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February 26, 1998

House Republicans Declare: Damn The Science, Full Speed Ahead!
Approve Resolution Opposing Any Use Of Marijuana As A Medicine

        February 26, 1998, Washington, D.C.:   A coalition of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, approved a "sense of the House of Representatives" resolution stating that "marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized for medical use."  The resolution -- introduced by subcommittee chair Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) -- won the approval of all seven Republicans present, while being opposed by the two Democrats at the mark-up, Reps. John Conyers (Mich.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas).   Ironically, the subcommittee's action came just one day after the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM) held its third and final symposium on the merits of marijuana therapy.  The IOM organized the conferences as part of a
federally funded 18-month review of the scientific evidence demonstrating marijuana's therapeutic value.
        Before passing the resolution, the Republicans rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Conyers, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, stating that the "States have the primary responsibility for protecting the health and safety of their citizens, and the Federal Government should not interfere with any state's policy (as expressed in a legislative enactment or referendum) which authorizes persons with AIDS or cancer to pursue, upon the recommendation of a licensed physician, a course of treatment for such illness that includes the use of marijuana."
        Republicans argued that any lifting of the legal ban prohibiting marijuana, even for medical purposes, would send mixed and potentially dangerous messages to the American public about drug use.  Conyers said that the federal government has no right to interfere in the relationship between a doctor and a patient.
        "We are talking about patients with the most serious illnesses a person can have -- people who may very well die," Conyers said.  "And for these patients, there is substantial medical literature suggesting that marijuana can reduce their suffering."
        "The Republicans on the Judiciary Committee refuse to recognize that this is a public health question, not part of the war on drugs," said NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq.   "They are willing to ignore the science and deny an effective medication to the sick and dying in order to advance their political agenda.  It is especially disappointing that Chairman McCollum, who twice sponsored legislation to permit the legal use of medical marijuana in the 1980s, would lead this misguided effort."
        The resolution now goes for consideration before the full Judiciary Committee. 
        A separate federal bill to allow for the legal use and distribution of medical marijuana in states that approve such efforts is pending in the House Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Health and Environment.  House Bill 1782 -- introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) -- currently has
ten co-sponsors.
        For more information or a copy of the February 23 House Resolution, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.  Information on upcoming state medical marijuana initiatives and legislation is also available upon request.

California State Senator Introduces Legislation To Limit Patients Protected By
Proposition 215

        February 26, 1998, Sacramento, CA:   State Sen. Richard Rainey (R-Walnut Creek) introduced legislation on Friday to curb the use of medical marijuana in California.  Senate Bill 2113 seeks to restrict the number of patients who qualify to use marijuana legally under state law to those suffering from only HIV, cancer, glaucoma, or spasticity disorders.  The legislation omits several medical conditions for which marijuana often provides relief such as chronic pain, neuralgia, and some psychiatric disorders.
        "The passage of this legislation could make criminals overnight out of thousands of patients now legally using marijuana as a medicine," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said.
        The Rainey bill further states that physicians who recommend marijuana to a patient must do so in writing.  All written recommendations must be re-issued every six months.  California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer said that many California physicians are wary of writing medical marijuana recommendations because they fear federal officials may suspend their license to prescribe scheduled drugs.
        Senate Bill 2113 also states that Proposition 215 may only provide an "affirmative defense" against prosecution rather than an exemption from state criminal marijuana charges.  This new language would subject even bona fide medical marijuana patients to arrest and prosecution until they
proved their cases at trial, Gieringer said.
        For S.B. 2113 to become law, it must gain the approval of the California Legislature and a majority of state voters because it would alter the purpose of Proposition 215.
        In response to this and other efforts to compromise the scope of Proposition 215, state Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) recently introduced legislation to form a "Medical Marijuana Distribution Task Force" to determine a "safe and affordable" distribution system for medical marijuana.  Language in Proposition 215 encouraged "federal and state governments to implement a plan to provide ... marijuana to all patients in medical need;" however, no such efforts are yet under way.
        For more information, please contact either Dale Gieringer of California NORML @ (415) 563-5858 or Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Jury Reverses Court Martial After Hearing Evidence Of Legal Products Testing Positive
For Marijuana

        February 26, 1998, Dover, DE:   A jury overturned a U.S. Air Force court martial after hearing evidence that hemp oil may test positive for marijuana on a urine test.  The decision acquits Master Sergeant Spencer Gaines, 41, of charges that he smoked marijuana.
        "[This ruling] has the military drug testing labs very concerned because it undermines the confidence in the effectiveness of the drug testing program, at least for marijuana," Gaines' attorney, Charles Gittens said.  "The government now has to rule out, in every case, a legal source for [marijuana metabolites.]  Here's a product that's legal, commercially available over the counter in health-food stores and grocery stores -- and it can pop you positive for [marijuana.]"
        Hemp seed oil is sold commercially in health food stores across the nation.  Presently, health professionals like Dr. Andrew Weil tout the nutritional benefits of hemp oil, noting that it is second only to soy in protein and contains the highest concentration of essential amino and fatty acids found in any food.
        The oil may be applied to foods just prior to consumption or ingested in capsule form.  A series of studies conducted this past summer both in the United States and abroad indicated that the regular users of the oil may test positive for THC regardless of how they consumed it.
        Gaines testified that he began using hemp oil in 1996 as a replacement for essential fatty acids.
        "Urinalysis is not a reliable indicator of workplace impairment and, in this instance, the court found that it is not even a true detector of past marijuana use," said Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation.  "As the use of hemp seed oil gains popularity, employers need to recognize that this legal product may test positive for marijuana."
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.