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January 15, 1998

U.S. Files Civil Suits To Shut Down California
Cannabis Buyers' Clubs

        January 15, 1998, Washington, D.C.:   Department of Justice attorneys filed six civil lawsuits to shut down several of California's largest medical marijuana clubs.  The lawsuits, announced by Northern California U.S. Attorney Michael Yamaguchi this past Friday, target the San Francisco Cannabis Cultivators' Club, the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Club, San Francisco Flower Therapy, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the Santa Cruz Cannabis Buyers' Club, and the Ukiah Cannabis Buyers' Club.
        "California's medical marijuana statute ... has no effect on the applicability of federal drug laws," Yamaguchi said.   "The issue is not the medical use of marijuana; it is the persistent violation of federal
        California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer denounced the U.S. government's action and proclaimed that the organization will do everything possible to support legal efforts to keep the clubs open.  In addition, an emergency legal defense fund to help support medical marijuana patients, caregivers, and dispensaries against federal litigation has been established at The NORML Foundation.
        "These federal lawsuits presents the greatest peril to medical marijuana patients [in recent memory,] Gieringer said.   "These six clubs serve over 10,000 patients.  To close them down now would be an intolerable public health and safety disaster."
        Gieringer said that the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution limit federal powers and protect Californians' right to medical marijuana under Proposition 215.  "The federal government is trying to turn the Constitution on its head," he argued.  "Nowhere does the Constitution give the federal government power to tell the states what kind of medicine their citizens may use."
        The clubs have 20 days to reply to the government's lawsuits in court.  Should the court grants the injunctions, the clubs will risk federal criminal charges if they continue to operate.
        NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said that cannabis buyers' clubs serve a vital role in the lives of many seriously ill Californians and called efforts to shut them down unconscionable.
        "Cannabis buyers' clubs remain the only viable source of medical marijuana in California short of home cultivation or purchasing marijuana on the street," Stroup said.  "To close these clubs would force thousands of seriously ill patients to suffer needlessly and force many patients to enter the black market or go without the medicine they need to survive."
        For more information, please contact either Tanya Kangas, Esq. of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751 or Dale Gieringer of California NORML @ (415) 563-5858.  Those wishing to contribute to the Medical Marijuana Patients' and Caregivers' Fund may send donations to The NORML Foundation.

State Senator Calls For Summit On "Responsible Medical Marijuana Distribution"

        January 15, 1998, Sacramento, CA:   State Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) denounced federal efforts to shut down California's medical marijuana clubs, and called on state and federal officials to attend an upcoming Public Safety Committee summit on the "safe, responsible distribution of medical marijuana."
        "I'm appalled," Vasconcellos announced at a January 12 press conference.  "[I'm] dismayed our state and federal governments have acted so arrogantly in the face of California voters' decisive support of Proposition 215.  I'm particularly angry that a president who won this state by a smaller margin than voters who approved Proposition 215 has the temerity to send his federal law enforcement into our state to undo the decision of our citizens."
        Vasconcellos -- who introduced unsuccessful legislation in 1997 to establish a Medical Marijuana Research Center at a campus of the University of California -- announced a six-point program to uphold the spirit of Proposition 215.  In the first piece of the program, Vasconcellos is inviting Gov. Pete Wilson, California Attorney General Dan Lungren, and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to join the Public Safety Committee in convening a statewide summit on medical marijuana distribution.
        "While local governments and law enforcement from Arcata to Los Angeles have spent the last year working with providers of medical marijuana to ensure responsible, compassionate implementation of 215, the state and federal governments have shown no leadership on the essential if complicated issue of distribution," he said.  "We who are policy makers and purport to be leaders have an obligation to swiftly, smartly effectuate the will of the voters."
        Vasconcellos also promised renewed efforts to move legislation facilitating medical marijuana research and distribution through the state Assembly.  In addition, he promised to circulate a letter to
President Clinton urging him to reverse the U.S. Department of Justice's position against California cannabis buyers' clubs.
        For more information, please contact either Dale Gieringer of California NORML or Rand Martin of Sen. John Vasconcellos' office @ (916) 445-9740.

HHS To Conduct Binding Review Of Marijuana's Prohibitive Status

        January 15, 1998, Washington, D.C.:   The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently determined that sufficient grounds exist to justify proceedings re-evaluating marijuana's prohibitive Schedule I status.  As a result, the agency has formally requested the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct "a scientific and medical evaluation of the available data and provide a scheduling recommendation" for marijuana and other cannabinoid drugs.
        The DEA's action is in response to an administrative petition filed by former NORML National Director Jon Gettman and Trans High Corporation -- publisher of High Times Magazine -- on July 10, 1995.  The petition argues that marijuana and cannabinoid drugs lack the "high potential for abuse" required for Schedule I and Schedule II drugs under the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  Gettman notes that the DEA has never before voluntarily referred a marijuana petition to HHS for binding review.
        "People are sent to jail every day because of mistaken assumptions about the abuse potential of marijuana," Gettman said.   "[This] petition observes that HHS has never produced a finding that marijuana actually has the high potential for abuse similar to heroin or cocaine required for Schedule I or Schedule II status.  Furthermore, the legislative history of the CSA indicates that Congress only intended for marijuana to remain in Schedule I or Schedule II if such a finding could be produced.  This petition challenges the government to produce such a finding or be legally required to end marijuana prohibition by removing marijuana from Schedule I."
        Gettman initially asked the Department of Justice in 1994 to request this evaluation from HHS.  At that time, DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine argued that the agency was "unaware of any new scientific studies of marijuana that would lead [it] to re-evaluate [marijuana's] classification at this time."  Constantine then challenged Gettman to provide documentation indicating that new research had taken place.  Gettman responded by filing his 1995 petition.
        "The recent referral of the petition to HHS is an acknowledgment by DEA of deficiencies in their familiarity with scientific studies of marijuana, and of the validity of [my] argument and its documented scientific basis," Gettman said.
        Petitioners are represented by Michael Kennedy, Esq. of New York City, a member of the NORML Legal Committee.
        For more information, please contact either the law offices of Michael Kennedy @ (212) 935-4500 or Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.