SUITE 1010
TEL 202-483-5500 * FAX 202-483-0057

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

September 19, 1996

Los Angeles Cannabis Buyers' Club Busted
Third Raid Since August Sparks Outrage Among Cannabis Community

        September 16, 1996, West Hollywood, CA:  Los Angeles county sheriffs raided the Cannabis Buyers' Club in West Hollywood and took four employees, including two cancer patients and an AIDS patient, into custody.  The four individuals were later released on their own recognizance.
        The raid was conducted behind the backs of city officials, who were reportedly outraged by the sheriffs' action.  West Hollywood is one of several California communities to have adopted a resolution urging police to refrain from medical marijuana arrests.
        Officers confiscated about one pound of marijuana, pills, some brownies, and liquid believed to contain THC, said L.A. County Sheriffs Sgt. Robert Stoneman.  Witnesses to the raid said that items relating to Proposition 215, a ballot initiative that would allow Californians to cultivate and possess marijuana for medical purposes, were also seized.
        This marks the third bust of a cannabis buyers' club since August and demonstrates a definite pattern among law enforcement to target medical marijuana organizations.  "This [bust signifies] a new low in the war on pot," said California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer.  "Our marijuana laws are clearly bankrupt when they let law enforcement authorities run amok arresting people for providing medicine to the sick.  The time has come to protect Californians' right to medicine.
        According to an article that appeared in the August 9 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the club served approximately 1,000 members and did not allow smoking to take place at the facility.  Members were screened by club staffers and were only accepted if they were referred by local AIDS treatment organizations.
        For more information, please contact Dale Gieringer of California NORML @ (415) 563-5858 or Allen St. Pierre of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

(Meanwhile) Alternative Therapies Group Distributes Medical Marijuana
To San Francisco's Sick

        September 13, 1996, San Francisco, CA:  A group that specializes in providing nontraditional remedies to AIDS sufferers worldwide has begun distributing marijuana to patients out of the Metropolitan Community Church in San Francisco.
        "This was not an easy decision," said Curtis Ponzi of the Healing Alternatives Foundation (HAF), the organization responsible for the distribution.  "It was very stormy, very emotional.  But we're filling a void."
        The foundation, founded in the early l980s, provides a variety of herbal remedies and non-FDA approved drugs at-cost to seriously ill patients.  The organization makes no therapeutic claims about its products and urges buyers to discuss therapies with a doctor.
        Patients purchasing marijuana from the foundation must provide a note from their doctor stating that they have a legitimate medical need for cannabis.  The foundation then double checks with the physician, a process that takes about a week.  The verification process is thorough enough to discourage recreational users from attempting to purchase marijuana, stated Ponzi.
        Community reaction to the program appears positive.  "Both Mayor [Willie] Brown and I think this is a sound program," said Dean Goodwin, an aide to the San Francisco mayor.  "They're concentrating on the people who really need [the marijuana.]"
        In addition, the San Francisco Police Department seems ready to exercise a policy of benign neglect with regard to the renewed distribution.  "We would only be interested in this if it became obvious that they were selling [marijuana] to people who weren't sick," said narcotics division Sgt. Kurt Bruneman.
        Metropolitan Community Church pastor Jim Mitulski said he is allowing his church to be used for the foundation's marijuana sales because medical cannabis is essential to the well-being of many congregation members.  The current program is expected to operate on a weekly basis.
        "We are not distributing it -- the foundation is," Mitulski said.  He notes that at least three additional churches may also participate in medical marijuana distribution in the near future.
        In the meantime, state law enforcement officials claim they will watch and wait.  "We're looking at it and we're aware of [marijuana being distributed by the HAF,]" said Steve Telliano, press secretary for state Attorney General Dan Lungren.  "We're just keeping an eye on the situation to see what's happening."
        For more information, please contact Dale Gieringer of Calfornia NORML @ (415) 563-5858 or Californians for Compassionate Use @ (415) 621-3986.

Washington State Supreme Court To Tackle Medical Marijuana Issue

        September 19, 1996, Tacoma, WA:  Cancer patient and medical marijuana activist Ralph Seeley will argue before the state Supreme Court on September 25 that the state's constitution requires marijuana to be available as a prescription substance.
        In 1995, Seeley won a declaratory judgment from trial court Judge Rosanne Buckner that Washington's ban on medical marijuana violates the state's constitution's reliance on "fundamental principles."  Under guidelines agreed upon by both Seeley and the state Attorney General's Office before the trial, the losing party would seek a direct review of the decision in the state Supreme Court.
        An amicus brief in support of medical marijuana, prepared by Attorney Michael Cutler of Boston, Massachusetts, has been filed by NORML's Amicus Curiae Committee.  Additional briefs on behalf of Seeley have been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and The Drug Policy Foundation (DPF).  "A positive verdict in this case would further bolster the growing public support for access to medical marijuana both in Washington state and nationally," said NORML Deputy Director Allen St. Pierre.  St. Pierre noted that on March 30, 1996, Washington State Governor Mike Lowry signed into law a state budget allocating $130,000 to medicinal marijuana research, including investigating ways of cultivating marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes.
        For more information, please contact Attorney Michael Cutler of NORML's Amicus Curiae Committee @ (617) 439-4990.

California Polls Show Voters Strongly Favor Medical Marijuana Initiative

        September 19, 1996, California:  Two separate California polls released today indicate that voters strongly favor Proposition 215, a statewide initiative that would allow patients with a physician's recommendation to possess and cultivate marijuana for medical purposes.
        According to the results of a Field Poll reported by the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Chronicle, among those likely to vote, 62 percent said they would vote for Proposition 215 and 29 percent said they would vote against it; nine percent were undecided.  Among all registered California voters, 61 percent favor the measure and 30 percent are opposed.  The survey of 291 respondents has a margin of error of six percentage points.
        In a separate telephone poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times, 53 percent of respondents said they would vote for the proposal and 31 percent said they would vote against it; 16 percent were undecided.
        "This is overwhelming support," said Steve Hopcraft of Californians for Medical Rights.  "California voters cannot accept that their doctors can prescribe morphine for cancer, AIDS, and other [serious illnesses] but not marijuana.  This is great news.
        "These findings, coupled with the results of similar polls conducted both in California and nationally, demonstrate that there is ample support for the legalization of medical marijuana among the voting public," said NORML Deputy Director Allen St. Pierre.
        The results of the two recent California polls are the latest in a series of surveys indicating strong support for medical marijuana.  A 1995 survey conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) demonstrated that 83 percent of the American public agreed that patients who find marijuana an effective therapeutic agent should be able to use it legally.  In addition, nine state polls have shown that a strong majority of Californians support medical marijuana.
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Dave Fratello of Californians for Medical Rights @ (310) 394-2952.

Los Angeles County AIDS Commission Rebukes U.S. Drug Czar
Endorses Proposition 215

        September 12, 1996, Santa Monica, CA:  Calling Proposition 215 a "conservative, common-sense solution," the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV Health Services passed an emergency resolution criticizing U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey for speaking out against the California Medical Marijuana Initiative.
        The commission reaffirmed its support for Proposition 215 in today's resolution, joining the California Academy of Family Physicians, San Francisco Medical Society, California Nurses Association, and AIDS Project Los Angeles among the major medical groups and patient advocacy groups that have endorsed Proposition 215.
        The AIDS commission's resolution urged McCaffrey, who on September 12 held a press conference in Los Angeles attacking the initiative, to "stop marginalizing people with AIDS and other seriously ill Californians in an effort to enhance President Clinton's image.
        The resolution was passed by a vote of 31-0, with four abstentions.
        For more information, please contact Dave Fratello of Californians for Medical Rights @ (310) 394-2952.

Sheriff May Have Violated Election Laws While Opposing NORML Ballot Initiative

        September 19, 1996, Traverse City, MI:  A state Attorney General official said Grand Traverse County Sheriff Harold Barr's decision to allow jail inmates to help put out flyers opposing a NORML ballot initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession in Traverse City may have violated state election laws.  The assertion comes nearly one month after Traverse City NORML President Bill Bustance, who helped to spearhead the initiative, filed a complaint with the secretary of state alleging that taxpayers dollars were used to influence a political campaign.  According to Michigan law, an organization that knowingly violates campaign finance rules could be fined $20,000.
        Michigan Attorney General spokesman Chris Dewitt said the use of inmates "certainly would be questionable under Michigan's law."
        Marijuana law isn't any more important than election law and we are appalled that [those against the initiative] had to break the law to beat us," said Bustance, who is seeking a new election.  "What would have happened if they hadn't used taxpayer's dollars against the taxpayers?"
        Voters narrowly rejected the proposal this past August.
        For more information, please contact Bill Bustance of Traverse City NORML @ (616) 264-9565.

Mass/Cann NORML Rally Expected To Draw More Than 50,000

        September 19, 1996, Boston, MA:  Mass/Cann NORML will hold its seventh annual "Freedom Rally" at Boston Commons on September 21.  The event is expected to draw at least 75,000 people.
        "This is not a celebration of marijuana," said attorney and NORML board member Richard Evans.  "This rally is about the preservation of American freedom."
        Speakers at this years event include Evans, former Boston City Council member Mel King, Prison Life Magazine editor Richard Stratton, Steve Hager of High Times Magazine, and others.  Musical acts include Letters to Cleo, Bim Skala Bim, Sam Black Church, and more.
        Organizers note that the event has grown in popularity over the years and estimate that last year's festival was attended by nearly 50,000 people.  A Boston radio station that helps to promote the marijuana reform rally, WBCN, is anticipating attendance in excess of 100,000.
        For more information, please contact Bill Downing of NORML Mass/Cann (617) 944-CANN.