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November 6, 1997

Medical Marijuana Initiatives Filed For 1998 In Maine, Colorado, Elsewhere

        November 6, 1997, Washington, D.C.:   Voters in Colorado and Maine may have the opportunity to decide whether the use of medical marijuana under a physician's supervision should be legal under state law.
        Medical marijuana proponents in both states recently filed ballot initiatives to put the issue to a public vote in 1998.   Americans for Medical Rights (AMR), the California-based group that spearheaded the successful passage of Proposition 215 in California, is coordinating the two state campaigns.
        "Next year is going to be a defining moment in the battle for legal access to medical marijuana," NORML Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. predicted.  "Federal legislators are looking to the states to take the lead on this issue."
        Colorado's reform effort seeks to amend the state's constitution to allow anyone holding a state-issued identification card to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana.  Patients would also be able to cultivate marijuana for medical use with a physician's recommendation.  Cultivation limits are set at six plants, with no more than three plants producing usable marijuana at any one time.
        A state health agency would keep a confidential registry of patients who possess valid doctor's recommendations.  Those who obtain marijuana for medical use would be prohibited from using it in public places, selling or distributing the drug, or "endangering the health and well-being" of other people by its use.
        "The time [for medical marijuana] has come," said initiative co-filer Martin Chilcutt of Coloradans for Medical Rights.   "We can't avoid it and put our heads in the sand and pretend the need isn't there."
        A similar proposal filed in Maine would limit the use of marijuana to patients suffering from AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, seizures, or undergoing cancer chemotherapy.  As in Colorado, the proposal allows patients to grow up to six marijuana plants.
        "It's pretty clear that this was written to ensure that [opponents] could not claim that this law would 'open the door' to other uses of marijuana," said Attorney Ron Kreisman, who drafted the initiative.
        "It's been clear for years that there is broad deep support for permitting medical use of marijuana among Maine [citizens]," explained Dave Fratello, spokesman for AMR.  Stephanie Hart, a former Congressional aide who is now coordinating the statewide effort, agrees.
        "We know from everything we've heard that Maine people will come forward" to support the medical marijuana drive, she said.
        Stroup sees parallels between Colorado and Maine, and anticipates both initiatives efforts to be successful in 1998.  "In both instances, you have states where voters have shown strong support for the issue, but the Legislature has failed to convert the voters' sentiment into law," he said.   "Proponents have no choice but to bypass the Legislature and go directly to the voters."
        Besides Colorado and Maine, grassroots petition drives are also taking place in Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, and the District of Columbia.   Both Florida's and Washington D.C.'s initiatives are modeled after California's Proposition 215, while Alaska and Arkansas' language propose broader drug-law reforms.
        Americans for Medical Rights said that they may back additional state initiatives in 1998.
        For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights @ (310) 394-2952.

Washington State Voters Reject "Drug Medicalization and Prevention Act"

        November 6, 1997, Olympia, WA:   State voters rejected a drug-law reform ballot initiative that contained provisions allowing physicians to recommend the use of marijuana as a medicine to seriously ill patients.
        Initiative 685, the "Drug Medicalization and Prevention Act of 1997" received only 40 percent support from state voters Tuesday.  The defeat came as a disappointment to reformers, but medical marijuana proponents said that public support for medical marijuana remains strong.
        "The defeat of I-685 was not a defeat for medical marijuana," NORML Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said, citing exit poll results indicating 46 percent of those opposed to the initiative would support a measure dealing only with medical marijuana.  "It further supports our belief that a majority of Americans favor focused legislation allowing a patient to use marijuana medicinally under a physician's supervision."
        Tacoma physician Rob Killian, who filed the initiative, told reporters that he felt I-685's broad language regarding other drugs and prison reform may have turned off some voters who would have otherwise supported the measure.  He said that he may file an initiative next year to deal strictly with medical marijuana.
        In the meantime, state legislators Alex Deccio (R-Yakima) and Jeanne Kohl (D-Seattle) announced they will work to push the issue forward in the Legislature.  Deccio, who chairs the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee, said he will likely hold hearings on the issue, and Kohl announced that she hopes to co-sponsor legislation permitting the use of marijuana as a medicine.
        "I'd like to focus only on marijuana and keep it [limited] to medical use," Kohl said.  "I think we're farther ahead than we were a year ago, especially with public awareness of the issue."
        Kohl previously sponsored a medical marijuana appropriation bill in 1996 that secured $130,000 to conduct a state study into the benefits of marijuana as a medicine.  That proposal remains delayed indefinitely while awaiting federal approval.
        For more information, please contact either Paul Armentano or Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Judge Denies AIDS And Cancer Patient Opportunity To Use Defense Of "Medical Necessity" Against Pot Charge

        November 6, 1997, Detroit, MI:   A district court judge yesterday reversed her week-old decision to allow an AIDS and cancer patient facing marijuana charges to present evidence that he uses the drug as part of his medical treatment.
        The case involves Peter McWilliams, a best-selling author and former Detroit resident who is facing criminal charges for possession of seven marijuana cigarettes.  McWilliams, who now lives in California, uses marijuana medicinally to alleviate the side effects of the AIDS wasting syndrome and cancer chemotherapy.  He was arrested December 17, 1996, at Detroit Metropolitan Airport after telling officers that he was carrying marijuana legally acquired in California.
        William's attorney, NORML's Legal Committee member Richard Lustig, expressed extreme surprise at the judge's reversal.  "Judge [Tina] Green's initial decision was brave a correct," Lustig said.  "Thousands of patients rely on medical marijuana to relieve their pain and to ease their nausea and other side effects caused by medical treatment."
        Judge Green said she reversed her position after concluding that McWilliams would not suffer bodily harm if he stopped using marijuana as part of his medical treatment.  McWilliams contests that assertion.
        "Without medical marijuana, I can't keep down the drugs that are keeping me alive," McWilliams said.  "Judge Green's original decision may not be considered politically correct by some, but it was definitely the medically correct decision to make."
        Lustig said he will immediately file an appeal with the Wayne County Circuit Court.
        For more information, please contact either R. Keith Stroup, Esq. of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or NORML Legal Committee member Richard Lustig @ (810) 258-1600.