News Release

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February 22, 2001

NORML Files Supreme Court Brief Arguing Use of Medical Marijuana Is a Fundamental Right

        Washington, DC:  The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) filed a friend of the court brief Tuesday in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a patients fundamental right to use medicinal marijuana without fear of federal sanction. NORML joins California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and several medical rights groups in support of a decision rendered last year by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that found seriously ill patients may legally use marijuana under federal law if they meet specified medical necessity requirements.  The upcoming Supreme Court case, to be argued March 28, will mark the first time Americas highest court has ever considered the issue of medical necessity with regard to marijuana.
        In a brief filed jointly with NACDL, NORML argues that state laws permitting patients to use medical marijuana do not conflict with federal drug laws, and that the medicinal use of marijuana is an individual right that must be recognized by the court.  As a matter of individual liberty, it should be beyond the power of the federal government to regulate the medicinal use of cannabis when the voters or legislatures of states decide it should be legalized for medical use, the authors argue.  Once the voters of a state have adopted an initiative or a state legislature has enacted a statute protecting the medical use of cannabis, the people of that state have compellingly expressed their public policy, even if that public policy differs from that of the federal government.  Federalism mandates that state public policy is entitled to presumptive deference.
        NORML further maintains that a patients medical marijuana use should be protected under the Constitutions right to privacy, including the right to be left alone, and substantive due process.  This Court has already recognized a substantive due process right to be free from suffering and pain in a right-to-die case (Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept of Health, 1990), the authors state.  A fortiori, it naturally flows from that case that there is also a parallel right patients in chronic pain or the terminally ill have to alleviate their pain and suffering when they want to live.
        Lead author of the brief, attorney John Wesley Hall of Little Rock, Arkansas said, When the medical use of cannabis can restore some quality and dignity of life to a seriously ill or dying patient, that person should have a constitutional right to use it.  Hall is a member of the NORML Legal Committee and serves on NACDLs Board of Directors.  NORML Legal Committee member Michael Cutler of Boston, Massachusetts also contributed to the brief.
        The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that patients who risk suffering imminent harm without access to medical marijuana, and have exhausted all other legal remedies, are exempt from federal laws otherwise outlawing its use.  The Justice Department is appealing that decision.
        For more information, please contact attorney John Wesley Hall at (501) 371-9131 or R. Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500.

Marijuana Has Less Adverse Effect on Driving Than Alcohol, Tiredness, U.K. Study Says

        Crowthorne, Berkshire, United Kingdom:  Marijuana appears to have less adverse impact on driving ability than does alcohol, according to findings from a recent study by the U.K.s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).  The results replicate earlier findings recorded in the U.S., Australia and elsewhere indicating that marijuana intoxication plays a relatively insignificant role in vehicular accidents.
        NORML Foundation Director Allen St. Pierre said the results were not surprising.  Study after study shows that marijuanas slight impairment on psychomotor skills generally falls within the range of safety we accept for prescription medications and other legal, potentially debilitating factors; the findings of this latest inquiry are no different.
        The TRL study examined the driving performance of fifteen volunteers while under the influence of low and high doses of marijuana, and while sober.  All volunteers were tested using a sophisticated driving simulator.  Researchers found that marijuana appeared to adversely influence subjects ability to accurately steer a car (so-called tracking ability), but found their reaction time and all other measures of driving performance to be unaffected by the drug. Researchers further noted that subjects were cognizant of their impairment and attempt[ed] to compensate for [it] by reducing the difficulty of the driving task, for example by driving more slowly.
        The authors concluded: In terms of road safety, it cannot be concluded that driving under the influence of cannabis is not a hazard.  However, in comparison with alcohol, the severe effects of alcohol on the higher cognitive processes of driving are likely to make this more of a hazard, particularly at higher levels.
        Similar trials previously conducted by the TRL have shown that alcohol and sleep deprivation have a more adverse impact on driving ability than does marijuana.  Tests from other countries have yielded comparable results.  A May 1998 Australian review of 2,500 injured drivers reported that cannabis had no significant effect on driving culpability.  A pair of studies released by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 1992 and 1993 found the adverse effects of marijuana on driving relatively small, and concluded that there [was] no compelling evidence that marijuana contributes substantially to traffic accidents or fatalities.
        The most recent TRL study was commissioned by the British Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions.
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director at (202) 483-8751.  Copies of the study, entitled: The influence of cannabis on driving, are available online at:

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