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

February 13, 1997

NORML, Others Respond To Upcoming NIDA Conference
On Medical Marijuana

        February 13, 1996, Washington, D.C.:  The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is convening a two-day conference next week to assess existing scientific research regarding marijuana's therapeutic potential.  The conference was announced following public criticism from some members of the medical establishment over the Administration's refusal to allow physicians to prescribe marijuana for seriously ill patients in accordance with recently passed state initiatives in Arizona and California.  The conference will take place on February 19 and 20.
        National Institute of Health officials claim that the conference will remain solely scientific in nature, and Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey has publicly stated that he does not expect to attend the conference.  However, many medical marijuana proponents remain doubtful that the conference will remain devoid of politics.
        "It seems ironic that the same federal agency that has twice denied the marijuana necessary to conduct an FDA-approved protocol by San Francisco researcher Dr. Donald Abrams on the effects of marijuana and the AIDS wasting syndrome, and has stonewalled proposed state-sponsored medical marijuana studies by both Washington State University and the Massachusetts Department of Health will be an objective moderator for this scientific review," said NORML's Deputy Director Allen St. Pierre.  He announced that NORML, in conjunction with other Washington D.C.-based drug-law reform organizations, will be holding a press conference on Wednesday, February 19, where doctors and patients will speak in favor of marijuana's medical value.  Dr. John Morgan of City University of New York Medical School, NORML Board Member Lynn Zimmer, Ph.D., of Queens College, and former medical marijuana user Richard Brookhiser -- Senior Editor of National Review -- are expected to speak the press conference, along with various medical marijuana patients.
        Medical marijuana proponents will present NIDA officials with a compendium of over 75 scientific studies demonstrating marijuana's medical effectiveness in the treatment of glaucoma, spasticity disorders, the nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy, and other serious illnesses.  Included in the compendium are the results of several state-sponsored clinical trials involving hundreds of patients.  For example, a 1983 report evaluating the effects of marijuana as an anti-emetic in cancer patients released by Tennessee Board of Pharmacy concluded: "We found both marijuana smoking and THC capsules to be effective anti-emetics.  We found an approximate 23 percent higher success rate among those patients smoking than among those patients administered THC capsules."  [Emphasis added. --ed.]
        "Contrary to popular belief, there have been hundreds of studies on the medical uses of cannabis since its introduction to western medicine in the mid-nineteenth century," said NORML's Publications Director Paul Armentano who attended NIDA's 1995 National Conference on Marijuana Use: Prevention, Treatment, and Research.  He noted that the subject of medical marijuana was effectively "swept under the rug" during that forum.  "NIDA had the opportunity to address this pressing issue in 1995, but opted to all but ignore the issue, allotting less than one half-hour for its discussion," Armentano explained.
        "The literature [in support of medical marijuana] has been there a long time," Dr. Laurens White, a cancer specialist in San Francisco, told the New York Times.  "There is enough anecdotal evidence and papers to say that medically, there isn't any evidence of harm and that there is evidence of benefit."
        For more information, please call Allen St. Pierre of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights @ (202) 537-5005.  Copies of NORML's position paper: Making The Case For Medical Marijuana, are available upon request or on-line at NORML's website at:

(Meanwhile) Senators Introduce Anti-Medical Marijuana Bill In Congress

        February 13, 1996, Washington, D.C.:  Rep. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.) has introduced legislation in Congress (S. 40) to severely sanction physicians who recommend the medical use of marijuana to seriously ill patients.  The measure appears to be a direct response to the November passage of a California ballot initiative granting an affirmative medical defense under state law for patients who use marijuana medicinally with the recommendation of their physician.  The California proposition also states that, "Physicians shall not be punished or denied any right or privilege for recommending marijuana to a patient for medical purposes.
        Federal law already forbids doctors from prescribing marijuana.
        "This legislation represents the most extreme position of those who oppose the medical use of marijuana -- arresting and jailing physicians," said NORML's Executive Director R. Keith Stroup.  He noted that doctors who recommend marijuana to a patient under 21 years of age may be sentenced to up to eight years in prison and/or fined $60,000 under the provisions of the bill.  Other penalties include revoking physicians' ability to write prescriptions and excluding doctors from participation in Medicare and state health care programs.
        The proposed legislation states that, "A practitioner will be deemed to have 'recommended' the use of marihuana if the practitioner offered advice, or responded to a request for advice, suggesting the use of marihuana while acting in the course of his or her professional capacity."
        Graham Boyd, an attorney from California who is representing a group of physicians and patients that have filed a class action suit against the federal government for its issuance of similar threats against doctors who recommend marijuana, calls such restrictions illegal.  "The Supreme Court has said that the government may not bar physicians from discussing contraception or abortion, both controversial topics in their day," he stated in a January 15 press release.  "By the same logic, federal officials may not use controversy over marijuana as an excuse to intrude on the sanctity of the physician-patient relationship."
        Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) are co-sponsoring the legislation, entitled the "Drug Use Prevention Act of 1997."  The measure has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
        For more information, please contact R. Keith Stroup, Esq., of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.  Copies of the legislation are available from NORML upon request.

Drug Czar Rejects Offer To Settle Medical Marijuana Lawsuit

        February 11, 1997, Washington, D.C.:  The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) repeated its position this past Monday that doctor's in California cannot evade federal drug laws "by claiming that they are merely providing their patients with 'recommendations' in accordance with their best medical judgment."  The announcement was a response to a class action suit filed in federal court by physicians, patients, and a San Francisco prosecutor who has AIDS, seeking an injunction to prevent federal officials from taking any punitive action against physicians who recommend the medical use of marijuana to their patients in compliance with California law.
        According to Associated Press, plaintiffs offered to settle the federal case if the government would agree to bar prosecution of doctors who, in good faith, discuss the use of medical marijuana or recommend it for their patients.
        "It's a straight-forward First Amendment case," said Graham Boyd, an attorney for the plaintiffs.  "The First Amendment protects the rights of doctors and patients to talk about the full range of medical treatment, and the feds have no basis for interfering with that statement."
        Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey said that he will reconsider his view of medical marijuana if health professionals determine it is effective, during a speech at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University last evening.
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Bill Zimmerman of Americans for Medical Rights @ (310) 394-2952.