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

January 23, 1997

Massachusetts Introduces Regulations To Legalize Medical Marijuana

        Boston, Massachusetts, January 22, 1997:  The Massachusetts Department of Health issued regulations to create an affirmative medical defense for patients who use marijuana for a legitimate medical need.  The regulations were mandated by the passage of a law last summer (H. 2170) that reinvigorates the state marijuana therapeutic research program and provides a prima facie defense for individuals who are certified by the state to use marijuana to treat glaucoma, asthma, or the nausea associated with chemotherapy.
        According to State Public Health Commissioner David Mulligan, a three doctor panel appointed by the state will screen individual patients' applications for certification.  Certified patients will be shielded from criminal penalties, even if they obtain marijuana through illicit channels, Mulligan said.  State physicians will not be allowed to prescribe marijuana to their patients under the new law.
        "We're trying to get certificates into the hands of people who meet the medical criteria," said Mulligan.  "Who is going to prosecute someone who has a certificate saying they have a medical condition that requires [marijuana?]"
        The new law also mandates the Department of Health to develop a blueprint for a state-run medical marijuana research project, which would be submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval.  During the late 1970s and early 1980s, at least six states implemented research programs allowing seriously ill patients to obtain marijuana as a medicine from the state board of health.
        "The feds keep telling us verbally -- they have never put it in writing -- that they would supply [marijuana] for a well-designed clinical trial," said Nancy Ridley, assistant health commissioner.  "We're going to be sending another batch of letters to the federal government to try to get them to be more specific about what it would take to access their supply.  It would be absolutely wrong not to try."
        NORML Legal Committee member Michael Cutler, Esq., sees the proposals as a step in the right direction, but criticized the state's failure to include a "catch-all" provision for terminal illness as well as language granting "sufficient confidentiality" for patients and doctors.  He also expressed concern that patients would need to be certified by a state-panel of physicians rather than by their own personal doctor.  Cutler, who helped to draft the original legislation, expects the legislature to hold public hearings on the issue as early as next month.
        For more information, please contact attorney Michael Cutler @ (617) 439-4990.  For a state by state breakdown of medical marijuana laws, please contact Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Oklahoma Man Sentenced to 93 Years For Cultivating Marijuana

        January 17, 1997, Tulsa, Oklahoma:  An Oklahoma jury sentenced a Tulsa man to 93 years in jail for cultivating marijuana in a 25-square-foot underground shelter.  The man was also ordered to pay $62,000 in fines.
        Jurors found William Joseph Foster, 38, guilty of four marijuana felonies and one misdemeanor despite testimony that he was growing marijuana for personal use to alleviate the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
        "William Foster was growing and using marijuana for pain management," explained Michael Pearson of Oklahoma NORML, who noted that a medical marijuana necessity defense is not accepted by Oklahoma law.  "Mr. Foster has utilized prescription drugs which he has found to be not as effective and/or to produce undesirable side effects.
        Prosecutors claimed that there existed little medical evidence to support Foster's claim and accused him of maintaining a sophisticated marijuana growing system capable of producing over 2,500 marijuana cigarettes.  Testimony from expert witness Ed Rosenthal, a writer-researcher specializing in marijuana and it's cultivation, denied this claim.
        Rosenthal said that Foster's basement growing area would have only yielded 12 and one-half ounces of smokable marijuana.  "What we have here is ... simple possession of marijuana," maintained Foster's attorney, Stuart W. Southerland, Esq.
        Jurors rejected this assertion, however, and sentenced Foster to serve 70 years in jail for cultivation of marijuana.  He also received a two-year sentence for possessing marijuana with intent to distribute, a 20-year term for possessing marijuana in the presence of a child who lived in the home, and a one-year sentence for failing to obtain a drug stamp.  Foster is planning on appealing the verdict.
        "This decision was a case of overkill," summarized Pearson.  "When Oklahoma looks at 'truth in sentencing,' this will definitely be a case that will stand out.  Justice in Oklahoma just doesn't exist any more.
        For more information, please contact Michael Pearson of Oklahoma NORML @ (405) 840-4367 or Attorney Stuart W. Southerland @ (918) 744-5448.

Vermont Study Demonstrates Strong Support For Domestic
Hemp Production

        January 16, 1997, Montpelier, Vermont:  More than 75 percent of Vermont residents say that farmers should be allowed to grow industrial hemp as a cash crop, according to the results of a University of Vermont survey.
        The survey, entitled "Alternative Agricultural Strategies in Vermont: The Case of Industrial Hemp," was part of a study commissioned by the state legislature last year to determine the viability of hemp production in Vermont.  Of the 770 Vermonters who were contacted in the telephone survey, 402 responded.
        The survey's key findings are as follows:

        Often described as "marijuana's misunderstood cousin," industrial hemp is from the same species that produces marijuana.  Unlike marijuana, however, industrial hemp has only minute amounts of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient that gives marijuana its medical and euphoric properties.  Industrial hemp is currently grown legally through much of Europe, Asia, and parts of Canada to produce a variety of products such as textiles, paper, composites, paints, cosmetics, and animal feed.
        "This survey indicates what the rapidly growing U.S. hemp market is already telling us," said NORML Deputy Director Allen St. Pierre.  "Americans want hemp products and they want their farmers to be a part of this prospering economic industry."
        Last year, Vermont was among four states that introduced legislation to allow for domestic hemp cultivation.  NORML expects at least twice as many states to introduce similar legislation this year.  Presently, both Missouri and Virginia have industrial hemp measures pending before the state legislature.
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.  For information regarding the Virginia hemp bill, please contact Eric Steenstra of Ecolution @ (703) 207-9001.  For information regarding the Missouri hemp bill, please contact Dan Viets of Missouri NORML @ (314) 443-6866. Copies of NORML's position paper: "Can America Afford Not To Grow This Plant?" are available upon request.