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

May 1, 1997

Government Report From The Netherlands Criticizes Marijuana's
Label As A "Gateway" Drug

        May 1, 1997, Utrecht, the Netherlands:  Marijuana prohibition -- not the use of marijuana itself -- appears to play a role in influencing some individuals to advance to harder drugs, according to a recent report from the Netherlands Institute of Medical Health and Addiction.
        The 1997 fact sheet, entitled "Cannabis Policy, an update," reviews Dutch marijuana policy and criticizes the notion of marijuana as a gateway drug.  The report cites "social factors," not the use of marijuana alone, as the primary reason why a minority of marijuana users graduate to stronger drugs.  It concludes that marijuana must be separated from the illegal drug market in order to effectively discourage users from trying other drugs.
        The following excerpt is taken from the summary conclusions of the Dutch report.

        "The assumption that cannabis consumers run a higher risk of switching to hard drugs ... is known as 'the stepping stone hypothesis.'  This idea was first put forward in the forties in the USA and has since greatly influenced public opinion, as well as American and international drug policies.
        As for a possible switch from cannabis to hard drugs, it is clear that the pharmacological properties of cannabis are irrelevant in this respect.  There is no physically determined tendency towards [sic] switching from marijuana to harder substances.  [Emphasis added. --ed.]  Social factors, however, do appear to play a role.  The more users become integrated in an environment ('subculture') where, apart from cannabis, hard drugs can also be obtained, the greater the chance that they may switch to hard drugs.  Separation of the drug markets is therefore essential."

        The report defends the nation's policy of "tolerating" the use and sale of marijuana by stating that the Netherlands has fewer hard drug addicts and drug-related deaths than neighboring countries.  The report also states that Dutch marijuana-use rates are comparable to those in countries where use is illegal and notes that the overwhelming majority of the country's marijuana users do not experiment with harder drugs.
        Surprisingly, recent literature from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reinforces the Dutch argument.  According to the 1996 guidebook Marijuana: What Parents Need to Know: "Using marijuana puts children and teens at risk with people who are pushers and sellers of other drugs.  So there is more of a risk that a marijuana user will be exposed to and urged to try more drugs."  The pamphlet also concludes that, "Most marijuana users do not go on to use other illegal drugs."  [Emphasis added. --ed.]
        NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. praised the observations of the recent reports and called for the U.S. government to take action to remove marijuana from the illicit drug trade.  "Every federal study over the past century has revealed the 'gateway theory' to be a blatant falsehood.  As the Dutch model demonstrates, when the marijuana market is effectively separated from the harder drugs, marijuana is clearly a terminus rather than a gateway drug.  Politicians in America who voice concern about marijuana being a possible gateway to harder drugs should review the facts and support policies that will effectively separate marijuana from the black market."
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of the NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.  Copies of NORML's position paper: Marijuana and the Gateway Theory are available upon request.  Copies of Cannabis Policy, an update are also available from the national office.

Federal Government Must Keep Hands Off California Doctors Who Recommend
Medical Marijuana

        May 1, 1997, San Francisco, CA: Federal officials may not sanction California doctors who recommend marijuana to their patients, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled Wednesday.  U.S. District Judge Fern Smith issued a preliminary injunction barring the Justice Department from taking any punitive actions against physicians -- including criminal prosecution or withdrawal of prescription licenses -- after negotiations broke down between area doctors and Justice Department officials.  The negotiations were ordered by Smith in April to settle a lawsuit filed by California physicians seeking an injunction to prevent federal officials from sanctioning doctors who recommend the medical use of marijuana to their patients in compliance with state law.
        "The government's fear that frank dialogue between physicians and patients about medical marijuana might foster drug use ... does not justify infringing First Amendment," Judge Smith wrote in a 43-page order.  "It is important to recognize what this case is about.  It is not about doctors prescribing, growing, or distributing marijuana; nor is it about giving free rein to patients to make massive purchases of marijuana for distribution.  Instead this case is about the ability of doctors, on an individualized basis, to give advice and recommendations to bona fide patients suffering from serious, debilitating illnesses regarding the possible benefits of personal, medical use of small quantities of marijuana."
        Graham Boyd, Esq., one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs called the ruling a "tremendous victory."
        "I think the judge hammered the federal government for a policy of threatening doctors and for interfering with patients' health care," he said.  Boyd added that the government's attorneys will most likely appeal the ruling -- possibly all the way to the Supreme Court -- but predicted that the outcome will be the same.
        "The problem is, they have a very weak goal to begin with," he said.  "They want to muzzle doctors ... and that runs directly into the First Amendment."
        Dave Fratello, spokesman for Americans for Medical Rights (AMR), praised Smith's ruling.  "Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey and the DEA are paying a price today for designing an unconstitutional policy to thwart Prop. 215.  Today's ruling is a huge victory for the rights of physicians and patients, and for the authority of voters to make important policy decisions."  Fratello also announced that AMR will begin offering a free informational brochure about the implications of Judge Smith's ruling to patients and other interested parties who call theft toll-free number: l-888-YES-4-215.
        It is yet to be determined what effect, if any, Smith's decision may have on a second federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of a group of physicians, health organizations, and patients challenging the administration's refusal to allow physicians to prescribe or recommend marijuana in states that permit them to do so.  Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that the federal prohibition 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.
        All pleadings in the Washington D.C. suit must be turned in by June 27 and a decision is expected shortly thereafter.
        For more information on Judge Smith's ruling, please contact either attorney Graham Boyd of San Francisco @ (415) 421-7151 or Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights @ (310) 394-2952.  For more information regarding the Washington D.C. federal lawsuit, 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, Esq. of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.