News Release

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March 23, 2000

Drug Conviction Question Left Blank On 13 Percent Of Student Aid Forms

        Washington, DC:  This year, over 200,000 students have left one question blank on their financial aid forms -- the question asking if they have ever been convicted of a drug offense.
        The U.S. Department of Education has now told universities not to hold up processing the forms for the 13 percent of the student population who chose not to answer the drug question.  In fact, the Department of Education is telling schools that they will not be independently verifying the honesty of the students who did answer the question.  As of March 5, less than one percent of the 1.7 million students who applied for financial aid have admitted to a drug conviction.
        As required by an amendment to the 1998 Higher Education Act, the drug question was added to this year's federal financial aid forms.  If a student is convicted of a drug charge, they lose their financial aid for one year.  A second conviction results in two years ineligibility and after a third conviction, the student is disqualified for life.  Students convicted of selling drugs receive a two-year ban and a subsequent conviction results in permanent disqualification.
        "As predicted, out of the gate, this new federal law is an abject failure," said Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director.  "Clearly, universities do not want to deny financial aid to America's college students.  I do not believe this law will ever go into full effect or withstand a substantive legal challenge."
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director at (202) 483-8751.

Woody Harrelson To Face Marijuana Possession Charges In Kentucky

        Frankfort, KY:  Actor and hemp activist Woody Harrelson will face marijuana charges in Kentucky after failing to get the state supreme court to distinguish between industrial hemp and marijuana.
        The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that there was no difference between hemp and marijuana and reinstated misdemeanor charges against Harrelson.
        In a highly publicized event in June of 1996, Harrelson planted four industrial hemp seeds in a Lee County field and was cited by state officials for marijuana possession.
        Harrelson argued that the statute outlawing marijuana possession was unconstitutional because it does not differentiate between marijuana and industrial hemp.  The Lee County Court dismissed the charge, finding the state law criminalizing marijuana was overly broad by including industrial hemp.  The dismissal was appealed by the government and the state court of appeals, in a purely procedural ruling, said the prosecutor could not appeal the dismissal.  The government then appealed to the state supreme court.
        "I'm sure Mr. Harrelson welcomes this opportunity to bring public awareness to the industrial hemp movement," said Tom Dean, Esq., NORML Foundation Litigation Director.  "Woody Harrelson's civil disobedience in the face of government oppression demonstrates his selfless commitment to liberty and justice.  He should be applauded by all Americans who still believe in personal freedom."
        For more information, please contact Tom Dean, Esq., NORML Foundation Litigation Director at (202) 483-8751 or Burl McCoy, Esq., attorney for Woody Harrelson at (606) 254-6363.

Decriminalization Initiative In Mendocino County Likely To Appear On Ballot

        Ukiah, CA:  Petitioners in Mendocino County have collected over 5,800 signatures in support of the proposed Personal Use of Marijuana Initiative (PUMI) which would decriminalize personal use, possession, and cultivation of 25 marijuana plants or less.
        PUMI spokesman Bruce Hering said the signature count was over twice the amount needed to qualify for the ballot, virtually assuring that the initiative will be decided by voters in November.
        "PUMI is a welcome first step towards full statewide decriminalization," said Dale Gieringer, California NORML state coordinator.  "Even though California has partially decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, cultivation remains a felony and as a result, users are impelled to resort to criminal traffickers to avoid the risk of a felony arrest.  The decriminalization of personal use cultivation, as envisioned in PUMI, would enable users to avoid the criminal market, thereby helping reducing the state's record number of prisoners."
        For more information, please contact Bruce Hering, PUMI spokesman at (707) 895-3589 or Dale Gieringer, California NORML state coordinator at (415) 563-5858.

Medical Marijuana Patients Begin 'Journey For Justice'

        Starke, FL:  A caravan of medical marijuana patients, including several in wheelchairs, will begin a 160 mile, week-long journey at 9 am tomorrow, from a state prison in Starke to the capitol in Tallahassee.
        The Journey for Justice caravan will travel 3-4 miles per hour and will pause to hold vigils at 13 correctional facilities along the way to the capitol.
        "I am making this journey in the wheelchair I have to live in because marijuana has extended and improved my quality of life," said Cathy Jordan, a patient who suffers from Lou Gehrig's Disease.  "The people of Florida are compassionate, and I want them to ask Governor Jeb Bush and the legislature why am I still considered a criminal for saving my own life?"
        Journey organizer Kay Lee said, "Too many non-violent offenders are being incarcerated and abused because of our drug laws.  I know the people of Florida care about human rights for everyone and that is the message we will take to Tallahassee."
        NORML has contributed money to help defray the expenses of the journey.
        For more information, please contact Kevin Aplin, Journey for Justice public relations director, or Kay Lee, Journey organizer at (321) 255-9790 or (321) 258-6857.

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