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

March 6, 1997

Second Federal Lawsuit Challenging Administration's Prohibition Of
Medical Marijuana Filed In U.S. District Court

        Washington, D.C., February 6, 1997:  A group of physicians, health organizations, and patients have filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the federal government's refusal to allow physicians to prescribe marijuana in states that permit them to do so.  The lawsuit is a direct response to the Clinton administration's February 11, 1997, announcement in the Federal Register threatening doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients in compliance with state law with a wide range of punishments -- including criminal prosecution.
        The defendants in the suit are: Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Director of White House Drug Control Policy; Thomas Constantine, Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States; and Donna Shalala, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.  Representing the plaintiffs are the Washington D.C. law firms of Emord and Associates and Berliner, Corcoran and Rowe.
        Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that the federal policy prohibiting physicians from recommending or prescribing marijuana in accordance with state law violates the First, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments and the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.  Plaintiffs also seek a declaratory judgment that those aspects of federal policy that terminate a physicians participation in federal programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, and revoke their DEA drug registrations authorizing them to prescribe controlled drugs, violate the Administrative Procedure Act.  The plaintiffs request that the court enjoin the federal government from enforcing its policy against doctors and patients.
        The lawsuit cites state laws in Connecticut, Virginia, and Arizona that permit physicians to prescribe marijuana for patients suffering from serious illness.  The suit also cites California's recently approved medical marijuana initiative allowing patients to use marijuana with a physician's recommendation.  The two health organizations named as plaintiffs, the American Preventive Medical Association and the Life Extension Foundation (LEF), represent numerous physicians from those states.
        NORML's Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq., said this latest suit raises additional legal issues not addressed in the class action suit filed in California on January 14.  "In addition to the obvious First Amendment issues raised in both challenges, the D.C. suit also alleges Ninth and Tenth Amendment violations, as well as a violation of the Commerce Clause (Article I, Sec. 8, Clause 3) of the U.S. Constitution.  These are important issues for the federal court to consider," Stroup said.
        For more information, please contact the law firm of Emord & Associates @ (202) 466-6937 or Berliner, Corcoran, & Rowe @ (202) 293-5555.  For additional information, please contact R. Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Medical Marijuana Bills Heard Before Maine, Missouri Legislatures

        March 6, 1997, Washington, D.C.:  Legislation that would allow seriously ill patients to possess and cultivate marijuana for medical purposes was recently argued before legislatures in Missouri and Maine.
        Missouri's measure (H.B. 601) states that, "No criminal or civil penalty shall apply to the patient or the patient's primary caregiver for the act of possessing or cultivating marijuana" provided that the patient's use is certified by a physician.  According to Missouri NORML President Dan Viets, Esq., the certification by the doctor may be made following an arrest and would provide an affirmative defense of medical necessity for patients against state marijuana charges.  The legislation does not limit marijuana's medical use to specific ailments and allows for "research project[s] related to the medicinal uses of marijuana" to be conducted at state universities.  The bill was introduced by Rep. Vickie Riback Wilson (D-Boone County) and is co-sponsored by Public Health Committee Chairwoman Mary Bland (D-Kansas City).
        Viets, who serves on NORML's Board of Directors, and two others testified before the Missouri House Public Health Committee on February 18.  "The comments and questions by members of the ... committee indicate that there is support ... for the bill," Viets said.  "I am very optimistic we can get this bill through the legislature."
        The committee has yet to vote on the measure, but is expected to shortly.  The Missouri legislature passed a resolution in 1994 requesting the federal government lift the ban on marijuana for medical purposes (S.C.R. 14).
        In Maine, a pair of bills (L.D. 1059 and L.D. 1006) relating to the use of marijuana for medical use, were heard before the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services.  One measure, introduced by Sen. Ann Rand (D-Cumberland), would, "Create an affirmative defense [of medical necessity] to a charge of possession or cultivation of marijuana provided a licensed physician has recommended in writing the use of the drug to alleviate negative medical symptoms."  The law would limit the amount of marijuana possessed or cultivated by the patient to 4 ounces of usable marijuana and a total of 15 growing plants, of which no more than 6 may be mature.  The bill currently has eight co-sponsors.  "If there's something that can really relieve people of suffering, then it should be used," Rand told reporters earlier this year.  "It should be used properly and judiciously, but it should be used."
        The second bill before the legislature, introduced by Rep. Kathleen Stevens (D-Orono), re-establishes the Marijuana Therapeutic Research Program, which was repealed December 31, 1987.  Such programs allow seriously ill patients who are not responding to conventional medications to receive marijuana from their state Board of Health for "research" purposes.  Currently, 13 states have laws allowing for the implementation of such programs; however, none are currently active.  During the early 1980s, patients in at least six states received medical marijuana through state-run research programs.
        Testimony in favor of the bills was heard on March 3, including remarks from NORML Board Member John P. Morgan, M.D., of City University of New York (CUNY) Medical School.  Two current medical marijuana users also gave personal accounts to the committee.
        No one spoke against the bills, although three state officials -- the commissioner of public safety, the director of the state Bureau of Health, and the director of the state Office of Substance Abuse -- issued a statement opposing them.
        Maine legislators passed a medical marijuana bill in 1991 re-establishing Maine's marijuana research program and allowing licensed pharmacies to distribute marijuana to certified patients, but then-Gov. John McKernan vetoed it.
        Maine's current governor, Angus King -- an Independent -- remains "skeptical but open-minded" to the issue, according to a report in the Portland Press Herald.
        "Both historically and presently, states have been well ahead of the federal government on the medical marijuana issue," said NORML's Deputy Director Allen St. Pierre, who noted that similar bills are pending in at least five other states.  "It appears that both of these measures -- if passed -- will benefit thousands of seriously ill patients."
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Dan Viets of Missouri NORML @ (573) 443-6866.  For more information on current state medical marijuana laws or to request a copy of NORML's medical marijuana guidebook for state representatives, please contact Paul Armentano of NORML. Contact information for Reps. Wilson, Rand, and Stevens is available from the national office.