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February 21, 2002

UK Regulatory Agency Considers Medi-Pot Therapies

Move Likely to Speed Up Medical Marijuana Approval Process

London, United Kingdom: A British regulatory agency that advises the National Health Service (NHS) on new medical treatments and issues guidelines to doctors will begin appraising the effectiveness of a pair of cannabis-derived medications, according to an announcement made this week from the UK Department of Health. The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) expects to complete its evaluation by 2004. The NHS seeks guidance from NICE on the clinical and cost-effectiveness of new medications.

The medications under consideration by NICE are sublingual (under-the-tongue) marijuana extracts and the synthetic THC pill Dronabinol, legally available in the United States as Marinol. A similar synthetic THC agent known as Nabilone is already legally available in the UK.

Currently, London's GW Pharmaceuticals is conducting phase III human trials in England and Canada on the effectiveness of non-synthetic cannabis-based extracts for the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis, cancer pain and other forms of nerve pain. This past fall, the company announced that approximately 80 percent of MS and spinal cord patients who used their herbal preparations experienced significant pain relief and an improved quality of life.

GW Chairman Geoffrey Guy called the upcoming NICE evaluation a "positive move by the government. Recommendation by NICE would further smooth the way for our cannabis-based medicines to be available nationwide ... [by] prescription." The company hopes to bring its first products to market by early 2005.

The fact that the British government has recommended NICE to begin their appraisal of GW's products while the extracts are still under development may be an indication that Parliament intends to "fast-track" their approval of medicinal pot. In the past, NICE has been criticized for delaying the approval of new medications because the agency failed to begin its evaluation until after the drug had already been licensed by Parliament's Medicines Control Agency (MCA).

A survey conducted last year by the London-based Market and Opinion Research International (MORI) polling firm found that 91 percent of Britons believe medical marijuana should be legalized by prescription.

For more information, please contact Paul Armentano, NORML Director of Publications and Research, at (202) 483-5500 or visit the GW Pharmaceuticals website at:

Oregon Patients File Initiative to Expand Marijuana Access for the Sick

Salem, OR: A coalition of Oregon patients and activists filed an initiative last week that would expand and clarify provisions of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. Backers of the measure must gather approximately 67,000 signatures from registered voters by July 5, 2002 to place the initiative on this year's state ballot.

The proposed ballot measure amends the state's current medical marijuana law - approved by voters in 1998 - so that it may more realistically reflect patients' needs. "Marijuana is a safe and effective medicine," said John Sajo of The Life with Dignity Committee, which filed the initiative. "Patients should be able to get it."

Provisions of the initiative would lower Oregon's annual patient registration fee from $150 to $20, and expand the quantity of marijuana patients may legally cultivate and possess. The measure also calls for the creation of state-licensed dispensaries that would distribute medical marijuana to qualified patients. Under the proposed law, indigent patients would be able to obtain their medicine at no cost from state dispensaries.

According to a statewide poll conducted last year, more than eight out of 10 Oregonians favor a state regulated medical marijuana distribution system.

Additional provisions in the measure would allow nurse practitioners and naturopathic surgeons to recommend medical pot to patients, and forbid law enforcement from prosecuting out-of-state patients licensed to possess medical marijuana.

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500 or visit the Voter Power website at:

Largest Australian State Debates Bill to Permit Dutch-Style Pot Coffee Shops

Sydney, Australia: A Green Party proposal introduced in the New South Wales Parliament this week would permit Amsterdam-style cannabis cafés where recreational users could legally purchase and use the drug. The proposal, sponsored by MP Lee Rhiannon, would also grant doctors greater freedom to recommend medical marijuana to patients, and would legalize the possession of up to 30 grams of pot.

"All the Greens are saying [is] people shouldn't be locked up for [possessing marijuana,]" Rhiannon said. "They shouldn't be fined and what they should be able to do is access information about the health consequences and get access to counseling services."

Rhiannon's proposal calls for the establishment of three pot cafés, including one in Sydney and one in Nimblin. Last year, police raided several underground cannabis coffee shops in Nimblin.

Marijuana possession in New South Wales is punishable by a fine and up to two years in jail.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation at (202) 483-8751.

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