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

May 22, 1997

Medical Marijuana Proponents Growing Anxious Over Delay
In Release Of NIH Report

        May 22, 1997, Washington, D.C.:  A major delay in the release of a promised report from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) regarding the medical potential of marijuana and recommendations for future research has proponents crying foul and demanding answers.
        Following a two day NIH workshop on medical marijuana held this past February, a panel of researchers assembled by the agency estimated that there exists sufficient evidence that marijuana has medical potential in the treatment of serious illnesses such as spasticity disorders, AIDS wasting syndrome, glaucoma, and the nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy.  Many experts, such as panel chairman William T. Beaver of Georgetown University School of Medicine, called on the federal government to approve future clinical trials to better determine marijuana's therapeutic value when compared to conventional medicines.  NIH officials announced that a detailed report recommending a course of action would be completed within four weeks.
        That report remains delayed indefinitely, according to comments made on May 20 by a NIH spokesperson.
        "Footdragging is the rule of the day at the federal level," said Dave Fratello, spokesman for Americans for Medical Rights.  "Had the NIH report come out roughly on time, researchers could begin designing studies now because they would know what NIH wants to see.  Instead, we're talking about months before anyone hears anything useful.  Then how long is it until someone can design a protocol, then apply to NIH, then begin the study?"
        "Although Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) director Alan Leshner, and others have stated publicly that the federal government is open to medical marijuana research, the unacceptable delay in the release of this report demonstrates otherwise," announced Allen St. Pierre, executive director of The NORML Foundation.  "When you have thousands of seriously ill Americans already using medical marijuana, and thousands more who could benefit from its use, it is unforgivable for the federal government to stonewall this issue."
        For more information, please contact either Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights @ (310) 394-2952 or Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

Milwaukee Moves To Decriminalize Marijuana

        May 22, 1997, Milwaukee, WI:  Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist signed a measure into law decriminalizing the first time possession of small amounts of marijuana after the proposal squeaked by the city council.
        The legislation, which passed on May 13, allows prosecutors to charge 25 grams or less of marijuana as a municipal ordinance violation rather than a crime.  Fines will range from $250 to $500 or imprisonment of up to 20 days.  Offenders would also have the option of performing community service or receiving substance abuse education.
        Under state law, any first offense possession is a criminal charge punishable by a $1,000 minimum fine and up to six months in jail.  Prosecutors in Milwaukee still have the option to bring more serious charges under state law.
        Alderman Michael Murphy, who sponsored the measure, said that this bill may not be "politically popular," but was about "fundamental fairness."  Murphy noted that most suburban towns surrounding Milwaukee punish first time marijuana offenders with municipal tickets, not criminal sanctions.  "Nobody wants to be soft on crime, but we want uniformity in prosecution of these cases."
        An aide to the mayor called the ordinance "fair to the citizens of Milwaukee."
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

Maine Legislature Kills Medical Marijuana Defense Bill

        May 22, 1997, Portland, ME:  The state legislature defeated a proposed measure to provide legal protections for seriously ill patients who use medical marijuana by more than two-to-one on May 16.
        The legislation, introduced by Sen. Anne Rand (D-Cumberland), created an "affirmative defense [of medical necessity] to a charge of possession of marijuana provided a licensed physician ha[d] recommended in writing the use of the drug to alleviate negative medical symptoms."  The law also allowed a patient to legally possess up to one and a quarter ounces of usable marijuana.  The measure previously passed the Maine Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services with amendments on April 29 by a vote of 11-1.
        Sally Sutton of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, who lobbied in support of the legislation, expressed disappointment at the Legislature's sharp change in opinion.  "Even some legislators on the Committee who originally supported the bill changed their votes," she said.  "I guess the concept of medical marijuana runs contrary to all they've heard from the War on Drugs."
        "Despite having majority support among the American public, medical marijuana remains a hard sell in the state legislatures," explained NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq.  He said that NORML will remain focused upon educating legislators of the efficacy of medical marijuana.
        For more information, please contact either Sally Sutton of the Maine Civil Liberties Union @ (207) 774-5444 or R. Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

(Meanwhile) California Medical Association Backs Medical Marijuana
Research Bill

        May 22, 1997, Sacramento, CA:  California's largest medical association announced its support for a proposed bill to establish a $6 million, three-year research program at the University of California to study the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana.
        The goal of Senate Bill 535, sponsored by Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) is to determine a "safe and affordable" way to distribute marijuana to doctors and patients whose physicians approve it.  Backers of the bill hope that the support of the California Medical Association (CMA) will improve the measure's chances of passing through the state legislature and winning the approval of Gov. Pete Wilson.
        "I welcome the CMA's support," said Vasconcellos, noting that the association presently represents more than 38,000 physicians in the state.  "CMA has long recognized the need for legitimate comprehensive clinical research on the medical efficacy of medicinal marijuana.  [Their support] is a testament to our focus on rigorous scientific research in S.B. 535."
        Both the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the Public Safety Committee have already approved S.B. 535.  The measure now stands before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
        A spokesman for Gov. Wilson told the Los Angeles Times that it remains doubtful the governor will be persuaded to support the Vasconcellos measure, even with the endorsement from the CMA.  The governor has twice in recent years vetoed legislation that would permit the medical use of marijuana.
        For more information, please contact either Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights @ (310) 394-2952 or the office of Sen. John Vasconcellos @ (916) 445-9740.