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Advocacy Group Seeks Pot Regulation, Education

This story was written by Tim Summers, Daily Mississippian

The response of marijuana advocacy groups concerning the steady increase of the drug's potency has revealed an underground debate over whether marijuana is a harmful narcotic or a recreational drug, and the groups involved vary from the U.S. federal government and local law enforcement organizations to college students and scientists.

Founded in 1970, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has provided a voice in the public policy debate for those Americans who oppose marijuana prohibition and favor an end to the practice of arresting marijuana smokers, the NORML Web site said.

NORML claims to represent the interests of millions of Americans who smoke marijuana responsibly, the Web site said.

"Even by the University of Mississippi's own admission, the average THC in domestically grown marijuana -- which comprises the bulk of the US market -- is less than five percent, a figure that's remained unchanged for nearly a decade," NORML deputy director Paul Armentano wrote in a letter sent to the editorial staff in the Tuesday issue of The Daily Mississippian.

The deputy director did not address the alleged connection between mental illness and marijuana use in his letter, but did later in a phone interview.

"Nobody really knows the answer," Armentano said. "We know those who suffer from depression and anxiety sometimes abuse substances like alcohol and cigarettes."

Armentano said although he has not seen any research directly linking marijuana use and mental illness, he would not advise those with mental illness or a family history of mental illness to use marijuana.

"Use of any intoxicant has a risk," Armentano said.

NORML supports regulation and education, he said.

A "targeted education campaign" similar to that of the recent alcohol campaigns would allow the general public to be educated about marijuana and its effects; regulation would ensure the product being sold was taxed and safe for the public to consume, he said.

The argument for regulation is that the government currently has no control over the drug market, Armentano said.

Regulation could end the "anarchy" that exists within the system, he said.

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