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May 8, 1997

Medical Marijuana Supporters Challenge Arizona Measure Restricting Physicians' Ability To Prescribe Marijuana

        May 8, 1997, Phoenix, AZ:  Medical marijuana proponents in Arizona are challenging a move by the state legislature to indefinitely delay the implementation of a voter-approved medical marijuana law.
        A group called The People Have Spoken (TPHS) have taken out a referendum petition from the Secretary of State's office to reverse a law signed by Gov. Fife Symington on April 21 mandating that physicians may only prescribe marijuana after the drug has been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (H.R. 2518).  Voters in November overwhelmingly endorsed permitting doctors to prescribe marijuana to seriously ill patients if two licensed physicians agree on the use and offer supporting research.
        Sam Vagenas, spokesman for TPHS, called the legislature's support of H.R. 2518, "The ultimate act of political arrogance.  ... It is a callous disregard of the will of the voters."
        NORML's Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said, "The actions of the Arizona state legislature and Gov. Symington have left activists no choice but to use the referendum process to bring this compassionate reform to the state."
        The referendum will block the legislature's recent changes if 56,481 registered voters sign petitions by July 20, placing it on the November 1998 general election ballot.  Because H.R. 2518 failed to receive support from at least two-thirds of the state legislature, it may be taken directly to the electorate as a referendum.
        Vagenas explained that TPHS is also preparing an additional referendum that will bar legislators from changing initiatives for two years after they are passed by the voters.
        "The politicians have said repeatedly that the people of Arizona are stupid," Vagenas told The Arizona Republic.  "We're going to prove that the people are not so dumb after all."
        For more information, please contact Sam Vagenas of The People Have Spoken @ (602) 222-6639.

NORML, Others Testify Against D.C. Effort To Re-Impose
Mandatory Marijuana Penalties

        May 8, 1997, Washington, D.C.:  NORML's Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. joined a coalition of criminal justice and drug policy groups yesterday to testify against D.C. Council Bill 12-12, the "Distribution of Marijuana Amendment Act of 1997."  The bill, introduced by interim Council Chair Charlene Drew Jarvis (D), seeks to make the possession of more than one and one-half ounces of marijuana a felony offense and to reinstate mandatory-minimum sentences for various drug offenses.  Backers of the measure claimed that enhanced penalties are necessary to combat an alleged increase in violence associated with marijuana trafficking in the city.
        Stroup called the proposal a classic example of "bait and switch."  He noted that the bill would impose mandatory prison terms for all marijuana distribution and possession-with-intent-to distribute offenses regardless of whether any violence was associated with the event.  "If violence is the reason for imposing harsh and unyielding mandatory sentences, the legislation should be targeted at violent offenders," Stroup argued.
        Stroup further testified that the Jarvis bill was unnecessary because the U.S. Attorney's office already decides which District drug cases are most serious and should be prosecuted in federal court, and which are less serious and will be prosecuted in Superior Court.  Those prosecuted under federal law are subject to the rigid sentencing guidelines and to all the mandatory penalties adopted by Congress, Stroup explained.  "It [is] disingenuous for [D.C. prosecutors] to suggest that [their] hands [are] tied by the absence of mandatory penalties under D.C. law," he said.
        Stroup also argued that passage of the Jarvis bill will increase the number of non-violent offenders sent to prison in the District, and strip judges of their ability to mete out fair sentences that "reflect the individual facts of the case and the culpability of the individual defendant."
        NORML was joined by Drug Policy Foundation President Arnold Trebach, Families Against Mandatory Minimums President Julie Stewart, Mary Jane DeFrank of the Washington Capitol area American Civil Liberties Union, and a number of other witnesses.
        For more information, please contact R. Keith Stroup, Esq. of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Activists Charge Oregon's Largest Newspaper Sides With The DEA In Promoting Marijuana Recriminalization Bill

        May 8, 1997, Portland, Oregon:  Drug reform activists fighting to save the state's marijuana decriminalization law have charged The Oregonian with being a willful participant in the "War on Drugs" after the paper ran an editorial endorsing recriminalization that relied almost exclusively on a Drug Enforcement Administration handout.
        The May 3 editorial supporting the current legislative effort to recriminalize marijuana in Oregon (H.B. 3643) stated that the "marijuana available today is maybe 60 times as potent as that of the 1960s."  This statement is almost identical to language that appeared in chapter one of a 1994 DEA pamphlet: "Drug Legalization: Myths and Misconceptions."  Ironically, annual evidence gathered from the National Institute on Drug Abuse's Potency Monitoring Project indicates that marijuana potency has remained relatively stable for almost the entire 20+ years it has been measured.  According to a 1995 pamphlet from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services entitled Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know, "Most ordinary marijuana has an average of 3 percent THC."  This is virtually the same figure that NIDA reported in 1982 (3.34 percent).
        The Oregonian editorial also relied heavily on the 1994 assumptions of Dr. Richard Schwartz of Georgetown University who argued in an unpublished paper that marijuana decriminalization encourages marijuana use.  Schwartz's findings also appeared in the DEA handout.  However, according to the only federal study ever conducted regarding the impact of marijuana recriminalization on use (Monitoring the Future Occasional Paper 13: Marijuana Decriminalization: The Impact on Youth 1975-1980), Schwartz's assumption is incorrect.  The study's conclusions are as follows:
        # The data show "absolutely no evidence ... of any increase, relative to the control states, in the proportion of the age group who ever tried marijuana."
        # "The degree of disapproval young people hold for marijuana use, to the extent which they believe such use is harmful, and the degree to which they perceive the drug to be available to them ... [was] found to be unaffected by [decriminalization.]"
        # There exists no evidence "of an increase in the frequency of use in the marijuana-using segment of the population.  ... In fact, both groups of experimental states showed a small, cumulative net decline in lifetime prevalence as well as in annual and monthly prevalence after decriminalization.
        Prior to the May 7 editorial, The Oregonian also printed a quote from Darin Campbell, lobbyist for the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police, who falsely implied that Oregon was the only state that maintains marijuana decriminalization.  In reality, 10 of the 11 states that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the l970s continue to remain decriminalized.  These states presently represent one-third of the U.S. population.
        "What justifies such bias and misleading sensationalism," asked Portland NORML activist Phil Smith, a former writer for The Oregonian.  "When will The Oregonian stop begin part of the problem and start being part of the solution?"
        For more information, please contact Sandra Burbank of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse @ (808) 298-1031 or Richard Cowan of The Medical Marijuana Magazine at (213) 512-1527.