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

March 14, 1997

Republican Crime Bill Targets Doctors Who Recommend
Medical Use of Marijuana

        Washington, D.C. March 13, 1997:  Sen. Orrin Hatch (R Utah), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the chief sponsor of the Republican crime bill in the U.S. Senate (S. 3), has included provisions to punish physicians who recommend the use of marijuana to seriously ill patients in compliance with state law.  The bill is co-sponsored by 27 other Republican senators.
        Section 1002 of S. 3 requires hospitals and HMOs that receive federal funds to certify that no professional at that hospital has or will prescribe or recommend a Schedule I substance (which includes marijuana) to any person.  For physicians who might choose to ignore such Congressional medical advice, and discuss the possible medical benefits of marijuana with a patient, Sen. Hatch and his Republican colleagues would additionally revoke their federal DEA license required to prescribe serious painkillers, putting most doctors out of business.  "This official response of the national Republican Party to the recent statewide voter initiatives in California and Arizona legalizing the medical use of marijuana is surprisingly insensitive to the suffering of tens of thousands of sick Americans," observed NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup.  "Whatever one's views may be regarding the war on drugs, denying effective medication to seriously ill Americans should never be part of it."
        "This extreme reaction by the Republicans," added Stroup, "was foreshadowed by the MaCarthyesque nature of the brief hearing Sen. Hatch held in December."  At that time, in a hastily scheduled Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill with only two senators in attendance, Sen. Hatch and Sen Jon Kyl (R-AZ) claimed the voters in California and Arizona had somehow been duped by the medical use advocates, and ridiculed the possibility that marijuana might offer relief to seriously ill patients.
        This is the second bill introduced in the new Congress to punish doctors who recommend marijuana.  Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), along with Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), have introduced S. 40, making it illegal for physicians to "offer advice, or respond to a request for advice, suggesting the use of marijuana", threatening them with loss of their DEA license, as well as disqualifying them from participating in the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs; and, should the patient be a minor, sending them to prison for up to 8 years.
        For more information on Senate Bill 2 and 40, please contact either NORML's Allen St. Pierre @ (202) 483-5500 or the Drug Policy Foundation's Government Relations Director, Cheryl Epps, Esq. @ (202) 537-5005.

Nebraska Decriminalization Bill Under Attack

        Omaha, NE, March 12, 1997: Nebraska, among eleven states to decriminalize minor marijuana offenses during the 1970s, is currently considering a bill (L.B. 845) to recriminalize marijuana.  The bill was the subject of a hearing before the Judiciary Committee of the unicameral Nebraska State Legislature.  The recriminalization proposal was introduced by state Sen. Debrah Suttle (Omaha) and Sen. Don Priesler (Butler County).

        Former NORML National Director and criminal defense lawyer Don Fiedler of Omaha, NE was among those testifying in opposition to the proposal.  Fiedler asked the legislators to imagine they were Rip Van Winkle, and had just awakened from a 20 year nap, and suggested some of the questions they should want answered before changing the current law:

        Q: Has the law worked?
        Q: Has marijuana usage gone down in Nebraska since the law went in to effect?
        Q: Whether the concept of issuing a citation, like a traffic ticket, has saved law enforcement time, resources, and money as the Governor and Legislature envisioned in 1978?
        Q: Has the cost of processing these cases gone up?
        Q: How many opportunities for young adults were salvaged by enacting legislation that did not place a black mark on their record to haunt them for the rest of their lives?

        Fiedler reports that the primary supporters of the bill were from PRIDE, and he noted that the police and prosecutors did not testify.  The Nebraska legislatue is midway through its 90-day session.  NORML Deputy Director Allen St.Pierre commented that Mr. Fielder's testimony demonstrates that "citizen advocates need to ask their politicians to examine the economic benefits derived from decriminalizing marijuana.  Federal government studies indicate no upsurge in adolescent use where marijuana is decriminalized.  All concerned citizens want to minimize the use of marijuana by America's youth, arresting responsible adults who use marijuana, does not accomplish that goal."
        For more information on Nebraska Senate Bill L.B. 845, please contact attorney Donald Fiedler, (402) 346-6263.

Ohio Legislature Repeals Medical Marijuana Defense

        Columbus, Ohio, March 12, 1997:  Despite a game effort by reform advocates, who testified against the bill before the legislature in Columbus, the Ohio legislature has approved a bill to repeal the one-year old medical use of marijuana defense law.  The bill has been sent to Governor Voinivich (R), who is expected to sign it.
        Apparently the new law had not yet been utilized, and the effort to repeal it was symbolic -- a backlash in response to the recent voter initiatives allowing for the medical use of marijuana in California and Arizona.  Among those who earlier testified against the repeal law were Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School and a member of NORML's Board of Directors, and John Hartman, Northcoast Ohio NORML director.  Hartman says the legislature is ignoring the will of the voters in rejecting the medical use of marijuana, according to a survey of Cuyahoga County households which found:

        *48% of respondents felt that marijuana has medical value;
        *57% of respondents support legislation that would allow physicians to prescribe marijuana to seriously ill patients;
        *18% of respondents know someone who uses marijuana for treating a medical condition.

        "The data gathered from Northcoast Ohio NORML's survey coupled with the Ohio Legislature's flip-flop on the issue of medical marijuana lends a strong impetus for a statewide initiative--similar to California's Proposition 215," said Northcoast Ohio Coordinator John Hartman.
        For more information on the repeal of the Ohio medical marijuana defense law, please contact Northcoast Ohio NORML's John Hartman @ (216) 521-9333.  For more information on potential state initiatives, please contact American for Medical Rights' Dave Fratello @ (310) 394-2952.