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December 11, 1997

AMA Okays Doctor's Right To Discuss Medical Marijuana With
Patients, Urges Federal Government To Undertake Research

        December 11, 1997, Dallas, TX:  The American Medical Association (AMA) backed a doctor's right to discuss marijuana therapy with a patient, and urged the federal government to facilitate medical marijuana research studies, at a Tuesday policy-making meeting in Dallas.
        "The AMA believes that effective patient care requires the free and unfettered exchange of information on treatment alternatives and that discussion of these alternatives between physicians and patients should not subject either party to criminal sanctions," the House of Delegates resolved.   Earlier this year, federal officials threatened to arrest physicians who recommended the use of marijuana to seriously ill patients under state law.
        The AMA delegates also urged the federal government to provide "sufficient funding" for clinical research on medical marijuana, and "access for qualified investigators to adequate supplies of marijuana" for the studies.  This recommendation parallels a conclusion reached by a National Institute of Health (NIH) working group in August.
        Throughout the mid 1990's, many medical marijuana proponents have criticized the federal government for blocking research to better determine marijuana's medical value.  A 1992 proposal comparing the effectiveness of inhaled marijuana with that of synthetic THC as a treatment for the weight loss associated with the AIDS wasting syndrome was rejected on three separate occasions by federal officials.  NIH finally approved a revised version of the protocol in 1997, but only
after researchers agreed to focus on determining the potential short-term harmful effects of marijuana on HIV-positive patients.  Similarly, two recent state proposals submitted by the Massachusetts and Washington state boards of health regarding medical marijuana research have been delayed indefinitely while awaiting federal approval.   Earlier this year, NIH officials rejected a scientific proposal submitted by a team of researchers from the Western Montana Clinic in Missoula to examine the use of marijuana in acute migraine treatment.
        "Hopefully, the AMA's call for medical marijuana research will not go unheard by those in Washington currently impeding such studies from taking place," NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said.
        The AMA Council on Scientific Affairs also released a report on Tuesday acknowledging that scientific clinical data exists demonstrating marijuana's medical utility in the treatment of serious diseases like AIDS wasting syndrome and spasticity disorders.  However, a member of the
AMA's board of trustees, John Nelson, said that the organization does not expect to advocate the legalization of medical marijuana until additional clinical research is conducted.
        "If [marijuana's medical value] was ever proven [conclusively], we would be vocal in trying to change the law," Nelson said.
        Besides the AMA, national and international medical groups such as the British Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Public Health Association, the Federation of American Scientists, and the California Medical Association have recently called for substantive
scientific studies on marijuana's medical properties.
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.  A listing of organizations favoring medical marijuana research and/or access is available from The NORML Foundation upon request.

Key West Medical Marijuana Club Founder Freed After Judge Okays First Ever
"Medical Necessity Distribution Defense"

        December 11, 1997, Key West, FL:   Local prosecutors dropped felony marijuana charges against the founder of a club that distributed medical marijuana to seriously ill patients after a judge agreed to allow testimony that the defendant's marijuana sales were motivated by the "medical necessity" of his customers.
        Zvi Baranoff, who ran the medical marijuana club for over one year, called the outcome a major victory.  "We have set something of a precedent," he said, referring to Judge Richard Payne's unique ruling last September allowing Baranoff's attorney -- NORML Legal Committee Member Norm Kent -- to argue a defense of "medical necessity distribution."   Payne also agreed that Baranoff did not have "criminal intent" in distributing marijuana to seriously ill patients.
        Last week, the State Attorney's Office decided to settle Baranoff's case out of court.  Baranoff agreed to serve 18 months probation.
        "It has been clearly recognized that marijuana is a medicine, and that people who need it should have it," Baranoff said.   "[My case] is on the public record so that others can use it."
        Legal analysts claim that Judge Payne's decision was the first time a court acknowledged that marijuana sales could be a "medical necessity" for the ill.
        For more information, please contact either the Medical Cannabis Advocates @ (305) 293-0190 or Attorney Norm Kent @ (954) 763-1900.

Marijuana Users Report Few Health, Social, Or Legal Problems, Study Shows

        December 11, 1997, Paris, France:   The overwhelming majority of marijuana users lead healthy and responsible lives, according to the results of a nationwide French survey.  The findings appeared on Friday in the French daily Le Monde.
        Users of marijuana "demand little health care, are [seldom] stigmatized, and have few encounters with the police," concluded the study by the Paris-based Institute for Research into the Epidemiology of Pharmacodependence.
        Researchers also reported that users carefully manage their consumption of marijuana.  "The subjects generally do not smoke anywhere [or at] anytime, and ... seem to know their limit and adjust their consumption if necessary," researchers concluded.  It was also noted that most marijuana
smokers avoid driving if they have recently consumed marijuana.
        The full study will be released later this month.
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

French Health Minister Favors Legalizing Medical Marijuana

        December 11, 1997, Paris, France:   French Minister of Health, Bernard Koucher, endorsed efforts to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, according to a recent article in the English newspaper Independent on Sunday.
        The London news weekly reported the official stating, "Obviously, it should be possible to prescribe [cannabis.]  For a doctor, that could be a real benefit."  Koucher is the third member of the present French government in recent months to express a favorable opinion toward marijuana-law reform.
        Medical marijuana will be one of several drug-related topics debated at a national health conference in Paris next Friday and Saturday.
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.