00 1,695.00 29,156 17.7 $516,061
21 Sunflowers, All Lb 2,949.00 2,852.00 1,319.58 3,763,428 0.113 $425,267
22 Cranberries Bbl N/A 349 157.3 5,489 65.9 $361,725
23 Walnuts Ton N/A 170 1.58 269 1,310.00 $352,390
24 Lemons Box N/A 604 374 22,600 13.01 $294,026
25 Pears, All Ton N/A 7011 14.9 1,044 276 $288,144
26 Oats Bu 5,169.00 2,911.00 60.5 176,104 1.6 $281,766
27 Cherries, Sweet Ton N/A 4877 4.57 223 1,250.00 $278,750
28 Grapefruit, All Box N/A 1829 384 70,200 3.83 $268,866
29 Cotton, Amer-Pima Lb 252 251 1,027.00 257,760.00 1.007 $259,564
30 Pecans Lb N/A N/A N/A 272,100 0.771 $209,789
31 Sweet Potatoes Cwt 869 835 156 13,025 15.8 $205,795
32 Pistachio Nuts Lb N/A 654 2,750.00 180,000 1.13 $203,400
33 Berries, Cult. Blue Lb N/A 3912 4,340.00 172,970 0.833 $144,084
34 Peppermint Lb N/A 1363 75 10,256 13.2 $135,379
35 Hops Lb N/A 433 1,729.00 74,872 1.58 $118,298
36 Tangerines Box N/A 425 222 9,450 12.37 $116,897
37 Nectarines Ton N/A 371 7.12 264 375 $99,000
38 Pineapples Ton N/A 199 . 324 283 $91,692
39 Plums (CA only) Ton N/A 42 5.79 243 312 $75,816
40 Olives Ton N/A 337 3.09 104 642 $66,768
41 Berries, Red Raspberry Lb N/A 121 6,360.00 83,800 0.551 $46,174
42 Apricots Ton N/A 2189 6.3 138 332 $45,816
43 Cherries, Tart Lb N/A 3978 7,260.00 288,900 0.156 $45,068
44 Macadamia Nuts Lb N/A 192 3,020.00 58,000 0.75 $43,500
45 Peas, Dry Edible Cwt 2936 2766 2,103.00 5,816 7.4 $43,038
46 Hazelnuts Ton N/A 2848 1.55 44 898 $39,512
47 Rye Bu 1,433.00 341 26.1 8,912 3.6 $32,083
48 Maple Syrup Gal N/A N/A N/A 1,293 23.6 $30,515
49 Coffee Lb N/A 56 1,610.00 9,000 3.25 $29,250
50 Spearmint Lb N/A 245 98 2,403 12 $28,836

1. USDA, Crop Production. December 11, 1997.

2. National and State level prices obtained from USDA, Agricultural Prices – 1997 Summary, July 1998.

3. National Price used when State Price was unavailable.

4. Report Estimate, not based on USDA data.

5. 1996 Price Data.

1997 U.S. Marijuana Eradication Profile

1997 U.S. Marijuana Eradication and Production Profile

Year 1997
1995 Population [1] 262,532,000
Estimated 1997 Eradication 32%
Low Retail Estimate of Harvest $25,231,922,000
High Retail Estimate of Harvest $43,856,436,400
Low Farm Value Estimate of Harvest $15,142,203,400
High Farm Value Estimate of Harvest $26,279,317,072
Ounce Price (Weighted Retail Index) [2] $288
Estimated Production Weight (lb.) 5,476,252
Outdoor Sites Closed [3] 69,665
Greenhouses Closed [3] 2,944
Total Plants Eradicated [3] 4,055,365
Wild Hemp Eradicated [3] 237,140,322

1. U.S. Census2. Derived from data reported in High Times

3. Drug Enforcement Administration

1997 Marijuana Production Estimates: State By State Assessment

1997 Marijuana Production Estimates:
State By State Assessment

Rank State Eradicated
Plants [1]
Estimate [2]
Production Weight [3] (Lb) Value to Growers [4] ($1000)
1 California 693,603 25% 2,080,809 1,300,506 $3,870,000
2 Tennessee 1,117,522 50% 1,117,522 698,451 $1,810,000
3 Kentucky 453,886 35% 842,931 526,832 $1,370,000
4 Hawaii 602,161 60% 401,441 250,900 $747,000
5 Florida 108,178 20% 432,712 270,445 $701,000
6 Alabama 82,305 20% 329,220 205,763 $533,000
7 Arkansas 48,252 15% 273,428 170,893 $509,000
8 Indiana 45,242 15% 256,371 160,232 $408,000
9 Ohio 74,388 25% 223,164 139,478 $355,000
10 Missouri 53,336 20% 213,344 133,340 $339,000
11 Oklahoma 89,433 35% 166,090 103,806 $309,000
12 Illinois 9,756 5% 185,364 115,853 $295,000
13 New York 47,884 25% 143,652 89,783 $280,000
14 West Virginia 45,998 25% 137,994 86,246 $269,000
15 Washington 24,927 15% 141,253 88,283 $263,000
16 Idaho 115,834 45% 141,575 88,484 $225,000
17 Georgia 45,160 25% 135,480 84,675 $219,000
17 Mississippi 15,009 10% 135,081 84,426 $219,000
19 Texas 59,617 35% 110,717 69,198 $206,000
20 Minnesota 14,091 10% 126,819 79,262 $202,000
21 Virginia 21,463 15% 121,624 76,015 $197,000
22 Oregon 38,171 30% 89,066 55,666 $166,000
23 Michigan 24,340 20% 97,360 60,850 $155,000
24 Colorado 29,483 25% 88,449 55,281 $141,000
25 Maine 11,706 15% 66,334 41,459 $129,000
26 Louisiana 12,173 15% 68,980 43,113 $128,000
27 North Carolina 50,707 40% 76,061 47,538 $123,000
28 Wisconsin 8,268 10% 74,412 46,508 $118,000
29 South Carolina 12,356 15% 70,017 43,761 $113,000
30 Arizona 37,692 40% 56,538 35,336 $105,000
31 Alaska 7,278 15% 41,242 25,776 $76,700
32 Pennsylvania 6,298 15% 35,689 22,305 $69,600
33 Montana 4,119 10% 37,071 23,169 $58,900
34 New Mexico 4,941 15% 27,999 17,499 $52,100
35 Vermont 3,995 15% 22,638 14,149 $44,100
36 Iowa 1,423 5% 27,037 16,898 $43,000
37 Utah 1,377 5% 26,163 16,352 $41,600
38 Kansas 10,876 30% 25,377 15,861 $40,300
38 Massachusetts 2,298 10% 20,682 12,926 $40,300
40 Maryland 4,826 20% 19,304 12,065 $37,600
41 Connecticut 1,945 15% 11,022 6,889 $21,500
42 Nebraska 2,223 15% 12,597 7,873 $20,000
43 Delaware 5,226 35% 9,705 6,066 $18,900
44 Nevada 550 5% 10,450 6,531 $16,600
45 Rhode Island 870 10% 7,830 4,894 $15,300
46 New Jersey 2,515 25% 7,545 4,716 $14,700
47 New Hampshire 889 15% 5,038 3,149 $9,823
48 South Dakota 318 5% 6,042 3,776 $9,607
49 North Dakota 392 10% 3,528 2,205 $5,610
50 Wyoming 65 5% 1,235 772 $1,964
  United States 4,055,365 32% 8,762,002 5,476,252 $15,142,203

1. Drug Enforcement Administration

2. Report Estimate

3. Calculated on the basis of yield = 10 ounces/plant rather than on the DEA standard of 1 lb. /plant.

4. Calculated as 60% of retail value derived from regional price quotes in High Times.

Hemp Reports

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. The hemp plant is currently harvested for commercial purposes in over 30 nations, including Canada, Japan and the European Union. Nevertheless, U.S. law strictly forbids its domestic cultivation. NORML lobbies state and federal legislators to lift this ban and recognize hemp as a commercial agricultural commodity.


NORML Statement on the Cultivation of Industrial Hemp

“[T]he US market for hemp-based products has a highly dedicated and growing demand base. … [A] commercial hemp industry in the United States could provide opportunities as an economically viable alternative crop for some US growers.”
– Congressional Research Service white paper, ‘Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity,’ 2013

Why are American farmers legally forbidden from growing a plant proclaimed by Popular Mechanics magazine to have the potential to be manufactured into more than 25,000 environmentally friendly products? It’s because the plant is hemp — also known as marijuana — and for more than 60 years, it has remained the U.S. government’s public enemy #1.

What is Hemp?
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.

Despite America’s bureaucratic moratorium on industrial hemp cultivation, a domestic industry exists and continues to grow. U.S. retailers and manufacturers annually import approximately 1.9 million pounds of hemp fiber, 450,000 pounds of hemp seeds, and 331 pounds of hempseed oil from Canada and other nations that regulate hemp farming. (Federal law permits the importation of hemp fiber, sterilized seeds, and ingestible hemp-based products containing no THC.) In addition, a growing number of health professionals are praising hemp seeds’ nutritional value, noting that it’s second only to soy in protein and contains the highest concentration of essential amino and fatty acids found in any food. Given the crop’s versatility, it’s no wonder that hemp has been endorsed by organizations and individuals such as the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Alternative Agricultural Research, the National Conference of State Legislatures, environmentalist Ralph Nader and health guru Andrew Weil.

History of Hemp
Researchers trace hemp’s history as a fiber and food crop back some 12,000 years. During America’s colonial era, many of the founding fathers — including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson — espoused its manufacturing for rope, sails and paper. Early settlers also used hemp seeds as a source for lamp oil and some colonies made hemp cultivation compulsory, calling its production necessary for the “wealth and protection of the country.”

Hemp continued to be cultivated in America until 1937 when Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Actoutlawing marijuana. Although not a bill specifically aimed at hemp production, legal limitations posed by the legislation put an end to the once prominent industry.

Hemp production briefly re-emerged in 1942 when the federal government encouraged American farmers to grow it for the war effort. Armed with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) film “Hemp for Victory,” thousands of farmers grew hundreds of thousands of acres of hemp for wartime needs. Unfortunately, when World War II ended, so did the government’s allowance of hemp cultivation. By 1957, prohibitionists had reasserted a total ban on hemp production. That federal ban remains in effect today.

Where does the DEA Stand on Hemp?
Despite hemp’s emergence as a worldwide economic industry, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) remain firmly opposed to it. Currently, only the DEA has the power to license farmers to legally grow hemp, even in those states where local laws permit it. Not surprisingly, the DEA has continued to deny every permit for large-scale hemp farming (In 1999, they did give Hawaii researchers permission to grow a one-quarter acre test plot of the crop.) within America’s borders for the last four decades.

In a 1995 USDA “White Paper,” the DEA stated that they are “opposed to any consideration of hemp as a legitimate fiber or pulp product,” and recommended that any USDA researcher who wishes to explore the issue must first be briefed by White House anti-drug officials. Since then, DEA officials have stonewalled several state efforts to enact hemp cultivation and research bills by threatening to arrest any farmers who attempt to grow it. Most recently, President George Bush’s spokesman Ari Flesher answered the question: “Does the President favor the legalization of industrial hemp?” by stating that Bush has not made “any statements … that would lend one to reach that conclusion.”

Hemp Today
Although our federal government refuses to waver on hemp prohibition, public, state and international support is growing. The European Union now subsidizes farmers to grow hemp, 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).

In recent years, a number of U.S. states have commissioned studies recommending hemp as a viable economic crop. Most recently, legislatures in Montana and North Dakota have enacted legislationlicensing farmers to grow hemp (though federal approval still remains necessary), hopefully paving the way for a renewed U.S. hemp cultivation industry in the not-so-distant future.

State Sponsored Hemp Studies


Numerous state governments have commissioned studies examining hemp’s feasibility as an agricultural product. Virtually all of these have praised hemp’s economic potential and concluded that the crop’s viability is challenged not by agronomic factors, but rather by legal ones. The summary conclusions of these studies appear chronologically below.

“There is no guarantee for a future of hemp in the U.S. or in Hawaii, but given hemp’s versatility there is a fair chance of success. Legislators, seeking to minimize the political risk associated with the hemp issue, are looking for commitments by large and respectable companies interested in investing in the new industry. That, however, may be putting the cart before the horse. What is needed first is a better understanding of the issues involved and small scale experimental cultivation to generate some of the data that businesses would like to have in hand before committing themselves.” – G. Roth-Li. 1996. Industrial Hemp – Economic and Political Concerns (White Paper prepared for Representative Cynthia Thielen). State Capitol: Honolulu.

“Based upon the review of literature and testimony presented before the task force, the members find that there is potential for industrial hemp to be an important alternative crop in Illinois. [Therefore,] the task force believes that the General Assembly should enact immediately upon the following recommendations: Encourage Congress to make the necessary changes in the United States Codes: 21 U.S.C. 812 (10), 21 U.S.C. 841, and 21 U.S.C. 844 that relate to cannabis sativa L. (industrial hemp) for production, possession and delivery [and] recommend the Drug Enforcement Agency and the National Office of Drug Control Policy to adopt a new definition of industrial hemp that would allow a 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level in industrial hemp and to make it legal to produce, possess, and deliver industrial hemp in the United States and internationally.” – Illinois Industrial Hemp Investigative and Advisory Task Force. 2000. Report of the Illinois Industrial Hemp Investigative and Advisory Task Force. State Capitol: Springfield.

“Using current yields, prices, and production technology from other areas that have grown hemp, Kentucky farmers could earn a profit of approximately $320 per acre of hemp planted for straw production only or straw and grain production, $220 for grain production only and $600 for raising certified seed for planting for other industrial hemp growers. In the long run, it is estimated that Kentucky farmers could earn roughly $320 per acre when growing industrial hemp for straw alone or straw and grain, and $340 an acre from growing certified hemp seed.” – E. Thompson et al. 1998. Economic Impact of Industrial Hemp in Kentucky. Center for Business and Economic Research at University of Kentucky: Lexington.

“Legal prohibition of Cannabis cultivation is the overriding obstacle to reintroduction of hemp fiber in Kentucky. Significant progress on agronomics, marketing, or infrastructure development is unlikely, and of relatively little importance, unless legal issues are resolved. Legislative reaction would be required at both the state and federal level. Such consideration would likely receive strong diverse reactions from both private and public sectors.” – 1995. Report to the Governor’s Hemp and Related Fiber Crops Task Forceas cited by the USDA in Industrial Hemp in the United States 2000: Status and Market Potential. U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington, DC.

“Large crops are grown and marketed in Europe. With current interest in natural fiber clothing, hemp’s advantages of strength and absorbency suggest it could establish a viable place in American textile markets. Human and animal food uses are another traditional market for exploration. Missouri farmers could gain an early advantage in such markets.” – R. Miller. 1991. Hemp as a Crop for Missouri Farmers: Report to the Agricultural Task Force. Missouri House of Representatives. State Capitol: Jefferson City.

North Dakota
“[P]roduction and processing of industrial hemp has the potential to be a viable industry in the United States and possibly North Dakota. Advantages from an agronomic standpoint seem to be that it requires few pesticides or herbicides, is relatively disease free, and is a good rotation crop because it may enhance yields in crops that follow it. It is recommended that the North Dakota Legislature consider legislation that would allow controlled experimental production and processing.” – D. Kraezel et al. 1998. Industrial Hemp as an Industrial crop in North Dakota: A White Paper Study of the Markets, Profitability, Processing, Agronomics and History. The Institute for Natural Resources and Economic Development at North Dakota State University: Fargo.

“There is little doubt that hemp can be successfully cultivated in some areas of the Pacific Northwest. Application of agricultural technology such as intensive plant breeding and improvement in harvesting technology could increase hemp yield and enhance production efficiency. Development of these improvements will take time and resources. Until legislative restrictions are removed from hemp, it is unlikely that investments in improved production technology will be made or that the required industrial infrastructure will be developed.” – D. Ehrensing. 1998. Station Bulletin 681: Feasibility of Industrial Hemp Production in the United States Pacific Northwest. Agricultural Experiment Station at Oregon State University: Corvallis.

“This study examines public attitudes toward industrial hemp based on information gathered through a random survey in Vermont. Major findings about public attitudes from the study include: (1) 87% have heard about hemp and 50% know the difference between hemp and marijuana; (2) 59% believe hemp and marijuana should be controlled by different laws, and 63% do not think legalizing hemp would lead to marijuana legalization; (3) 72% indicate that legalizing hemp would not negatively affect drug education efforts; and (4) 77% support changing the laws so that farmers can grow hemp in Vermont.

Analysis of willingness to buy hemp based products reveals: (1) if hemp jeans were price competitive with cotton jeans 53% would substitute all current purchases and an additional 12% would substitute between 1% and 99% of their purchases; (2) 36% would pay more for hemp jeans; (3) 39% would buy hemp based computer paper if price competitive; and (4) 66% would pay up to 10% more for hemp based writing paper. – C. Halbrendt et al. 1996. Alternative Agricultural Strategies in Vermont: The Case of Industrial Hemp. University of Vermont: Burlington.

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ‘White Paper’ on Hemp

What Do the USDA and the DEA Have to Say About Hemp?


The USDA Produced a White Paper on Hemp in 1995. This paper was made available following a Freedom of Information Act request. This paper illustrates the DEA’s current position regarding industrial hemp.

Industrial Hemp and Other Alternative Crops for Small-Scale Tobacco Producers

By USDA Agricultural Research Service and Economic Research Servicefor Karl Stauber, Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics


In North Carolina, Kentucky and other tobacco producing states, there has been and increasing interest in alternative crops. Tobacco producers are interested in diversification because of questions about the future of that crop. In 1986 and again in 1994, burley tobacco production quotas were cut. In the 1970s, the United States accounted for 16 – 17 percent of world tobacco production and 20 – 21 percent of world tobacco exports. By the 1990s, the US share of world tobacco production had declined to 9 – 10 percent and the US share of world exports dropped to 12 – 13 percent.

Health concerns and rising retail tobacco costs have led to a decline in American per capita cigarette consumption from 7 pounds of tobacco in the 1970s to 4.5 pounds in the 1990s. In spite of a long term decline in real tobacco prices, US tobacco production, which is controlled by a quota system, produces a very high return per acre compared to other crops. Although tobacco farms are relatively small in states like Kentucky and Tennessee, they are very important to the agricultural economy. In Kentucky, for example, while tobacco accounts for only 6 percent of farm acreage, it accounts for over 50 percent of crop receipts and almost 25 percent of all farm cash receipts from livestock and crops.

Although few alternative crops can be expected to yield high returns comparable to tobacco, industrial hemp fiber for paper and textile production has been suggested as a possibility. Industrial hemp is a bast fiber similar to flax, jute and kenaf. Bast fibers tend to have high production costs because they are only a small portion of the plant stem and must be separated from the rest of the stem before they can be used in textile or paper production. A report examining the possibilities for industrial hemp and other bast fiber crops such as kenaf in Kentucky was released in June 1995 (Report to the Governor’s Hemp and Related Fiber Crops Task Force). The executive summary of the Kentucky report is attached as an appendix. That report highlights the uncertainty about the economics of industrial hemp.

The Economics of Industrial Hemp Production:

The latest US experience with hemp dates from World War II when hemp was grown for fiber in Kentucky and other states. Today there is only a very small market for hemp fiber in the United States; about $30,000 of hemp fiber and yarn was imported from Europe and Asia in 1994. In recent years, European countries including the Netherlands, have conducted research on industrial hemp as a possible fiber for textile and paper production. There are small specialty pulp mills in Britain, Spain and Eastern Europe which process flax, hemp and other specialty fibers.

Researchers in the Netherlands suggest that industrial hemp probably is not competitive in European specialty paper markets but is being considered as a fiber supplement to recycled paper pulp. Field trials have shown industrial hemp can be grown in Britain but the economic use of the fiber has yet to be established. Few estimates are available for modern production and processing costs and the market potential is uncertain.

The Kentucky report, drawing on European research on hemp, US research on kenaf and personal communications with researchers, gives a wide range of estimates of returns per acre for hemp fiber production. The estimates, relying on information from several informal sources, seem to be based on combinations of the highest and lowest prices and yields quoted. These estimates, shown in the chart below, compare the range of returns for industrial hemp fiber with average returns per acre for other Kentucky crops, including tobacco.

The chart shows a very high return per acre for tobacco and suggest that specialty vegetables might also produce quite high returns per acre. Some Kentucky tobacco growers are apparently expanding into specialty vegetable markets. The estimated return per acre for industrial hemp ranges from negative to positive. Thus, while industrial hemp could be economically viable in Kentucky, profitability compared with other crops is highly uncertain, given available information. Production and processing trials would be needed to establish the economic viability of industrial hemp production.

Kenaf as a Possible Supplement Crop in Tobacco Producing States:

North Carolina is No. 1 in tobacco production. Given normal early rainfall, kenaf should do well there and yields should be competitive (4 – 6 tons/acre or higher), in not quite as high as further south under ideal conditions. Kentucky, No. 2, is already experimenting with kenaf. Dr. Morris Blitzer, an agronomist at the University of Kentucky, thinks kenaf would be an excellent crop to supplement tobacco, but not replace it.

Kenaf will be a much lower return crop, to be grown on hundreds rather than ten of acres. From the yield standpoint, South Carolina and Georgia definitely should be in a position to grow kenaf. Growing and harvesting conditions will have to be established for each area. However, there are major problems:

a. Tobacco is highly profitable on small farms 10 – 50 acres. It could be difficult to aggregate a number of isolated small farms and grow, harvest and process kenaf at a low enough cost to sell into pulp and other kenaf markets.

b. Kenaf is a relatively new crop. Product and processing technology for kenaf based pulp and for about six other markets have been developed, but the markers must be established in each geographic area (since the core fraction is very low density and expensive to ship).

Based on information from the Mississippi Fiber Cooperative, minimum capital of $1,000,000 to $2,000,000 will be required for post harvest processing (for an area of about 6,000 acres) to separate the kenaf into the two factions (bast and core) which serve different markets. Returns per acre of kenaf are a small fraction of what they are for tobacco.

Potential Markets for Bast Fibers:

Currently, there are two markets for bast fibers like industrial hemp, specialty textiles and paper. Like linen, hemp fiber for textiles is a niche market. Cotton still accounts for 98 percent of the natural cellulose fibers used for textiles. Although hemp textiles wrinkle, their strength, high moisture regain and perceived comfort have a certain appeal as a fashion item.

US Mills do not currently have the equipment to convert hemp fiber into yarn. Also, production costs for hemp textiles appear to be high relative to other fibers. A New Jersey textile importer stated that it currently costs about $15/square meter. This suggests that at current prices and with current technology, industrial hemp has significant competition in the specialty textile market from other natural fibers such as flax.

Due to changing fashion trends, specialty fiber markets for textile production tend to be cyclical. A fiber like linen has been “hot” some years and “off” other years. Still, from a marketing viewpoint, a small and growing demand does exist for “natural fiber” from consumers who are told of the high chemical and pesticide use associated with cotton production.

The specialty and recycled paper market is a second possibility for industrial hemp and other agricultural bast fibers. The more important paper fibers compete on quality characteristics, with cotton being predominant among non-wood fibers, then flax and then niche specialty fibers.

Specialty paper markets include currency, cigarette papers, filter papers and tea bags. Manufacturers are willing to pay more of specialty fibers when there is a quality reason to do so. For example, abaca fibers retain their strength and form when set, commanding a high price. Rising wood prices and regulatory practices have promoted the growth of recycled pulp and paper. Therefore, a potential growth market exists for agricultural fibers as an additive to strengthen paper made from recycled materials.

A third potential market, that of fiber resin composites, is still largely in the development and early commercialization state. In combination with various resins, flax, kenaf, jute, hemp and even wheat straw can be used to make composite board. These could compete with wood based fiber board on the basis of easier processing and superior strength. Hemp fibers could be desirable in this market because of their length and strength. Development work on composites made using agricultural fibers is underway in companies and research institutes in Europe, Canada and the United States. The USDA Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory is the leader in this field.

Research Implication for Hemp and Other Bast Fibers:

Research is being done on industrial hemp and other natural fibers in Europe where industrial crops are actively being encouraged. Canada is investigating the production of industrial hemp as well as the use of other agricultural fibers for the paper and textile markets.

While USDA keeps abreast of developments abroad, research would be needed in several areas if hemp fiber crops were to succeed commercially in the United States. USDA is conducting research on kenaf which is currently being grown on a small scale.

For hemp, crop and fiber yields would have to be increased to bring down costs. Research would be needed to develop modern hemp fiber harvesting and processing methods. Now, hemp fibers are generally quite labor intensive in the harvesting and processing stage. For example, hemp fiber is produced in China, Hungary, Rumania and Spain where labor costs are low. Uses for co-products would have to be found to make the processing operation profitable. Pulping properties would have to be explored under American processing conditions.

In summary, while production, processing and marketing methods are well developed for cotton, wool and synthetic fibers, significant investment would be needed to make industrial hemp competitive in the textile, paper and composite markets.

Legal Constraints on Industrial Hemp Production in the United States:

Although there are varieties of hemp with very low narcotic content, all hemp production in the United States is strictly regulated. Hemp (Cannabis sativa L., and Cannabis Indica) is classified as a schedule 1. controlled substance, regardless of its narcotic content, under the Controlled Substances Act as amended. Regulatory authority is vested in the Office of the Attorney General, and is carried out by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Cannabis permits are restricted to researcher and police analytical laboratories. DEA is opposed to any consideration of hemp as a legitimate fiber or pulp product. Permit holders are required to maintain strict security and records pertaining to stored or cultivated cannabis.

The Kentucky report contains a memorandum summarizing the University of Kentucky’s investigation into the possibility of obtaining a license to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. The memo states

“DEA’s interpretation of these matters discourages any attempt to conduct field trials at a reasonable cost. The cost of fencing alone would prohibit anything but a very small research plot. Under these conditions, it would be virtually impossible to collect useful, realistic agronomic or economic information about hemp production.”

Any effort to legalize hemp production for paper or specialty textiles could encounter stiff Congressional and Administration opposition. The DEA regulatory opposition to industrial hemp production is based upon:

a. The difficulty in distinguishing legitimate hemp with low narcotic concentration from illicit cannabis, and

b. The perception that industrial hemp advocates have a hidden agenda of favoring legalization of marijuana.

Sensitivity is such that the White House Drug Enforcement Office should be contacted before USDA staff attend meetings on industrial hemp or get involved with research programs.


a. Legal issues currently preclude research into the viability of industrial hemp fiber production in the United States.

b. Textiles and paper pulp are the two markets for which hemp fibers have been considered. Aside from the legal issue, the limited information available suggests that industrial hemp fiber profitability is highly uncertain. Experience in Europe has not yet proven the economic viability. Unless the economic viability of industrial hemp production is evaluated by serious field trials and pilot scale processing in the United States, hemp fabrics and paper uses will likely remain a very small niche market which is satisfied by imports.

c. North Carolina and Kentucky are actively considering other crops to supplement tobacco production. Kenaf is actively being considered in Kentucky along with vegetable crops. However kenaf will yield much lower returns than tobacco.

Public Testimony of NORML Opposing U.S. Government’s Domestic Hemp Eradication Program

Public Comments of Paul Armentano
Director of Publications
The NORML Foundation

With assistance by Donald Wirtshafter, Esq.
President, Ohio Hempery, Inc.

Presented on May 27, 1998 to

The United States Department of Agriculture, APHIS,
4700 River Road, Unit 149
Riverdale, MD 20737-1238

The NORML Foundation strongly opposes the “aerial directed spraying” of herbicides from low flying aircraft for the purpose of eliminating wild growing marijuana plots. After evaluating the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication Suppression Program (DCE/SP), we find it misguided, overly burdensome on taxpayers, counterproductive, and potentially harmful to the health and safety of residents and the environment.

I. The DCE/SP is Misguided

A 1998 Vermont State Auditor’s report evaluating the DEA’s marijuana eradication efforts revealed that over 99 percent of the 422,716,526 total marijuana plants eliminated nationwide by the agency in 1996 were “ditchweed,” non-psychoactive hemp. The DEA defines ditchweed as: “Wild, scattered marijuana plants [with] no evidence of planting, fertilizing, or tending.” Many of these plants are remnants from government-subsidized plots grown during World War II’s “Hemp for Victory” campaign, when Japanese conquests in Asia put much of the world’s rope-fiber supply in Axis hands. This strain of cannabis presents no threat to public safety because it contains too little THC to intoxicate users.

According to annual marijuana potency readings conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the average THC content of marijuana consumed for recreational use is three percent while sinsemilla averages greater than seven percent. By comparison, ditchweed contains well less than one percent THC and is of no consequence to recreational marijuana users who consume the drug for its euphoric properties.

Ditchweed grows significantly differently from cultivated marijuana. The nonpsychoactive variety of the plant is sown densely in rows which causes it to grow to a height of ten to 15 feet tall. Little foliage results since the plant is primarily stalk. In contrast, cultivated marijuana is grown like a bush, requiring open space to branch out and produce leaves and flowers. A casual ground inspection of any marijuana plot will readily indicate whether the patch is ditchweed or cultivated marijuana. The DEA already makes this distinction since their records specify eradication of both ditchweed and cultivated marijuana.

Black market marijuana growers cannot tolerate the presence of ditchweed anywhere near their cultivated marijuana patches. The genetics of cultivated marijuana require a careful cross breeding of high THC strains in order to maintain the plant’s usefulness as a drug. Cross pollination with ditchweed will ruin a strain’s sinsemilla quality. The resulting seeds are also rendered worthless. Therefore, marijuana growers do not use ditchweed to camouflage their hand tended plots.

The DEA claims that ditchweed is a legitimate target of the DCE/SP initiative because the crop allegedly presents a problem for law enforcement. For example, Vermont Public Safety Commissioner A. James Walton, Jr. states that ditchweed is “routinely harvested for sale on our streets.” The NORML Foundation finds this scenario unlikely and reminds DEA that the agency defines ditchweed as untended, and therefore presumably unharvested. It is further unlikely that black market dealers would sell exceptionally low grade marijuana because such sales would not be profitable. Even if the DEA is aware of such occasional sales, it is highly unlikely these rare occurrences justify the agency’s fixation on ditchweed rather than cultivated marijuana.

Walton also alleges that ditchweed is “often smoked by juveniles as their first introduction to marijuana smoking,” and that the plant can be “chemically altered to increase its psychoactive potential.” The NORML Foundation is unaware of any evidence indicating these circumstances are encountered by law enforcement. At the least, the DEA should present evidence demonstrating that these circumstances present such a common threat to law enforcement and public safety to warrant the agency’s overwhelming focus on ditchweed eradication. As it stands now, the NORML Foundation believes such concerns are unrealistic and unfounded.

In sum, ditchweed plants are fundamentally different from cultivated marijuana. Ditchweed presents no threat to public safety, does not contribute to the black market marijuana trade, and should not be targeted by DEA marijuana eradication efforts.

II. The DCE/SP Excessively Burdens the American Taxpayer

The Vermont Auditor’s report found that the DEA spent over $9 million on marijuana eradication efforts in all 50 states in 1996. (This figure does not include the cost of state and local participation.) As indicated above, the bulk of these taxpayer’s dollars were spent eradicating plants that present no threat to public safety. In fact, South Dakota spent $105,000 in 1996 eliminating only ditchweed. States like Missouri, North Dakota, and Illinois engaged in similar activities. In those states, ditchweed comprised more than 99.95 percent of the total plants eradicated by law enforcement at a cost to taxpayers of just under one million dollars.

It is likely that DEA expenditures will rise in the future. Members of Congress and the Office of National Drug Control Policy Director (ONDCP) Barry McCaffrey earmarked $6 million-more than half of the total DCE/SP 1996 budget-to combat marijuana eradication in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia in 1999. Of these three states, West Virginia currently spends the most money targeting ditchweed. The Vermont report found that more than 93 percent of the total plants eradicated there were untended, feral ditchweed plants.

If DEA encourages more states to engage in the “aerial directed spraying” of herbicides as part of their marijuana eradication efforts, the total amount of tax dollars spent by states on the DCE/SP could increase dramatically. Presently, only Hawaii engages in such conduct. (Oklahoma is set to begin the practice later this year.)

Not surprisingly, Hawaii spent more money on marijuana eradication efforts in 1996 than virtually all other states.

There is no evidence that the American public wishes to spend millions of taxpayer’s dollars eliminating primarily ditchweed. Recently, two state representatives specifically addressed this issue.

In a recent letter to USDA Project Leader Jack Edmundson, Hawaiian state Rep. Cynthia Thielen asserted “This [program] is a waste of taxpayer’s money. The DEA should focus its efforts on meaningful drug eradication, not on methods designed merely to make it look as if the agency is doing something when it is not.”

Representative Fred Maslack, who sits on the New Hampshire House Agriculture Committee, also criticized the amount of money spent on the annual program. “It’s high time to reallocate this law enforcement money,” he said after reviewing the Vermont Auditor report. The DEA DCE/SP “amounts to consumer fraud. They’re misrepresenting what they’re doing. … As far as the ‘War on Drugs’ is concerned, they would be better off pulling up goldenrod. … I hate to rain on their outdoor recreational activities, but the same money could just as well be used to control drunk drivers, which is a better use of the funds and that’s where they should be redirected.”

The NORML Foundation suggests that the DEA produce evidence demonstrating that the American people are aware that the agency’s marijuana eradication efforts primarily target non-psychoactive ditchweed, and, if so, that they are willing to pay millions of dollars to fund these efforts. If DEA does not have such evidence, then we suggest an immediate spending freeze on the DCE/SP until the agency demonstrates such evidence.

III. The DCE/SP is Counterproductive to Agriculture and the Economy

Ditchweed, or nonpsychoactive hemp, is one of nature’s strongest and most versatile agricultural crops and has a variety of commercial uses. Various parts of the plant may be utilized for making paper, textiles, cosmetics, paints, clothing, foodstuffs, insulation, and animal feed. It produces a much higher yield than substitutes such as wood pulp and cotton and requires virtually no pesticides. Also, hemp has an average growing cycle of only 100 days and leaves the soil practically weed-free for the next planting. Presently, farmers in over 30 countries — including Canada, France, England, Germany, Japan, and Australia — grow hemp for industrial purposes.

Farmers in America show interest in cultivating hemp as an economic crop. In 1996, the American Farm Bureau unanimously approved a resolution encouraging farmers to plant test plots of nonpsychoactive hemp for research purposes. Many farmers have applied for DEA licenses to grow the plant. This March, a coalition of business and agricultural organizations wishing to grow hemp filed a formal petition with the DEA and the USDA. Most recently, a coalition of Kentucky farmers filed suit against the federal government to allow them to produce hemp for commercial and industrial purposes.

In the last two years, legislators in over a dozen states introduced measures to allow American farmers to cultivate hemp. In Hawaii, North Dakota, and Vermont, legislators approved bills to study the feasibility and economic viability of industrial hemp production. The Vermont study determined that “there is support … for industrial hemp production, and there is a potential market base for hemp based products.” However, no state study attempted to grow the crop for fear of conflicting with federal law.

The NORML Foundation finds it foolish and economically counterproductive for the DEA to pursue efforts to target and eliminate a naturally growing crop that American farmers express interest in cultivating for commercial purposes and that states desire planting for research purposes. The hundreds of millions of ditchweed plants destroyed by the DEA annually should be harvested by farmers for their fiber content to better serve the environmental and economic interests of our nation.

IV. Destroying Ditchweed Plots Threatens the Natural Habitat of Wildlife

Ditchweed is one of the mainland United States’ most valuable cover plants for upland game like quail and pheasant. Game birds and neo-tropical songbirds also feed and depend upon its seed. Massive eradication of these plants from their longstanding, natural habitat may drastically change the ability of the ecosystem to support game. In addition, the aerial application of chemicals by law enforcement could result in the inadvertent elimination of a broad array of plants other than ditchweed. The net result of this effort could potentially shift the composition of the midwest plant community from its present grassy-weedy complex toward a grass-only complex.

The NORML Foundation requests the DEA address the potential impact on wildlife and game habitat posed by the “aerial directed spraying” of herbicides on and the massive elimination of naturally occurring ditchweed. Until this impact is assessed, DEA should discontinue targeting, spraying, and eliminating ditchweed in the Midwest states.

V. The Aerial Application of Herbicides Threatens Public Safety

The NORML Foundation’s pivotal concern regarding the DEA’s DCE/SP lies in the potential safety threat the program poses for humans and the environment.

Environmental journals have long criticized the aerial use of the herbicide glyphosate (aka Round Up) in marijuana eradication efforts. A report in the February 1993 issue of Global Pesticide Campaigner called the tactic “unsuccessful” and highlighted the chemical’s potential dangers. “Reports from other countries where aerial spraying has been used in anti-drug programs are not encouraging,” it states. “International health workers in Guatemala report acute poisonings in peasants living in areas near eradication spraying, while farmers in these zones have sustained serious damage to their crops.”

Last year, a June 5 Reuters News article reaffirmed these dangers. “Their is a high risk in aerial spraying [of the herbicide,]” Louis Eduardo Perra, senior researcher at Columbia’s National Drug Council, told the news wire. “There is a risk to those who may be exposed on the ground. There is a risk of contamination in our rivers.”

The winter 1995 edition of the Journal of Pesticide Reform reported similar cases in the U.S. “In California, … glyphosate was the third most commonly reported pesticide illness among agricultural workers,” the journal reported. “Among landscape maintenance workers, glyphosate was the most commonly reported cause.” The author added that, “Glyphosate exposure damages or reduces the population of many animals, including beneficial insects, fish, birds, and earthworms, [and] in some cases is directly toxic.”

The journal also stated that aerial application of the drug poses an even greater danger to the environment. “In general, movement of a pesticide through unwanted drift is unavoidable; drift of glyphosate is no exception.” The article emphasized that glyphosate drift is a “particularly significant problem … [because] damage is likely to be much more extensive and more persistent than with many other herbicides.”

Studies conducted regarding the aerial spraying of glyphosate in the early 1990s demonstrated that between 41 and 82 percent of glyphosate applied from helicopters moves off the target site. In addition, two studies conducted in Canada measured glyphosate residues more than 650 feet away from target areas following helicopter applications to forest sites and a third study from California found glyphosate over 2,600 feet away following aerial application.

The Radian Corporation defines glyphosate as a “moderately toxic” herbicide if ingested. Symptoms of exposure to this compound include “irritation of the skin, gastrointestinal tract and respiratory tract, convulsions, and coma.” Additionally, glyphosate irritates the human eye, and is toxic to wild birds which commonly roost in ditchweed plots. At least one study, cited in the December 24, 1996, issue of the Hawaiian Tribune Herald, found that the herbicide increased the size of a tumor in an animal.

First hand experiences from Hawaii — the only state where the DEA presently sprays glyphosate from aircraft-illustrate the dangers inherent in the DEA’s eradication efforts. According to area physician, Patricia Bailey, M.D., who first contacted NORML in 1996, the DEA’s DCE/SP directly threatens the health of area residents and poisons wildlife. At that time, Bailey collected incident reports from some 40 persons, aged nine months to 84 years, who claim that they have been adversely affected by the spray. She cited generalized symptoms of eye and respiratory tract irritation. She further noted that about 75 percent of respondents suffered from diarrhea.

Signed statements from residents living in proximity to the sprayings describe flu-like symptoms such as nausea and headaches, sometimes lasting for more than a week after the spraying. Others complain of experiencing fatigue, irritability, sore joints and throats, and frequent itchiness and burning of the eyes. In one of the most severe reported cases, a 32-year-old resident complained of experiencing prolonged numbness in her arms. “The numbness was the most prominent and frightening [symptom,]” she explained. “[It] felt uncomfortable to wear my watch. … I kept rubbing my arms, trying to warm them and get blood back circulating.” The NORML Foundation houses these incident reports at our Washington, D.C. office. Bailey later concluded that there was “statistical significance” to the complaints.

According to the published literature and anecdotal reports from Hawaii, glyphosate-particularly when applied from low flying aircraft-poses a real threat to the health and safety of residents and the environment. The NORML Foundation believes that this herbicide’s demonstrated threat to public safety greatly overshadows any alleged problems ditchweed may pose for law enforcement. We object to the dangers this and similar chemicals like triclopyr pose to the general public and wildlife through contamination of ground water, surface water, air and soil, and request the agency explore alternatives to using chemical herbicides in the DCE/SP.

The NORML Foundation also notes that the DEA fails to assess the potential harm and intrusions these helicopter missions have upon local residents and wildlife. In several states, residents report that noise and turbulence caused by search aircraft damage houses, gardens, and endanger livestock. The NORML Foundation recommends the agency adequately probe this issue.


The NORML Foundation opposes the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication Suppression Program, and further opposes the “aerial directed spraying” of herbicides from low flying aircraft. The program almost exclusively eradicates ditchweed which presents no threat to public safety. The DEA demonstrates no evidence that the American public wishes to spend millions of dollars annually eliminating this plant, and in fact, many farmers and state legislatures express interest in growing nonpsychoactive hemp for agricultural and research purposes. In addition, the aerial application of herbicides to eliminate ditchweed poses a demonstrated threat to the general public and wildlife through contamination of ground water, surface water, air and soil, and the elimination of many animals’ natural habitat. It is ironic that the same plant so zealously targeted by this program is now cultivated by farmers in various Western nations for commercial purposes. Only in America do federal law enforcement continue to place public safety at risk and our tax dollars to waste eliminating this proven worldwide cash crop.

Freedom of Information Act Requests

The Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. Sect. 552) was enacted by Congress in 1966 to give the public access to information held by the federal government. The Act gives any person or organization the right to request and receive any document, file or other “record” in the possession of any agency of the federal government, subject to certain defined exemptions. The Act requires the government to search for and provide documents in the possession of the agency, not to create documents in response to a request. Although the federal Act does not apply to state governments, each state has its own laws governing disclosure of records held by state and local government bodies.

Government records often contain facts that can be helpful to organizations, businesses, and individual citizens. Such information is necessary to inform the public about what the government is or is not doing with regard to matters of public concern. Regulatory agencies, for instance, have a large amount of data such as inspection reports, individual files, tests on a broad spectrum of goods and services and data submitted by industry on such subjects as pollution or nuclear safety.

Since its inception, NORML has asked for, and frequently received, federal documents which contain information relevant to drug policy reform. Many of those responses are linked here.

For further information and instructions on how to file a request for records under the Freedom of Information Act, see

For a listing of principal FOIA Contacts at Federal Agencies, see

NORML Lodges Formal Complaint with FCC for Allowing the Government to Secretly Place Anti-marijuana Content in Popular U.S. TV Shows (2000)

Drug Czar Propaganda

Federal law has long required that whenever a radio or television station receives payment for the inclusion of material in its broadcast (including entertainment, political programs and opinion pieces) that station must announce the fact of such payment and the identity of the sponsor. See 47 USC 317; 47 CFR 73.4215, 73.4045, 73.4180, and 73.1212; and 40 FCC 141 (5-6-1963) and FCC 75-418 (4-21-1975). The Executive Office of the President and numerous television networks have been systematically violating that law.

In late 1997, Congress approved an immense, five-year, billion-dollar ad buy for anti drug advertising as long as the networks sold ad time to the government at half price — a two-for-one deal that provided over $2 billion worth of ads for a $1 billion allocation. But, the five participating networks did not like the deal from the start.  So, the ONDCP presented the networks with a compromise: The office would give up some of the ad time that it had bought in return for getting anti-drug motifs incorporated within specific prime-time shows. That created a new, more potent strain of the anti-drug social engineering that the government wanted, while at the same time allowing the TV networks to resell the liberated ad time at the going rate.

After the program was implemented, the ONDCP then required that the programs be approved before being aired in order to receive credit under the program. As reported by Salon Magazine, “The drug office and its ad buyers would receive advance copies of scripts from most networks, often more than once as a particular episode developed over time. In some cases the networks and the ONDCP would wrangle over the changes requested.” Thus, the drug czar’s office has been directly influencing the content of TV shows, not merely with input from experts, but as a condition for monetary credit with the networks.

Currently, the public debate over marijuana policy reform is very active. Thus, the secret actions by the ONDCP to influence the content of network programs in an effort to advance its official edict: marijuana prohibition is good, is especially egregious. NORML Foundation filed this complaint with the Federal Communications Commission to stop this practice and force the television networks and the Drug Czar to comply with the federal law and disclose whenever the Drug Czar’s office has influenced program content in the future. The complaint was first filed on January 20, 2000, but was allegedly “lost” by the FCC. The second one was served by certified mail on February 17, 2000. Please take the time to e-mail the FCC enforcement division and urge them to take action against the federal government and the television networks for the violations outlined in NORML’s complaint. If you believe that the government is wrongheaded in its efforts to enforce marijuana prohibition, please join and support NORML‘s long standing marijuana reform efforts.



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14 Jan 2000

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United States
Aired January 14, 2000 – 3:00 p.m.  ET 

BOBBIE BATTISTA, HOST: How much does the White House influence what you watch on television? Salon magazine calls it primetime propaganda.  It says television networks allow the government to review and recommend changes to some show scripts in exchange for credits that translate into dollars.  The deal involves the White House Office of National Drug Policy Control and some of the most popular shows on television.  

According to Salon, shows, including “Seventh Heaven,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” “ER,” “The Drew Carey Show” and “Chicago Hope,” have pitched anti-drug messages approved by the government.  Should the networks open their shows to government approval and tow the White House’s line on drugs? 


by Hugh Robertson The Legalise Cannabis Alliance, (Source:Evening Express, Aberdeen, UK)

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20 Jan 2000

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Sirs: Given that two out of the three ministers in charge of drugs policy have admitted smoking cannabis — Mo Mowlam recently and Charles Clarke in 1997 — how can they justify the Government’s policy of criminalising other people who follow in their shoes? 

The law does not differentiate between first-time and long-term use.  

If either minister had been arrested in their youth they may well have been jailed and would almost certainly not be in the position they are now.  

I don’t believe that either of them would have deserved a criminal record.  And neither do the 80,000 people arrested each year in the UK for exactly the same ‘criminal’ activity — possession of cannabis.  

H ROBERTSON The Legalise Cannabis Alliance 


by Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D., (Source:New England Journal of Medicine)

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30 Jan 1997

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The advanced stages of many illnesses and their treatments are often accompanied by intractable nausea, vomiting, or pain.  Thousands of patients with cancer, AIDS, and other diseases report they have obtained striking relief from these devastating symptoms by smoking marijuana.  ( 1 ) The alleviation of distress can be so striking that some patients and their families have been willing to risk a jail term to obtain or grow the marijuana.  

Despite the desperation of these patients, within weeks after voters in Arizona and California approved propositions allowing physicians in their states to prescribe marijuana for medical indications, federal officials, including the President, the secretary of Health and Human Services, and the attorney general sprang into action.  At a news conference, Secretary Donna E.  Shalala gave an organ recital of the parts of the body that she asserted could be harmed by marijuana and warned of the evils of its spreading use.  Attorney General Janet Reno announced that physicians in any state who prescribed the drug could lose the privilege of writing prescriptions, be excluded from Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, and even be prosecuted for a federal crime.  General Barry R.  McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, reiterated his agency’s position that marijuana is a dangerous drug and implied that voters in Arizona and California had been duped into voting for these propositions.  He indicated that it is always possible to study the effects of any drug, including marijuana, but that the use of marijuana by seriously ill patients would require, at the least, scientifically valid research.  

I believe that a federal policy that prohibits physicians from alleviating suffering by prescribing marijuana for seriously ill patients is misguided, heavy-handed, and inhumane.  Marijuana may have long-term adverse effects and its use may presage serious addictions, but neither long-term side effects nor addiction is a relevant issue in such patients.  It is also hypocritical to forbid physicians to prescribe marijuana while permitting them to use morphine and meperidine to relieve extreme dyspnea and pain.  With both these drugs the difference between the dose that relieves symptoms and the dose that hastens death is very narrow; by contrast, there is no risk of death from smoking marijuana.  To demand evidence of therapeutic efficacy is equally hypocritical.  The noxious sensations that patients experience are extremely difficult to quantify in controlled experiments.  What really counts for a therapy with this kind of safety margin is whether a seriously ill patient feels relief as a result of the intervention, not whether a controlled trial “proves” its efficacy.  

Paradoxically, dronabinol, a drug that contains one of the active ingredients in marijuana ( tetrahydrocannabinol ), has been available by prescription for more than a decade.  But it is difficult to titrate the therapeutic dose of this drug, and it is not widely prescribed.  By contrast, smoking marijuana produces a rapid increase in the blood level of the active ingredients and is thus more likely to be therapeutic.  Needless to say, new drugs such as those that inhibit the nausea associated with chemotherapy may well be more beneficial than smoking marijuana, but their comparative efficacy has never been studied.  

Whatever their reasons, federal officials are out of step with the public.  Dozens of states have passed laws that ease restrictions on the prescribing of marijuana by physicians, and polls consistently show that the public favors the use of marijuana for such purposes.  ( 1 ) Federal authorities should rescind their prohibition of the medicinal use of marijuana for seriously ill patients and allow physicians to decide which patients to treat.  The government should change marijuana’s status from that of a Schedule 1 drug ( considered to be potentially addictive and with no current medical use ) to that of a Schedule 2 drug ( potentially addictive but with some accepted medical use ) and regulate it accordingly.  To ensure its proper distribution and use, the government could declare itself the only agency sanctioned to provide the marijuana.  I believe that such a change in policy would have no adverse effects.  The argument that it would be a signal to the young that “marijuana is OK” is, I believe, specious.  

This proposal is not new.  In 1986, after years of legal wrangling, the Drug Enforcement Administration ( DEA ) held extensive hearings on the transfer of marijuana to Schedule 2.  In 1988, the DEA’s own administrative-law judge concluded, “It would be unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.” ( 1 ) Nonetheless, the DEA overruled the judge’s order to transfer marijuana to Schedule 2, and in 1992 it issued a final rejection of all requests for reclassification.  ( 2 ) 

Some physicians will have the courage to challenge the continued proscription of marijuana for the sick.  Eventually, their actions will force the courts to adjudicate between the rights of those at death’s door and the absolute power of bureaucrats whose decisions are based more on reflexive ideology and political correctness than on compassion.  

Jerome P.  Kassirer, M.D.  


1.  Young FL.  Opinion and recommended ruling, marijuana rescheduling petition.  Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration.  Docket 86-22.  Washington, D.C.: Drug Enforcement Administration, September 6, 1988.  

2.  Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration.  Marijuana scheduling petition: denial of petition: remand.  ( Docket No.  86-22.  ) Fed Regist 1992;57( 59 ):10489-508.  

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Pubdate: 30 Jan 1997 
Source: New England Journal of Medicine (MA)
Copyright: 2005 Massachusetts Medical Society 
Author: Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D. 
Bookmark: (Marijuana – Medicinal)

Institute of Medicine Report Endorsing Medical Marijuana

Get the PDF Version of this DocumentMarijuana and Health

Report of a Study by a Committee of the Institute of Medicine
Division of Health Sciences Policy

NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the Councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institutes of Medicine. The members of the committee chosen for this report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors.

Chapter 7 – Therapeutic Potential and Medical Uses of Marijuana

(p. 150)
Cannabis and its derivatives have shown promise in the treatment of a variety of disorders. The evidence is most impressive in glaucoma, where their mechanism of action appears to be different from the standard drugs; in asthma, where they approach isoproterenol in effectiveness; and in the nausea and vomiting of cancer chemotherapy, where they compare favorably with phenothiazines. Smaller trials have suggested cannabis might also be useful in seizures, spasticity, and other nervous system disorders. Effective doses usually produce psychotropic and cardiovascular effects and can be troublesome, particularly in older patients.

Although marijuana has not been shown unequivocally superior to any existing therapy for any of these conditions, several important aspects of its therapeutic potential should be appreciated. First, its mechanisms of action and its toxicity in several diseases are different from those of drugs now being used to treat those conditions; thus, combined use with other drugs might allow greater therapeutic efficacy without cumulative toxicity. Second, the differences in action suggest new approaches to understanding both the diseases and the drugs used to treat them. Last, there may be an opportunity to synthesize derivatives of marijuana that offer better therapeutic ratios than marijuana itself.

Recommendations for Research
The committee believes that the therapeutic potential of cannabis and its derivatives and synthetic analogues warrants further research along the lines described in this chapter. There also may be significant heuristic benefits to be derived from the study of the biological mechanisms by which these compounds act.

Some therapeutic promise seems to be offered by synthetic cannabinoid analogues. The committee recommends that particular attention be paid to the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in cancer patients because current management of this important and widespread problem is inadequate and studies suggest that cannabinoids may have some special advantage. Cannabinoids or their analogues may also find a place in the management of resistant glaucoma, of severe intractable asthma, and of certain forms of seizures that are resistant to standard therapy. Continued carefully contracted clinical trials in these areas seem worthwhile at this time, as do studies of the usefulness of cannabinoids in the usefulness of muscle spasticity.

The more things change, the more they stay the same…

Get the PDF Version of this DocumentOut Of Joint

The case for medicinal marijuana.
By Brian Hecht

July 15 & 22, 1991 in the NEW REPUBLIC

Last week the Public Health Service announced that it will phase out its program of allowing seriously ill patients to smoke marijuana. The reason seems to have little to do with the effectiveness of pot in relieving various medical symptoms and a lot to do with the politics of the “drug war.” With the recent attention pot has received as an appetite enhancer in AIDS cases, the government correctly anticipated a flood of applications from AIDS patients for “compassionate” approval of the drug. AIDS activists, who have had much success in liberalizing the prescription drug approval process, may have met their match.

The debate over the medical use of marijuana started two decades ago and has hinged on its effectiveness in treating glaucoma, spasticity, and chemotherapy-induced nausea. Pot, like heroin, is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule I drug, which means it has a high potential for abuse, induces harmful side effects, and has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. “Pot advocates argue that marijuana should be moved to the category of Schedule II drugs, which also have a high potential for abuse and can have bad side effects, but are considered to be useful medically and thus can be prescribed by physicians. Interestingly, cocaine — the drug war’s No. 1 bogey — is a Schedule II drug.

In 1985 the government did recognize that the principal active ingredient in marijuana -delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC-has medical use. A synthetic drug containing THC is now available by prescription under the name Marinol, manufactured by Unimed Pharmaceuticals.

Why does the government allow THC pills but not marijuana joints? THC has been put through a level of testing acceptable to the Food and Drug Administration. Because of the expense, this typically requires a pharmaceutical-industry corporate sponsor, which pot — a plant that grows like a weed and requires no processing — is unlikely to attract.

Nevertheless, in response to a 1972 petition for rescheduling filed by NORML and other pot advocacy groups, in 1988 DEA administrative law judge Francis L. Young ruled that the ban on prescription pot is “unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious.”

The DEA chose to ignore his recommendation for rescheduling, calling the medical use of marijuana a “cruel and dangerous hoax.” Then this April the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. ordered the DEA to change three of its eight criteria for reclassification. Under those three criteria, a drug can be removed from Schedule I only if it is generally (i.e., legally available and used in the medical community; by definition, the court noted, these are conditions that an illegal drug can never meet. The decision might appear to be a big victory for the medical rise of marijuana. But the court did approve five of the DEA criteria, and pot advocates, who think the DEA will have no trouble reshaping the other three to satisfy the court, see this judicial path to rescheduling as effectively closed.

The only other path (short of congressional action) is through the FDA, which has the authority to tell the DEA that a drug has “currently accepted medical use” and that it should be rescheduled. The hope among pot and AIDS activists had been that the onslaught of “compassionate” approval applications by AIDS patients and their doctors — which began last year when two AIDS patients, Barbara and Kenny Jenks, were arrested for growing marijuana to treat themselves — would force the FDA to recognize marijuana’s medical use. Instead, the Public Health Service, which oversees the FDA, has supported its decision with the same argument the DEA has been using for years: evidence of the medical value of marijuana is purely anecdotal and the drug has not been rendered safe.

Pot advocates acknowledge that although there is copious research on marijuana, they are short on the kinds of institutionally sponsored studies that would typically satisfy the FDA. And since marijuana treatment of appetite loss in AIDS patients is very new, there are no formal studies. Nevertheless, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the medical benefits of using marijuana outweigh the risks. The debate can be boiled down to three questions

1. Is the drug safe?
2. Does it work? and
3. How does it compare with other available drugs?

The DEA argues that marijuana contains more than 400 chemicals, which appear in widely varying proportions and whose chemical properties are not completely known, Marijuana’s side effects, it claims, are intensive, though not fully understood. Pot causes acute changes in heart and circulation rates, has “produced genetic and non-genetic birth defects in many animal species,” can reduce sperm count, and “may also have a toxic effect on the human brain.” Lately the government, especially Herbert Kleber of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has been pointing out the irony of using marijuana — which itself suppresses the immune system — in treating Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Although pot advocates dispute the extent of marijuana’s side effects, they point out that all drugs have side effects, and that in the case of pot, as with other drugs, such reactions (even immune suppression) need to be weighed against the benefits. They note that government-approved THC also suppresses the immune system (it gets you high too.) They add that common anti-emetic (anti- vomiting) drugs such as Compazine and Decadron can have side effects far worse than those of marijuana, such as liver damage and death. Dr. Ivan Silverberg, an oncologist who has spoken with hundreds of cancer patients who use marijuana, testified in 1988 that “the only side effect I’ve seen would bill be sedation,” which he characterized as “mild.” A study conducted by the state of ‘New Mexico found adverse effects in only three of 250 patients tested.

And if we may venture into the realm of “anecdotal” evidence, it is worth noting that tens of million of Americans — including U.S. senators, prospective Supreme Court judges, and maybe even First Ladies — have smoked pot without suffering noticeable damage. No one has ever died of a marijuana overdose; the lethal dosage is so high that no human could ever smoke enough pot to kill himself.

So is pot effective? The DEA, argues that its use in treating nausea, glaucoma, and spasticity has not been sufficiently proved by double-blind studies.

And the evidence for AIDS treatment, it claims, is nonexistent. Yet in 1973, Dr. Leo E. Hollister of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto proved scientifically what anyone who has ever smoked pot will tell you: marijuana gives you the munchies. Dr. Ernest Abel of Berkeley confirmed Hollister’s results later that year. In a now famous 1975 study, Drs. Steven Sallan and Norman Zinberg at Boston’s Sidney Farber Cancer Research Center also confirmed that pot is effective as an anti-emetic. And a 1979 double-blind and placebo-controlled study by Dr. Alfred Chang of the National Cancer Institute confirmed the 1975 results. Several states, including New Mexico, Michigan, and New York, in independent studies over the last twenty years, have also proved pot’s effectiveness as an anti-emetic. And besides, notes Dr. John Morgan of CUNY Medical School, there is no rule that saves a drug must be the best at what it does to warrant approval. If it is effective in even a small number of cases, it deserves serious attention as a therapeutic product.

The new Health and Human Services policy directive says that patients applying for medicinal marijuana must first try Marinol. But pot advocates point out that marijuana is more effective than Marinol. In a 1988 study by Dr. Vincent Vinciguerra published in the New York State Journal of Medicine, 29 percent of those who did not respond to oral THC did respond to smoked marijuana. The NCI/Chang study found that smoke from marijuana, absorbed through the lungs, acts on the brain almost immediately, while orally ingested pills can leave a nauseous cancer patient to suffer for several hours. Besides, notes CUNY’s Morgan, “It is absurd that we only have an oral tablet” to treat vomiting. It’s like treating diarrhea with a suppository.

But if the government is truly looking to satisfy its “currently accepted medical use” criteria, officials should turn to a just-published study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, conducted by Richard Doblin and Mark A. R. Kleiman of Harvard’s Kennedy School. Forty-eight percent of oncologists responding said they would prescribe marijuana to some of their patients if it were legal. Fifty-four percent said they thought smoked marijuana should be available by prescription, and 44 percent said they had recommended pot to a patient, even though it is illegal.

In justifying the new decision. PHS chief James 0. Mason told me: “It puts the government in sort of a tenuous situation to be passing out marijuana cigarettes that can be used by a person that can cloud their judgment if they choose to use an automobile or get out in the street or in the context of sexual behavior. I think it sends a signal that’s not the best signal.” Mason’s rationale was uncannily prophesied by Judge Young in his 1988 decision: “There are those who, in all sincerity, argue that the transfer of marijuana to Schedule II will ‘send a signal’ that marijuana is , ‘ok’ generally for recreational use. This argument is specious. . . . If marijuana should be placed in Schedule II, in obedience to the law, then that is where marijuana should be placed, regardless of misinterpretation of the placement by some.” The fact that AIDS has been added to the list of conditions treatable by pot should have helped, not hindered, efforts at reclassification.

Marijuana, it seems, does indeed cloud the mind. But in this instance, the clouded minds are in government buildings, not in doctors’ offices or patients’ sick rooms.

Marijuana as Medicine – A Plea for Reconsideration

Get the PDF Version of this DocumentGuest Editiorial in the Journal of
American Medical Association
by L. Grinspoon MD

JAMA, June 21, 1995
Vol 273, No. 23
Lester Grinspoon, MD
James B. Bakalar, JD

Between 1840 and 1900, European and American medical journals published more than 100 articles on the therapeutic use of the drug known then as Cannabis indica (or Indian hemp) and now as marihuana. It was recommended as an appetite stimulant, muscle relaxant, analgesic, hypnotic, and anticonvulsant. As late as 1913 Sir William Osler recommended it as the most satisfactory remedy for migraine.

Today the 5000 year medical history of cannabis has been almost forgotten. Its use declined in the early 20th century because the potency of preparations was variable, responses to oral ingestion were erratic, and alternatives became available — injectable opiates and, later, synthetic drugs such as aspirin and barbiturates. In the United States, the final blow was struck by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Designed to prevent nonmedical use, this law made cannabis so difficult to obtain for medical purposes that it was removed from the pharmacopeia. It is now confined to Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act as a drug that has a high potential for abuse, lacks an accepted medical use, and is unsafe for use under medical supervision.

In 1972 the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws petitioned the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, later renamed the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to transfer marihuana to Schedule II so that it could be legally prescribed. As the proceedings continued, other parties joined, including the Physicians Association for AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) Care. It was only in 1986, after many years of legal maneuvering, that the DEA acceded to the demand for the public hearings required by law. During the hearings, which lasted 2 years, many patients and physicians testified and thousands of pages of documentation were introduced. In 1988 the DEA’s own administrative law judge, Francis L. Young, declared that marihuana in its natural form fulfilled the legal requirement of currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. He added that it was “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.”[1] His order that the marihuana plant be transferred to Schedule II was overruled, not by any medical authority, but by the DEA itself, which issued a final rejection of all pleas for reclassification in March 1992.

Meanwhile, a few patients have been able to obtain marihuana legally for therapeutic purposes. Since 1978, legislation permitting patients with certain disorders to use marihuana with a physician’s approval has been enacted in 36 states.

Although federal regulations and procedures made the laws difficult to implement, 10 states eventually established formal marihuana research programs to seek Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for Investigational New Drug (IND) applications. These programs were later abandoned, mainly because the bureaucratic burden on physicians and patients became intolerable.

Growing demand also forced the FDA to institute an Individual Treatment IND (commonly referred to as a Compassionate IND) for the use of physicians whose patients needed marihuana because no other drug would produce the same therapeutic effect. The application process was made enormously complicated, and most physicians did not want to become involved, especially since many believed there was some stigma attached to prescribing cannabis. Between 1976 and 1988 the government reluctantly awarded about a half dozen Compassionate INDs for the use of marihuana. In 1989 the FDA was deluged with new applications from people with AIDS, and the number granted rose to 34 within a year. In June 1991, the Public Health Service announced that the program would be suspended because it undercut the administration’s opposition to the use of illegal drugs.
After that no new Compassionate INDs were granted, and the program was discontinued in March 1992. Eight patients are still receiving marihuana under the original program; for everyone else it is officially a forbidden medicine.

And yet physicians and patients in increasing numbers continue to relearn through personal experience the lessons of the 19th century. Many people know that marihuana is now being used illegally for the nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy. Some know that it lowers intraocular pressure in glaucoma. Patients have found it useful as an anticonvulsant, as a muscle relaxant in spastic disorders, and as an appetite stimulant in the wasting syndrome of human immunodeficiency virus infection. It is also being used to relieve phantom limb pain, menstrual cramps, and other types of chronic pain, including (as Osler might have predicted) migraine.2 Polls and voter referenda have repeatedly indicated that the vast majority of Americans think marihuana should be medically available.

One of marihuana’s greatest advantages as a medicine is its remarkable safety. It has little effect on major physiological functions. There is no known case of a lethal overdose; on the basis of animal models, the ratio of lethal to effective dose is estimated as 40,000 to l. By comparison, the ratio is between 3 and 50 to 1 for secobarbital and between 4 and 10 to l for ethanol. Marihuana is also far less addictive and far less subject to abuse than many drugs now used as muscle relaxants, hypnotics, and analgesics. The chief legitimate concern is the effect of smoking on the lungs. Cannabis smoke carries even more tars and other particulate matter than tobacco smoke. But the amount smoked is much less, especially in medical use, and once marihuana is an openly recognized medicine, solutions may be found. Water pipes are a partial answer; ultimately a technology for the inhalation of cannabinoid vapors could be developed. Even if smoking continued, legal availability would make it easier to take precautions against aspergilli and other pathogens. At present, the greatest danger in medical use of marihuana is its illegality, which imposes much anxiety and expense on suffering people, forces them to bargain with illicit drug dealers, and exposes them to the threat of criminal prosecution.

The main active substance in cannabis, 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (9-THC), has been available for limited purposes as a Schedule II synthetic drug since 1985. This medicine, dronabinol (Marinol), taken orally in capsule form, is sometimes said to obviate the need for medical marihuana. Patients and physicians who have tried both disagree. The dosage and duration of action of marihuana are easier to control, and other cannabinoids in the marihuana plant may modify the action of 9-THC. The development of cannabinoids in pure form should certainly be encouraged, but the time and resources required are great and at present unavailable. In these circumstances, further isolation, testing, and development of individual cannabinoids should not be considered a substitute for meeting the immediate needs of suffering people.

Although it is often objected that the medical usefulness of marihuana has not been demonstrated by controlled studies, several informal experiments involving large numbers of subjects suggest an advantage for marihuana over oral 9-THC and other medicines. For example, from 1978 through 1986 the state research program in New Mexico provided marihuana or synthetic 9-THC to about 260 cancer patients receiving chemotherapy after conventional medications failed to control their nausea and vomiting. A physician who worked with the program testified at a DEA hearing that for these patients marihuana was clearly superior to both chlorpromazine and synthetic 9-THC.[3] It is true that we do not have studies controlled according to the standards required by the FDA — chiefly because legal, bureaucratic, and financial obstacles are constantly put in the way. The situation is ironic, since so much research has been done on marihuana, often in unsuccessful attempts to prove its dangerous and addictive character, that we know more about it than about most prescription drugs.

Physicians should offer more encouragement to controlled research, but it too has limitations. Individual therapeutic responses can be obscured by the statistical results of group experiments in which there is little effort to identify the specific features of a patient that affect the drug response.

Furthermore, much of our knowledge of synthetic medicines as well as plant derivatives comes from anecdotal evidence. For example, as early as 1976 several small, methodologically imperfect, and relatively obscure studies had shown that taking an aspirin a day could prevent a second heart attack. In 1988 a large-scale experiment demonstrated dramatic effects. This story is suggestive, because marihuana, like aspirin, is a substance known to be unusually safe and to have enormous potential health benefits.

Cannabis can also bring about immediate relief of suffering measurable in a study with only one subject. In the experimental method known as the single-patient randomized trial, active and placebo treatments are administered randomly in alternation or succession to a patient. The method is often useful when large-scale controlled studies are impossible or inappropriate because the disorder is rare, the patient is atypical, or the response to the treatment is idiosyncratic. Many patients, either deliberately or because of unreliable supplies, have informally carried out somewhat similar experiments by alternating periods of cannabis use with periods of no use in the treatment of various disorders.[2]

The American Medical Association was one of the few organizations that raised a voice in opposition to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, yet today most physicians seem to take little active interest in the subject, and their silence is often cited by those who are determined that marihuana shall remain a forbidden medicine. Meanwhile, many physicians pretend to ignore the fact that their patients with cancer, AIDS, or multiple sclerosis are smoking marihuana for relief; some quietly encourage them. In a 1990 survey, 44% of oncologists said they had suggested that a patient smoke marihuana for relief of the nausea induced by chemotherapy.[4] If marihuana were actually unsafe for use even under medical supervision, as its Schedule I status explicitly affirms, this recommendation would be unthinkable. It is time for physicians to acknowledge more openly that the present classification is scientifically, legally, and morally wrong.

Physicians have both a right and a duty to be skeptical about therapeutic claims for any substance, but only after putting aside fears and doubts connected with the stigma of illicit nonmedical drug use. Advocates of medical use of marihuana are sometimes charged with using medicine as a wedge to open a way for “recreational” use. The accusation is false as applied to its target, but expresses in a distorted form a truth about some opponents of medical marihuana: they will not admit that it can be a safe and effective medicine largely because they are stubbornly committed to exaggerating its dangers when used for nonmedical purposes.

We are not asking readers for immediate agreement with our affirmation that marihuana is medically useful, but we hope they will do more to encourage open and legal exploration of its potential. The ostensible indifference of physicians should no longer be used as a justification for keeping this medicine in the shadows.


1. In the Matter of Marihuana Rescheduling Petition, Docket 86-22 opinion, Recommended Ruling, Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decision of Administrative Law Judge, September 6, 1988. Washington, DC: Drug Enforcement Agency; 1988.

2. Grinspoon L, Bakalar J. Marihuana, the Forbidden Medicine. New Haven, Conn Yale University Press, 1993. (pp133-136)

3. In the Matter of Marihuana Rescheduling Petition Docket 86-22, Affidavit of Daniel Dansac, M.D. Washington, DC: Drug Enforcement Agency; 1987.

4. Doblin R, Kleiman MAR. Marihuana as anti-emetic medicine; a survey of oncologists’ attitudes and experiences. J Clin Oncol. 1991;9:1276-1290.

Review of Human Studies on Medical Use of Marijuana (1996)

Get the PDF Version of this Documentby Dale H. Gieringer, Ph.D.
August 1996

California NORML
2215-R Market St. #278
San Francisco CA 94114
(415) 563-5858 /

Summary: Human Studies on Medical Uses of Marijuana

There have been hundreds of studies on the medical uses of cannabis since its introduction to western medicine in the early nineteenth century. A review of the literature reveals over 65 human studies, most of them in the 1970s and early ‘80s.

  • The best established medical use of smoked marijuana is as an anti-nauseant for cancer chemotherapy. Marijuana’s efficacy was demonstrated in studies by half a dozen states, involving hundreds of subjects. Most research has found smoked marijuana superior to oral THC (Marinol). Many oncologists are currently recommending marijuana to their patients. 
  • Marijuana is widely used to treat nausea and appetite loss associated with AIDS, but the government has blocked research in this area. Studies have shown that marijuana helps improve appetite, and Marinol has been FDA approved for treatment of AIDS wasting syndrome. Nearly 10,000 PWAs were reported to be using marijuana through the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers’ Club. However, the government has blocked efforts by Dr. Donald Abrams of the University of California at San Francisco to proceed with an FDA-approved study of marijuana and AIDS wasting syndrome, by refusing to grant him access to research marijuana. Research is badly needed on the relative merits of smoked and oral marijuana versus Marinol. 
  • There is much evidence, largely anecdotal, that marijuana is useful as an anti-convulsant for spinal injuries, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and other diseases. Similar evidence suggests marijuana may be useful as an analgesic for chronic pain from cancer and migraine as well as for rheumatism and a variety of auto-immune diseases. There is a conspicuous lack of controlled studies in this area; further research is needed. 
  • Cannabidiol, a constituent of natural marijuana not found in Marinol, appears to have distinctive therapeutic value as an anti-convulsant and hypnotic, and to counteract acute anxiety reactions caused by THC. 
  • It has been established that marijuana reduces intra-ocular pressure, the primary object of glaucoma therapy. Due to its psychoactivity, however, marijuana has not gained widespread acceptance in this application. 
  • Many patients report using marijuana as a substitute for more addictive and harmful psychoactive drugs, including prescription painkillers, opiates, and alcohol. Marijuana and Marinol have also been found useful as a treatment for depression and mood disorders in Alzheimer’s and other patients. More research is needed.