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October 2, 1997

NORML Board Member, Others Testify Before Congress In Favor Of
Medical Marijuana
Republicans Balk, Voice Strong Opposition Toward Allowing Medical Marijuana Research

        October 2, 1997, Washington, D.C.:  Witnesses on both sides of the medical marijuana issue testified before Congress yesterday at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime.  Proponents likened marijuana's medical utility and safety to drugs such as penicillin and urged the federal government to support legislative efforts to allow physicians to prescribe the drug, while opponents urged federal officials to take a more vocal stance opposing pending state marijuana initiatives.
        The medical marijuana debate symbolizes "who we are [as a country and] where are we going,"
said Dennis Peron, Director of the San Francisco Cultivators' Club and a co-author of Proposition 215.  Peron was one of three witnesses who spoke in favor of allowing patients legal access to marijuana under a physicians supervision.
        "During the past few years, the medical uses of marijuana have become increasingly clear to many physicians and patients, and the number of people with direct experience of these uses has been growing," testified NORML board member Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School.  "It is essential to relax legal restrictions that prevent physicians and patients from achieving a workable accommodation that takes into account the needs of suffering people."  Grinspoon said he supported H.R. 1782, legislation introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) in June which would remove federal restrictions that currently prevent physicians from legally prescribing marijuana.
        Frank -- who attended the hearing, but does not sit on the Subcommittee -- used the opportunity to ask for Congressional support for his measure and chided House Republicans for objecting to federal efforts to study marijuana's medical potential.  "People must feel that by studying marijuana, it will undermine their position [against the drug,]" he said.
        Subcommittee members Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) repeatedly told witnesses, including National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Dr. Alan Leshner, that they opposed any efforts by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct scientific trials on marijuana's medical potential.  Their charges came in response to a recent NIH report urging the federal government to play an active role in facilitating clinical evaluations of medical marijuana as well as testimony from Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey endorsing additional research.
        Barr and Hutchinson called such proposals "inconsistent" with the administration's position that marijuana lacks medical value.  The representatives further warned that federal efforts to study marijuana's medical value would send a harmful message to children.
        Subcommittee chair Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), a former two-time co-sponsor of medical marijuana legislation in 1981 and 1983, voiced little support for the use of marijuana as a medicine and urged federal officials to campaign against a potential state initiative in Florida.  Witness Roger Pilon of the CATO Institute attacked such federal efforts to persuade voters as well as override existing state medical marijuana laws.  "Clearly, this is a blatant effort by the federal government to impose a national policy on the people in the states in question, people who have already elected a contrary policy," he said.  "[This] effort cannot be justified under the 14th Amendment, for the states have not enacted a policy that runs roughshod over the privileges or immunities of their citizens or denies them due process or equal protection under the laws."
        Initiative efforts similar to those that took place in Arizona and California are pending in Alaska, Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Oregon, and Washington state, officials said.
        NORML Director R. Keith Stroup said that he believed Grinspoon, Peron, and Pilon presented a strong, clear, and credible" argument in favor of the medical use of marijuana, and called the hearing a positive step toward reform.
        "The good news for the medical marijuana movement is that McCaffrey and other federal officials no longer claim that there is no currently available medical marijuana research or refer to our position as 'Cheech and Chong medicine,'" Stroup said.  "Now they have fallen back to the position that physicians and scientists should decide this issue, a position NORML also favors.  This change represents a step in the right direction, and we are accustomed to making progress in small increments when the final goal is changing decades-old ideologies on Capitol Hill."
        For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Reformers Expect To Turn In Twice The Signatures Necessary To Freeze Marijuana
Recriminalization In Oregon

        October 2, 1997, Portland, OR:  Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement expect to file approximately 95,000 signatures with the Secretary of State tomorrow to freeze legislation recriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.  Activists need only 49,000 signatures from registered voters to qualify the referendum for the 1998 ballot.  Oregon voters will then have the opportunity to accept or reject the Legislature's decision.
        Referendum supporters said that the high number of signatures is significant.  "To collect over 90,000 signatures in a matter of six weeks is astounding," said co-chief petitioner Todd Olson.  "The tremendous response to this effort shows that Oregonian voters have real questions and concerns about what the Legislature has done, and want a chance to make this decision for themselves."
        House Bill 3643, approved by the Legislature on July 2, increased the penalty for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana from a non-criminal "violation" to a class C misdemeanor crime.  Under the new law -- scheduled to take effect on October 4 -- individuals would be arrested and, if convicted, could face 30 days in jail, loss of their driving privileges for six months, and have their property seized by law enforcement.
        Upon signing the law, Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) said that H.B. 3643 "had less to do with the possession of marijuana as it does with expanding powers of search and seizure," a position which he strongly favors, but a majority of state voters oppose.  According to a state-wide poll conducted last summer, 58 percent of respondents said they were concerned that the new law would give police "too much authority to search the cars and homes of Oregon citizens."
        Michael Rose, also a chief petitioner for CSLE, said that the most important outcome of the referendum effort is that voters will have the opportunity to decide the issue directly.  House Bill 3643 marked a departure from a policy that had been working since 1973, he said.  "Before we start putting young people through the criminal justice system, Oregonians deserve the chance to take a long, hard look and make a sensible choice."
        State Representative Floyd Prozansky (D-Eugene) said that he supports reform efforts to prevent the enactment of H.B. 3643.   "There is no evidence whatsoever that making the possession of small amounts of marijuana a crime will do anything to reduce its use," he said.
        For more information, please contact either Todd Olson of Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement or Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.