News Release

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February 8, 2001

WI Supreme Court Rules Passengers Can Be Legally Searched If Driver Gives Consent

        Madison, WI:  The Wisconsin State Supreme Court ruled by a 4-3 vote, this past Tuesday, that a driver's consent to search an automobile justifies a warrantless search of a passenger's belongings inside the car.
        Jennifer Matejka was one of several passengers traveling in a van that was stopped on March 16, 1997 by a state trooper in Portage County, WI.  The officer obtained the driver's consent to search the vehicle and he ordered everyone to vacate the van.  Matejka left her jacket behind, and the officer searched it, finding drug paraphernalia, marijuana and LSD.  She was charged with two counts of misdemeanor drug possession.
        The arresting officer told the passengers that the driver, Anthony Miller, consented to the van's search.  The officer asked the passengers if they possessed any weapons or illegal drugs.  Justice Diane Sykes wrote in her opinion that alerting the passengers to the search put them on a "similar notice."
        Matejka's lawyer moved to suppress the drug evidence, arguing that the warrantless search violated her Fourth Amendment rights because she had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the van and she never gave permission for police to search her belongings.  The circuit court granted the motion, finding the search violated her Fourth Amendment protections, but the court of appeals reversed the circuit court ruling and the supreme court agreed with the court of appeals.
        "Matejka's jacket pockets were certainly capable of containing drugs, guns, or other contraband," Justice Sykes wrote.  "Significantly here, the consent to search was not limited in any way by Miller or Matejka.  Thus, the officer's search of Matejka's jacket was well within the proper scope of the consent to search in this case and was therefore reasonable."
        For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director at (202) 483-5500.

Three Decriminalization Bills Are Introduced In Massachusetts

        Boston, MA:  Three bills calling for the decriminalization of marijuana have been introduced in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
        House Bill 2124, introduced by Rep. Patricia D. Jehlen (D-Middlesex County), would institute a civil fine of $100 and no arrest for persons over the age of 18 who possess an ounce or less of marijuana.
        House Bill 1170, introduced by Rep. Branford Hill (R-Essex County), calls for a civil fine of $300 and no arrest for persons over the age of 18 who are caught possessing any amount of marijuana.
        A third decriminalization bill, House Bill 1223, also introduced by Rep. Hill, would allow for persons aged 21 or over to legally possess 40 grams or less of marijuana.  If the person possesses more than 40 grams of marijuana, he or she must pay a $1 per gram tax to the state for a tax stamp.
        Rep. Hill's bills were introduced at the request of Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition/NORML attorney Stephen Epstein, Esq.  In November 2000, decriminalization public policy questions were approved by the voters in three Massachusetts districts.
        For more information, please contact Stephen Epstein, Esq., at (978) 685-9696 or visit

Iowa Bill Would Allow For A Therapeutic Medical Marijuana Research Program

        Des Moines, IA:  A bill creating a medical marijuana therapeutic research program was introduced in the Iowa State Senate last Thursday.
        Senate Bill 113 would permit state approved doctors to prescribe marijuana to treat patients under their care who suffer from multiple sclerosis, hyperparathyroidism, nail patella syndrome, AIDS, any condition with symptoms of chronic pain or spasms, nausea and glaucoma.
        SB 113, sponsored by Sens. Joe Bolkcom (D-23), Robert Dvorsky (D-25) and Johnie Hammond (D-31), has been referred to the Senate Human Resources Committee.
        For more information, please visit

Sonoma State University Student's Medical Marijuana Returned By Police

        Santa Rosa, CA:  A 23-year-old Sonoma State University student, whose medical marijuana was seized by police during a traffic stop, had his marijuana returned on January 31 after the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office dropped the charges against him.
        Ross Benbrook was stopped for avoiding a sobriety checkpoint on October 14, 2000 after making an illegal left turn near the Sonoma State University campus.  Police found and confiscated 27 grams of marijuana.  Benbrook showed the officers documentation from his physician that the marijuana was being used to treat pain from scoliosis and arthritis.
        "The police report said it looked fake and they tried to say I wasn't Ross Benbrook," Benbrook said.
        The district attorney's office offered to drop the charges if Benbrook did not ask for his marijuana back.  Benbrook refused and Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Elliot Daum ordered the marijuana to be returned last week.
        It is believed to be only the second time that medical marijuana has been returned to a patient by law enforcement in Sonoma County after an arrest.
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director at (202) 483-8751.

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