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April 2, 1998

Need State Assistance In Florida?  Better Pass a Drug Test
Florida House Approves Measure To Drug Test Welfare Recipients

        April 2, 1998, Tallahassee, FL:   Recipients of state aid must prove that they are "drug-free," according to a measure passed by the Florida House on Tuesday.  House Bill 271 requires all state welfare recipients to undergo random drug testing, and denies entitlements to those who consecutively test positive for marijuana.  The bill now awaits Senate approval.
        "This bill subjects impoverished people to unreasonable searches as a mandatory condition of receiving public assistance," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said.  "This is bad policy and likely unconstitutional."
        Stroup said that the Supreme Court ruled a Georgia drug testing statute unconstitutional in 1997 because the state failed to demonstrate a "special need" substantial enough to override Fourth Amendment protections.  He speculated that a similar court challenge could strike down Florida's pending legislation.
        Howard Simon, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, said the organization opposes state-mandated random drug testing.  "It is not a crime to be poor in America," he said.  "If there is no reasonable suspicion of drug abuse, then people have a right to be left alone and not forced to surrender their privacy rights."
        Under the pending law, individuals who test positive for marijuana once will be required to undergo a 90-day rehabilitation period.   Repeat offenders will no longer receive state entitlements.
        The Louisiana legislature approved a similar measure in 1997, but has yet to develop a cost-efficient way to implement the program.   "Random drug testing on this wide a scale will cost Florida taxpayers millions of dollars unnecessarily," Stroup said.
        For more information, please contact either the ACLU of Florida @ (305) 576-2337 or Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

British Protest To Legalize Marijuana Draws 10,000

        April 2, 1998, London, England:   Over 10,000 participants took to the streets of London on Saturday to show support for relaxing the nation's marijuana laws.  The high profile protest, organized by the Independent on Sunday newspaper which is campaigning to decriminalize the drug,
marked the first time in 30 years so many British citizens stood up for marijuana-law reform.
        "The widespread turnout is not surprising," said Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation.   "Recent surveys and public opinion polls indicate that British voters solidly support legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational purposes."
        "What we want to see is [Parliament] debating [legalizing marijuana] openly, freely, and weighing the evidence from the World Health Organization and from the British Medical Council," said Independent on Sunday editor Rosie Boycott, who attended the march.  Recently, the campaign gained supporters in Parliament, as well as business giants Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic Airways and Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop.
        A poll last month of 243 newly elected MPs revealed that 65 percent favored establishing a royal commission to reconsider the country's drug policies, the Independent on Sunday reported.   However, Labour prime minister Tony Blair said that he intends to keep Britain's drug laws unchanged, and Home secretary Jack Straw says he will not sanction an open debate on the subject of marijuana decriminalization.
        Paul Flynn, a Labour member of Parliament who favors marijuana-law reform, said the government is plagued by "ignorance and hypocrisy" on the issue. 
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751 or visit the website: www.marijuananews.com.

California State Senate Committee Quashes Effort To Restrict Prop. 215

        April 2, 1998, Sacramento, CA:   The State Senate Health and Human Services Committee rejected legislation to curb the use of medical marijuana in California.
        Senate Bill 2113, introduced by Sen. Richard Rainey (R-Walnut Creek), sought to restrict the number of patients who qualify to use marijuana legally under state law to only those suffering from HIV, cancer, glaucoma, or spasticity disorders.  The legislation omitted several medical conditions for which marijuana often provides relief such as chronic pain, neuralgia, migraines, and some psychiatric disorders.
        "The passage of this legislation would have made criminals overnight out of thousands of patients now legally using marijuana as a medicine," said NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq.  "The Health Committee made the courageous and compassionate choice to oppose this measure."
        Committee Chairwoman Diane Watson (D-Culver City), explained that the Senate had "in depth concerns" with the intent of S.B. 2113 and warned Rainey that he faced a "heap of opposition."  Rainey later withdrew the bill from consideration.
        "The Senate Health Committee took a stand to preserve the will of the voters as expressed by the passage of Proposition 215," Stroup said.
        For more information, please contact either Dale Gieringer of California NORML @ (415) 563-5858 or Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Oklahoma Legislature Poised To Authorize National Guard To Engage In State
Marijuana Enforcement

        April 2, 1998, Oklahoma City, OK:   Oklahoma politicians are in unanimous support of legislation that would allow the National Guard to join forces with state law enforcement officers in anti-drug operations.   The measure, introduced by Rep. Dale Wells (D-33rd District), previously passed the House and the Senate Appropriations Committee without any opposition.  The Senate is expected to vote on the issue shortly.
        "It is against the spirit and letter of the law for the military to be involved in domestic law enforcement," NORML Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said.
    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 ranks as one of the leading states in marijuana eradication; however, law enforcement primarily targets only wild growing marijuana patches known as "ditchweed."  This strain of marijuana will not intoxicate users when smoked.  In 1996, "ditchweed" accounted for 96 percent of all marijuana plants eradicated by state and federal law enforcement in Oklahoma.
        "House Bill 2596 compromises long-standing principles of federal law and is an utter waste of taxpayers dollars," Stroup said.   "Using National Guard personnel to eradicate 'ditchweed' will do nothing to improve public safety."
        For more information, please call either Michael Pearson of Oklahoma NORML @ (405) 840-4366 or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.  Copies of the NORML position paper: "National Guard Involvement in the Drug War are available upon request."