News Release

1001 Connecticut Ave, NW - Ste 710 - Washington, DC 20036
Tel. 202.483.5500 - Fax 202.483.8751 - E-mail - Internet

May 15, 1998

Kentucky Farmers File First Ever Federal Lawsuit To End Hemp Prohibition

        May 15, 1998, Lexington, KY:   A coalition of Kentucky farmers brought suit today against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Department of Justice asserting that Congress never intended to ban industrial hemp.  The suit, the first of its kind filed in a federal court, asks a judge to determine whether farmers can use their land to grow and produce hemp for commercial and industrial purposes.
        "Kentucky farmers deserve the same economic opportunity that Canadian farmers have been given to explore the development of industrial hemp industries," said Andrew Graves, president of the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association.  "We should be allowed to utilize industrial hemp to stimulate and create the much needed economic development for our rural farming communities."
        The plaintiff's attorney, NORML Legal Committee member Michael Kennedy of New York, contends that the DEA has violated the fundamental constitutional doctrine of separation of powers by ignoring the will of Congress, first articulated during the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which specifically exempted the production of hemp prohibition.
        "The time has come for a federal court to set the record straight: Congress intended to prohibit marijuana, not hemp.  For centuries, hemp has been and will in the future be a valuable and essential part of Kentucky agriculture."
        Presently, farmers in over 30 countries -- including Canada, France, England, Germany, Japan, and Australia -- grow hemp for industrial purposes.  Additionally, both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Taxes and Tariffs (GATT) recognize the crop as a valid agricultural plant.
        For more information, please contact either Michael Kennedy @ (212) 235-4500 or Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

Judge Orders Closure Of Six California Medical Marijuana Providers
Intent of Prop. 215 In No Way Challenged By Ruling

        May 15, 1998, San Francisco, CA:   U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer complied yesterday with the federal government's request to temporarily enjoin the operations of six California medical marijuana dispensaries named in a civil lawsuit.  Breyer found that the defendant's conduct "likely" violates the Controlled Substances Act and concluded that the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution requires the court to order the clubs from continuing to violate the federal statute.
        The preliminary injunction prohibits the distribution of medical marijuana to seriously ill patients by the San Francisco Cannabis Cultivators Club, the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, San Francisco Flower Therapy, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the Santa Cruz Buyers' Club, and the Ukiah Cannabis Buyers' Club.  The clubs compliance with the order may force as many as 10,000 clients to find alternate sources for medical marijuana.  Any club continuing to operate in defiance of the order could face contempt of court charges. 
        "This decision sets the stage for a showdown between federal bureaucrats and the people of California who are attempting to meet the legitimate medical needs of patients under Prop. 215," said California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer.  "No matter what the courts say, Californians will continue to work to ensure that medical marijuana remains available to patients who need it."
        The federal Controlled Substances Act forbids the distribution of a Schedule I controlled substance -- including marijuana -- to any patient outside of a strictly controlled research project approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  Breyer noted that the passage of California's medical marijuana statute fails to alter the authority of the federal law.  However, Breyer specified that his ruling in no way challenges the authority of California's Proposition 215 to exempt medical marijuana patients from the state's drug laws.  
        "Because of the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, the only issue before the Court is whether the defendant's conduct violates federal law," Breyer wrote.  "The Court concludes that ... it is likely that it does.
        "Once again, however, the Court must caution as to what this decision does not do.  The Court has not declared Proposition 215 unconstitutional.  Nor has it enjoined the possession of marijuana by a seriously ill patient for the patient's personal medical use upon a physician's recommendation.   Nor has the Court foreclosed the possibility of a medical necessity or constitutional defense in any proceeding in which it alleged a defendant has violated the injunction issued herein."
        Breyer rejected defendants contention that Congress lacks the authority to regulate the conduct of state medical marijuana dispensaries because they only engage in intrastate commerce.  He opined that although the defendant's conduct may not have had any effect on interstate commerce, "it is not true that the ... nonprofit distribution of medical marijuana necessarily does not affect interstate commerce."
        Breyer also rejected defendants assertion that temporarily closing the six clubs would infringe upon a class of patients "fundamental right to be free from unnecessary pain, to receive palliative treatment for a painful medical condition, to care for oneself, and to preserve one's own life."  While Breyer did not deny that such a right may exist, he held that defendants failed to establish that the right to such treatment is "so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental."
        Responding to Breyer's decision, medical dispensaries in the Bay Area vowed to violate the injunction and continue providing marijuana to those patients in need.
        "We will do everything in our power to stay open," said Jeff Jones, director of the 1,300 member Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative.  "The alternative that the government is giving [patients] is the street; that's not adequate."
        Jones and others who defy the order will likely face a jury trial where defendants would have the ability to raise the defense of medical necessity.  Dave Fratello, spokesman for Americans for Medical Rights, said that the clubs stand a better chance before a panel of their peers.
        "It has been proved time and time again that the prohibition of marijuana for medical use is a wildly unpopular policy," he said.  "In the court of public opinion, the federal government is already in a losing position.  If medical marijuana patient advocates are given their day in court, ... the government could -- and should -- lose big."
        Oakland Buyers Club defense attorney Robert Raich agreed. "We look forward to being vindicated by a jury of Californians who recognize the medical value of marijuana," he said.
        Wednesday's ruling is narrow in scope and pertains only to the distribution and manufacture of marijuana by the six defendants.   The ruling does not apply to activities of other state medical marijuana dispensaries.
        NORML Legal Committee member William Panzer, who represents two of the clubs named in the suit, said that this issue is far from over.   "We will put the government on trial and show that it has acted arbitrarily and capriciously," he said.
        For more information, please contact either William Panzer of The NORML Legal Committee @ (510) 834-1892 or attorney Robert Raich @ (510) 338-0700.  California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer may be reached @ (415) 563-5858.