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November 26, 1996

U.S. Senate To Hold Hearing Regarding Medical Marijuana Initiatives

        November 26, 1996, Washington, D.C.:  The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on Monday, December 2, regarding the potential impact of and federal response to voter-approved drug reform initiatives in California and Arizona that endorse the use of marijuana as a medicine.  The committee, headed by vocal medical marijuana opponents Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Joe Biden (D-Del.), has entitled the hearing: "A Prescription for Addiction?  The Arizona and California Medical Drug Use Initiatives."  Biden and others previously voiced their disapproval over the notion of medical marijuana at a September 4 hearing regarding adolescent drug use.
        Among those who have reportedly been invited to attend the hearing are Drug Czar Barry Mccaffrey, California Attorney General Dan Lungren, Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates, Drug Enforcement Administrator Thomas Constantine, and Maricopa County Prosecutor Rick Romley, all ardent opponents of the initiatives.  Reportedly, neither McCaffrey nor Lungren is likely to appear because of scheduling conflicts.  It is expected that a physician opposed to medical marijuana will be brought in to testify as well.
        In defense of the initiatives, NORML is currently working with Senate Judiciary Committee member Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to try to get Harvard Medical Professor, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, scheduled to testify at the hearing.  Grinspoon is a member of NORML's Board of Directors and has authored numerous books and articles in scientific journals regarding marijuana's therapeutic value.  At this time, the committee has yet to make a final decision.
        Since the initiatives' passage, proponents have speculated as to whether the federal government will target physicians and patients who comply with the new state laws.  So far, no specific recommendations have come from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).  Both McCaffrey and the Drug Enforcement Administration have issued statements affirming that federal law prohibiting cultivation and possession of marijuana remain in full force despite the states' actions.
        The California initiative says that, "Patients or defined caregivers, who possess or cultivate marijuana for medical treatment recommended by a physician, are exempt from the general provisions of law which otherwise prohibit possession or cultivation of marijuana."  It further provides that, "Physicians shall not be punished or denied any right or privilege for recommending marijuana to a patient for medical purposes."  The Act does not supersede state legislation prohibiting persons from possessing or cultivating marijuana for non-medical purposes.  California voters approved the measure by a vote of 56 to 44 percent.
        Proposition 200 in Arizona, known as the "Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act," is broader than California's measure and would essentially "medicalize" Arizona's drug policy.  The Act calls for mandatory, court supervised treatment and probation as an alternative to incarceration for non-violent drug users and provides expanded drug treatmrnent programs.  It also permits doctors to prescribe controlled drugs such as marijuana to patients suffering from serious illnesses such as glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and AIDS.  Arizonans voted in favor of the initiative by a vote of 65 to 35 percent.
        "The voters of California and Arizona have given a mandate to Washington to address the issue of access to medical marijuana," said NORML Deputy Director Allen St. Pierre.  "Unfortunately, by limiting the invitees to mainly law enforcement personnel, it appears that this hearing will be far from balanced.  Hopefully, subsequent hearings will feature broader points of view and will allow both doctors and patients to testify."
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.