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April 16, 1998

New Zealand Report Urges Government To Legalize Marijuana,
Exposes U.S. Role In Maintaining Worldwide Prohibition

        April 16, 1998, Wellington, New Zealand:  Legalizing marijuana would protect public health and raise tax revenue, according to a report released by the New Zealand Drug Policy Forum Trust.   Responding to the report, a spokesman for the Parliament's health select committee announced that the government will hold an inquiry into the effects and legal status of the drug. 
        The NZDPFT report states that "New Zealand politicians [must] ... take control of cannabis commerce."  It recommends the government to establish a "Tobacco, Alcohol, and Cannabis Authority" to develop and enforce "regulations concerning the production, distribution, sale, and use of these three substances."  Regulations would include age and point-of-sale restrictions, and providing legal penalties for "specified forms of misbehavior caused by deliberate taking of a drug."  Cultivation of marijuana for personal use and non-profit distribution of the drug would not fall under the commission's authority.
        "New Zealand must learn to live with cannabis," the report concludes.  "Cannabis has clearly become a part of our culture.  It's responsible use by adults should therefore be normalized."
        The policy paper also highlights the role of the United States in opposing drug reform efforts in other nations.  "A related hurdle to reforming New Zealand's cannabis policies will come in the form of resistance from the United States," the NZDPFT states.  "Whether present day politicians can withstand such pressure on [this] issue ... remains to be seen, but by anticipating and preparing for [it] the chances are good that we will be 'permitted' to opt out of U.S.-inspired cannabis policies."  The report cites a 1996 meeting between the DEA and the Australian government where U.S. officials warned the country not to "make any radical break with the past or with our allies" on marijuana policy.
        The Drug Policy Forum Trust is composed of several highly respected scientists and health care professionals.
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.  A copy of the report is available online at: http://www.nzdf.org.nz/1998.htm.

San Francisco Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ordered Closed By Judge

        April 16, 1998, San Francisco, CA:   A Superior Court judge granted an injunction on Wednesday calling for the closure of California's largest medical marijuana dispensary.  Club proprietor Dennis Peron, who says his operation serves some 9,000 patients, told reporters that he will defy the order.
        "You cannot just throw people out in the street; you cannot just stop the will of the people," he said.  "We are fighting for the will of the people here."
        Judge David Garcia said that the club overstepped the provisions of the state's medical marijuana law that legalized the possession and cultivation of the drug for medical use.  "The Court finds uncontradicted evidence in this record that defendant Peron is currently engaging in the illegal sales of marijuana," Garcia declared.
        Garcia's decision reversed his January 1996 ruling authorizing the club to engage in the not-for-profit sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes.  Garcia's earlier ruling was rejected by the state Court of Appeals, First Appellate District.
        This latest decision okays state Attorney General Dan Lungren's request for a nuisance abatement order allowing the club to be seized and closed by either the county sheriff or the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement.
        NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said that medical marijuana dispensaries such as the San Francisco Cultivators' Club perform a legitimate public health service for the community.  "Cannabis buyers' clubs remain the only viable source of medical marijuana in California short of home cultivation or purchasing marijuana on the street," he 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 marijuana they need to survive."
        For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Dale Gieringer of California NORML @ (415) 563-5858.  Dennis peron may be contacted at Californians for Compassionate Use @ (415) 621-3986.

Iowa Legislature Okays Bill Enhancing Marijuana Penalties, Granting Police Power To
Drug Test Drivers

        April 16, 1998, Des Moines, IA:   The Iowa Legislature overwhelmingly approved a bill enhancing marijuana penalties for repeat offenders, and enabling police officers to conduct drug tests on drivers who appear to be operating under the influence of marijuana.  Senate Bill 2391 now awaits action from Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.
        Carl Olsen, head of Iowa NORML, called the measure "incredibly harsh" and cautioned that the new law could entangle many casual marijuana users in the criminal justice system.  "People who now face a maximum six month jail term in Iowa for the simple possession of small amounts of marijuana will face two years in prison and a $5,000 fine for third and subsequent offenses," he said.
        Senate Bill 2391 also allows law enforcement to check motorists for the presence of marijuana metabolites -- presumably by urine or blood tests -- if there is a reasonable suspicion to believe the motorist is driving under the influence of the drug.  Because the law sets no legal threshold for drugs other than alcohol, S.B. 2391 states that the detection of any amount of marijuana metabolites is grounds for obtaining a conviction of driving while intoxicated.  The law fails to specify how or where police will administer the drug tests.
        "The presence of non-psychoactive marijuana metabolites in the urine is not evidence of impairment," warned Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation.  St. Pierre noted that metabolites often remain in the urine for days and sometimes weeks after the intoxicating effects of marijuana have worn off.  "You could have someone who smoked marijuana on Sunday be arrested on Tuesday and charged with driving under the influence," he said.
        Attorney Tanya Kangas, Director of Litigation for The NORML Foundation, questioned the constitutionality of the drug-testing proposal.   "Implementing S.B. 2391 will violate privacy and search protections," she said.  "Blood tests are excessively invasive; urine tests do not indicate impairment and cannot be collected consistent with constitutional standards for traffic stop searches.  We can restrict people from driving while impaired without violating the Constitution as this law proposes."
        For more information, please contact either Carl Olsen of Iowa NORML @ (515) 288-5798 or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Oklahoma Rally To Be Held Monday To Address Plight Of
Medical Marijuana Patients

        April 16, 1998, Oklahoma City, OK:   A demonstration will be held on Monday at the Oklahoma State Capitol to bring attention to the plight of medical marijuana patients.  The rally will focus on Will Foster, a 39 year old Tulsa native, who is currently serving a 93 year jail sentence for cultivating marijuana for his personal medical use.  Foster was a first time offender who suffers from chronic rheumatoid arthritis.  State law did not permit him the opportunity to raise a defense of medical necessity at his trial.
        Adam Smith, assistant director of the Drug Reform Coordination Network, Will's wife Meg Foster, Michael Pearson of Oklahoma NORML, and Michael Camfield of the American Civil Liberties Union, will speak at the event, which is scheduled to be filmed by the Canadian Broadcasting Company.
        For more information, please contact either Michael Pearson of Oklahoma NORML @ (405) 840-4367 or Adam Smith of DRC Net @ (202) 293-8340.