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... a weekly service for the media on news items related to Marijuana Prohibition.

January 4, 1996

Marijuana Activists Sue Prosecutors:  Hemp Proponents Claim Unlawful, Selective Prosecution In Hemp Seed Case

        December 28, Hilo, Hawaii:  Longtime hemp activists Roger Christie and Aaron Anderson have filed a civil lawsuit against Hawaii County prosecutor Jay Kimura and Deputy Prosecutor Kay Iopa alleging that they were unlawfully and selectively prosecuted for expressing their opinions regarding marijuana.
        Christie and Anderson's suit maintains that the two were selectively prosecuted by Iopa in 1992 for possessing apparently sterile hemp seeds.  The seeds had been imported from China as birdseed in compliance with both state and federal laws.  Charges of "commercial promotion of marijuana" against Christie were dismissed earlier this year, but the case against Anderson is still pending.
        The duo's lawsuit asserts that they were singled out primarily for their outspoken beliefs regarding the positive uses for hemp.  Christie and Anderson note that while similar hemp seeds are available and commonly sold in stores in Hawaii, they were the only individuals targeted by prosecutors.
        Specifically, the suit alleges that prosecutors violated Christie's and Anderson's constitutional rights to "freely speak, petition their government, and be free from unjust government oppression."
        The suit also alleges that Iopa misrepresented the facts against Christie and Anderson.  In 1992, police sent 800 seeds to the state Department of Agriculture for germination tests.  According to Christie and Anderson, the report said that there was zero germination.  However, the activists maintain that Iopa told the county grand jury, the Circuit Court, and the Hawaii Supreme Court that 6 to 9 percent of the seeds germinated.
        "Our lawsuit underscores the new energy in the hemp movement," states Christie.  "We seek to make this the last marijuana trial in Hawaii."
        Christie and Anderson are seeking $3 million in damages.
        For more information on Christie and Anderson's lawsuit, please contact Roger Christie @ (808) 961-0488 or Attorney Steven Straus, Esq. @ (808) 969-6684.

Canada Set To Lessen Pot Penalties

        January 1, Toronto, Canada:  A bill that will revamp the way Canada deals with marijuana has passed Parliament and is now in its final stages of becoming law.  Among the reforms included in the bill are a relaxing of the penalties associated with the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
        "People charged with possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana or one gram of hash or hash oil will no longer be fingerprinted and they will have no criminal record," says Steve Jeffrey, a spokesman for Canada's Health Ministry.  "[However,] possession of the drug [will still] remain a crime," he warns.
        That aspect of bill C-7 troubles NORML Canada President Umberto Iorfida.
        "[The law] almost doesn't mean anything to me if you still have to appear in court," he says.  Other less critical proponents of the bill view C-7 as striking a necessary balance between a liberalizing public attitude toward the drug and the fears of anti-drug groups and law enforcement.
        Among the new marijuana sanctions proposed by the pending legislation are community service or payment of a fine.  Revenue raised through marijuana possession fines will be used to support marijuana related medical treatment programs and/or rehabilitation programs, notes Iorfida.
        The new law is expected to take effect this spring.
        For more information concerning bill C-7 and Canada's marijuana laws, please contact Umberto Iorfida of Canada NORML @ (905) 833-3167.

NORML Establishes Amicus Curiae Committee

        In an effort to establish NORML as a more serious participant in the national debate over drug policy, NORML has re-established an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") committee to offer legal assistance in important marijuana related legal issues.  The committee will be co-chaired by NORML Legal Committee members Michael D. Cutler, Esq. of Boston, Massachusetts and C. Rabon Martin, Esq. of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
        "An active NORML Amicus Committee will provide an avenue for NORML to once again add its organizational voice to some of the important legal issues of the day," says NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup, Esq.  "The committee will review requests that come into the national office for amicus assistance and will file an amicus brief with the court in the appropriate cases."  Many policy groups file amicus briefs in important and controversial legal cases as way to assist the court.
        The first case before the new committee is a marijuana cultivation case involving the question of whether dead marijuana plants count as plants (with an assigned weight) or as actual marijuana (measured by actual weight).  The case (U.S. v Shields) is currently on appeal before the 11th Circuit.  The committee further intends on filing a second brief in the case of Seeley v Washington.  Defendant Ralph Seeley earlier won a declaratory judgment ruling that the state's ban on medical marijuana was unconstitutional.  The case is now going before the Washington State Supreme Court.
        For more information on NORML's Amicus Curiae Committee, please contact Allen St. Pierre of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Indiana Supreme Court Rules On Constitutionality Of Illegal Drug Excise Tax

        December 27, Indianapolis, Indiana:  The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that the state cannot tax illegal drugs and prosecute their owners too.  In the written opinion of the court, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard maintained that to apply both civil and criminal penalties to drug cases would be a violation of the constitutional protections against double jeopardy.
        However, the high court also added that the assessment of the tax is a valid punishment when it is the "first jeopardy" -- that is, if it precedes criminal proceedings.
        Responses to the ruling are widespread and some legal scholars are critical that the ruling will allow certain defendants to "buy" their way out of criminal sanctions.  Citing the court's suggestion that Revenue Department officials could consult with prosecutors to determine which action to take, Attorney Andrew Maternowski of Indianapolis worries that the state's particular punishment could depend on the defendant's financial standing.  "If you don't have money, you go to prison," he said.
        Others feel that the ruling will encourage the state legislature to abolish the excise tax.
        A similar "double jeopardy" ruling was recently issued in an Arizona trial court.  In that decision, a Northwest Phoenix Justice Court Judge dismissed marijuana charges against Arizona NORML Chairman Peter Wilson because he had previously paid the state tax on cannabis.

Despite "Colorful" Side Effects
FDA Panel Gives Thumbs Up To New Anti-Glaucoma Drug

        A Food and Drug Administration panel has approved a new type of anti-glaucoma drug even though it has the startling side effect of turning blue eyes brown.  "This could turn out to be a major public health hazard for glaucoma patients," noted Dr. Alexander Buckner of the University of Pennsylvania.  The panel voted 4-2 to approve the new drug.
        National statistics indicate that glaucoma effects some 980,000 Americans a year.  Standard therapy in the treatment of glaucoma is the drug Timolol; however, physicians state that the drug has numerous side effects ranging from breathing problems to irregular heartbeats.
        Medical marijuana proponents argue that the use of cannabis is an effective treatment in lowering inter-ocular pressure in individuals who suffer from open-angle glaucoma.  Advocates state that cannabis is both more effective and safer than other conventional treatments.
        For more information on medical marijuana, please contact Allen St. Pierre of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.