News Release

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November 28, 2000

U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Medical Necessity Case

        Washington, DC:  The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which may determine the viability of the "medical necessity" defense under federal law.  A decision is expected later in this term of the court.
        The case began in January 1998 when the federal government filed a civil lawsuit seeking to enjoin several northern California patients' cooperatives from providing marijuana to seriously ill patients who qualify for the medical use of marijuana under state law.  District Court Judge Charles Breyer initially issued the injunction to close the cooperatives.
        In September 1999, in an appeal brought by the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Judge Breyer should consider a modification to his injunction, to permit the cooperatives to distribute marijuana to those patients who qualify for a "medical necessity" defense, and outlined the criteria for patients to qualify.  This past July, Breyer modified the injunction to permit the cooperatives to provide marijuana to patients who qualify for the medical necessity defense.
        The U.S. Department of Justice then requested an emergency order to stay the July ruling by Judge Breyer. The emergency order was denied by the 9th Circuit, but in August, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-1 to prohibit cannabis distribution by the OCBC while the case is on appeal.
        In requesting that the Supreme Court accept this appeal, the Justice Department argued that the common law defense of medical necessity had been eliminated for marijuana when Congress placed marijuana in Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, a schedule defined in the statute for drugs with no accepted medical use.
        "We have faith, when the Supreme Court considers this case on the merits, that it will consider the needs of the patients who are suffering," said Jeff Jones, executive director of the OCBC.
        "This is an opportunity for the High Court to clarify federal law regarding the medical necessity defense," said NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup.  "We are hopeful the court will confirm that the 9th Circuit ruling is in fact the law of the land.  Surely federal law must recognize the right of seriously ill patients to use marijuana, if recommended by a physician, when other medications are ineffective."
        For more information, please contact Robert Raich, Esq., attorney for the OCBC at (510) 338-0700 or Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director at (202) 483-5500.

San Mateo County Receives DEA Approval For HIV/AIDS Trials

        San Mateo County, CA:  The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has approved a San Mateo County study to assess the benefits of marijuana on HIV/AIDS patients suffering from neurological disorders.  San Mateo County becomes the first municipality in the country to be allowed to distribute marijuana to patients.
        "What we could end up with is scientific proof that this is a medicine that should be prescribed by doctors," said Mike Nevin, San Mateo County supervisor.  "It's in the spirit of Proposition 215."
        Sixty AIDS patients will be given government-grown marijuana during the 12-week study, which may begin as early as January.  The research will be led by Dr. Dennis Israelski, chief of infectious diseases and AIDS medicine at San Mateo County Hospitals and Clinics.
        San Mateo County has pledged $500,000 of county money for the study and if this first one is successful, local officials suggest further marijuana trials involving cancer and glaucoma patients will follow.
        "We hope this is just a beginning," said Margaret Taylor, director of San Mateo County Health Services.
        For more information, please contact Scott Colvin, NORML Publications Director at (202) 483-5500.

U.S. Supreme Court Declares Drug Roadblocks Unconstitutional

        Washington, DC:  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on Tuesday that police roadblocks set up to nab drug offenders violate constitutional Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
        Between August and November of 1998, Indianapolis police set up six separate roadblocks where 1,100 vehicles were stopped, and 104 motorists were arrested, half for drug offenses.  The roadblocks entailed police officers checking licenses and registrations and determining if the driver was impaired by alcohol or drugs.  During the inspection, a drug-sniffing dog walked around the automobile to check for drugs.
        In penning the Court's opinion, Sandra Day O'Connor wrote "We decline to suspend the usual requirement of individualized suspicion where the police seek to employ a checkpoint primarily for the ordinary enterprise of investigating crimes.  We cannot sanction stops justified only by the generalized and ever-present possibility that interrogation and inspection may reveal that any given motorist has committed some crime"
        O'Connor continued, "Petitioners argue that the Indianapolis checkpoint program is justified by its lawful secondary purposes of keeping impaired motorists off the road and verifying licenses and registrations.  If this were the case, however, law enforcement authorities would be able to establish checkpoints for virtually any purpose so long as they also included a license or sobriety check."
        "It appears the Fourth Amendment is alive and well, despite the 'war on drugs,'" said Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director.  "For once, the Court has determined there are limits to the power of the police to search individuals without a warrant."
        For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director at (202) 483-5500.

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