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March 26, 1998

Judge Stays Federal Request To Shut Down California Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

        March 26, 1998, San Francisco, CA:   Medical marijuana proponents stalled the federal government's request to shut down six California medical marijuana dispensaries named in a civil lawsuit.  U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer asked attorneys on both sides of the case to brief a number of issues -- including whether Congress properly considered marijuana's medical uses when it placed the drug in Schedule I -- and return to court on April 16. 
        California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer said he felt optimistic after yesterday's proceedings.  "Judge Breyer repeatedly expressed skepticism about the government's sweeping claims of supremacy in the face of opposition from 56 percent of California voters, the mayors of four cities, and amicus ("friend of the court") briefs from San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, the city of Oakland, and the town of Fairfax," Gieringer said.   "Medical marijuana supporters ... sense[d] that Judge Breyer was in no way predisposed to granting the government carte blanche to shut down the distribution of medical marijuana."
        Breyer said he had hoped to find a middle ground between California's law allowing the possession and use of medical marijuana and the U.S. Justice Department's desire to enforce federal law outlawing the drug.  He concluded, however, that he would have to choose sides because "the federal government is not going to change their position."
        "Congress has determined the world is flat," said attorney William Panzer, who represents two of the clubs named in the federal suit.  "This court has the authority to declare the world is round."
        Dave Fratello, spokesman for Americans for Medical Rights -- the group that spearheaded the Proposition 215 campaign -- emphasized that the federal suit is not a direct attack on California's medical marijuana law, and said patients may still possess and use marijuana as a medicine regardless of how Judge Breyer rules.  "Proposition 215 is now the law of California, and it will remain that way," he said.  "Patients will [retain] the right to use marijuana under a doctor's order in this state, but how they obtain it could be complicated by this federal case."
        For more information, please contact William Panzer @ (510) 834-1892 or Attorney Tanya Kangas of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

Coalition Heads To Washington To Petition DEA To Lift Hemp Ban

        March 26, 1998, Washington, D.C.:   A coalition of business and agriculture organizations convened on Washington last week to kick off a campaign to encourage legislators to lift the government's 60+ year ban on hemp cultivation.
        "It simply makes no sense to outlaw a plant that has played a vital role in the history of our country," said environmental and consumer activist Ralph Nader.  "Growing hemp will be a boon for our farmers; it's an easy-to-grow cash crop that is good for field rotations that can help sustain the soil and reduce harmful insects." 
        The Resource Conservation Alliance -- a non-profit environmental project affiliated with Nader -- the North American Industrial Hemp Council, Hawaii state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, and others recently unveiled a plan to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to legalize hemp as an agricultural crop.  Reformers also demanded that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) establish a system of certifying hemp seeds and licensing farmers to grow the plant.
        "In Hawaii, this is economic development," said Thielen, who unsuccessfully introduced legislation permitting farmers to grow the plant for research purposes in 1997 and 1998.  "And the stumbling block to this economic development is the lobbying effort of the DEA."
        Attorney Don Wirtshafter, President of the Ohio Hempery, said that petitioners may also consider filing a federal lawsuit if the agency refuses to respond to their request.  "When an agency stands in the way of progress, the first step is to ask them to step aside," he said.  "Only when they fail to do so is it time for court action."
        Jeffrey Gain, former chief of the National Corn Growers Association, said that domestic farmers are being shut out of a growing global economic market.  "While the rest of the world is jumping on the hemp bandwagon, American agriculture is being held hostage to obsolete thinking," he said.  It's a legitimate crop with enormous economic and environmental potential."
        Officials from the White House and the DEA, however, said they remained unmoved by the proponent's arguments.  According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) current white paper on hemp, domestic cultivation of the crop would send mixed messages to youth and "may mean the de facto legalization of marijuana."
        NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. called the government's position "absurd," noting that dozens of industrialized nations -- including Australia, England, France, Germany, and Canada -- cultivate hemp, and that it has not caused any difficulty for law enforcement.
        For more information, please call either NORML board member Don Wirtshafter @ (740) 662-4367 or Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Oklahoma Senate Committee To Decide Today Whether To Move On Bill Authorizing
National Guard To Engage In State Marijuana Enforcement

        March 26, 1998, Oklahoma City, OK:   The Senate Appropriations Committee must decide today whether to approve legislation allowing the National Guard to join forces with state law enforcement officers in anti-drug operations.  The bill, introduced by Rep. Dale Wells (D-33 District), previously passed the House by a 95-0 vote.
        "It is against the spirit and the letter of the law for the military to be involved in domestic law enforcement," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said, referring to guidelines set forth in the Posse Comitatus Act of 1879.  "Men and women who volunteer for the National Guard do so to protect their country, not to work arm and arm with state anti-drug operations."
        House Bill 2596 authorizes the Governor to "request volunteers of the National Guard to provide assistance to federal, state and local law enforcement officers, within or outside the boundaries of this state, in drug interdiction and counter-drug activities."  Oklahoma presently ranks as one of the leading states in marijuana eradication activities; however, these efforts primarily target wild growing marijuana patches known as "ditchweed."  This strain of marijuana will not get users "high" when smoked.
        "House Bill 2596 not only compromises long-standing principles of federal law, but is an utter waste of taxpayer dollars as well," Stroup added.
        The bill's sponsor declared that the passage of the legislation is "necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health, and safety."  The bill further declares a "state of emergency" in Oklahoma.
        For more information, please call either Michael Pearson of Oklahoma NORML @ (405) 840-4366 or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.  To ask the status of H.B. 2596, please call (405) 521-5642.  Copies of the NORML position paper: National Guard Involvement in the Drug War are available upon request.

Congress To Recess Without Voting On Resolution Opposing Medical Marijuana

        March 26, 1998, Washington, D.C.:   The House of Representatives will not vote on a "sense of the House Resolution" stating that "marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug [that] should not be legalized for medical use" until after the Congressional Easter break.   The House will likely debate the issue shortly after Congress reconvenes on April 21.
        For more information, please contact R. Keith Stroup, Esq. of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.