News Release

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May 21, 1998

House Amendment To Higher Education Bill Bars Marijuana Smokers
From Receiving Student Aid

        May 21, 1998, Washington, D.C.:   The House overwhelmingly approved legislation this month denying convicted marijuana offenders from receiving federal student loan assistance.  The language, introduced by Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) as House Amendment 582 to the Higher Education Programs Authorization Extension Bill (H.R. 6), mandates that "An individual student who has been convicted of any offense under any Federal or State law involving the possession or sale of a controlled substance shall not be eligible to receive any [federal] grant, loan, or work assistance."
        NORML National Campus Coordinator Aaron Wilson said that the legislation unfairly punishes marijuana users.  "It is outrageous that Congress would pass this law denying financial aid to students for minor non-violent drug offenses, while a felony conviction for a serious violent crime brings no such penalty," he said.  "What kind of message is Congress sending?"
        Souder's amendment suspends first time drug offenders from receiving student aid for a period of one year.  Second time offenders will be ineligible for two years, and multiple repeat offenders will be barred indefinitely.  Drug sellers will be ineligible for two years after their first conviction, and indefinitely prohibited from receiving aid upon a second conviction.   Students may resume eligibility before the completion of their suspension if they participate in a drug rehabilitation program and pass two random drug tests.
        Wilson questioned how fairly the new law would apply to marijuana offenders.  "In many states, marijuana possession is decriminalized (a civil violation punishable by payment of a small fine), while in others it's a misdemeanor or a felony.  Depending on which state students live in, this legislation may or may not apply to you."
        The House approved H.R. 6 by a vote of 414 to 4, far exceeding the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto by President Clinton.  The bill now awaits action from the Senate.
        For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup, Esq. of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Aaron Wilson @ (212) 362-1964.

Medical Marijuana Distribution Summit To Take Place Next Week

        May 21, 1998, Sacramento, CA:   The California State Senate Committee on Public Safety hosts a forum next week to determine alternate methods of distributing medical marijuana to seriously ill California patients.  The summit, organized by Rep. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), marks the
first large scale legislative effort to "implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of [medical] marijuana" specified by the passage of Proposition 215.
        "This summit is to see whether we can find some way to assure safe access to medical marijuana for sick Californians," Vasconcellos said.  Representatives from the medical marijuana reform community, state health agencies, and law enforcement, as well as district attorneys from around the state will participate in the summit.  United States Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Janet Reno, declined to attend the meeting.
        California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer suggested that private medical marijuana dispensaries remain the best alternative for distributing the drug to patients.  "Experience has shown that well-run patient cooperatives offer benefits to both public health and safety," he said. "[They give] patients a safe, reliable, accountable source of medicine and relieve them of the need to rely on illicit street traffickers.  State legislation should therefore focus on legitimizing and regulating the operation of cannabis patients' cooperatives until such time as federal law is changed to permit other alternatives."
        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).
        San Francisco District Attorney Terrence Hallinan backed a plan that will allow the city to distribute medical marijuana.   "My feeling is that if it is done properly by a health department, ... the federal government will pass on it, as they do with the needle exchange."
        A spokesman from state District Attorney Dan Lungren's office will also attend the summit, but only to reaffirm the D.A.'s position that no distribution of medical marijuana is legal in California.
        Vasconcellos' office said they hope to bring a state-sponsored medical marijuana distribution proposal before the California Legislature later this year.
        For more information, please contact either Dale Gieringer of California NORML @ (415) 563-5858 or Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights @ (310) 394-2952.

California County Allocates Funding For Medical Marijuana Study

        May 21, 1998, Redwood City, California:  San Mateo County officials appropriated $50,000 to design a three-year research project to study marijuana's therapeutic effects on patients.   The decision marks the third time in recent years officials in a state have endorsed establishing a state-run medical marijuana research program.  Prior state-backed protocols in Washington state in 1996 and Massachusetts in 1997 failed to gain approval from federal officials and were never implemented.
        "We see this as the best and only alternative to legitimize the use of medical marijuana," said Margaret Taylor, the county's health director.  "This is about taking care of people with medical problems."
        Taylor said that it will take several months to prepare a formal protocol for the clinical study, but estimated that as many as 2,000 patients may qualify.  If approved by the FDA, the study must then also be okayed by either the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) or the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to move forward.  Presently, neither agency supports the study of marijuana for medical purposes.
        Starting in the late 1970's, several states -- including California, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, and Tennessee -- began looking for ways to make marijuana available to patients despite the federal government's blanket prohibition.  Each state eventually passed laws establishing state-run "controlled substances therapeutic research programs" where patients suffering from specific illnesses could qualify to receive marijuana as part of their medical treatment.
        By the early 1980s, thousands of seriously ill patients gained access to government-grown whole-smoked marijuana through these state programs.  The majority of patients and their physicians reported favorable results.   However, all state research abruptly ended by the late 1980's after the FDA approved oral THC (Marinol) for prescription use and NIDA made acquiring marijuana for medical research more difficult.
        Presently, the California Legislature is waiting to vote on a larger proposal to establish a "Medical Marijuana Research Center" at a campus of the University of California.
        For more information, please contact either Dale Gieringer of California NORML @ (415) 563-5858 or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.  Copies of NORML's publication: "Smoked Marijuana as an Effective Treatment for Nausea and Vomiting Associated with Cancer Chemotherapy in Six Separate State Clinical Trials: 1982-1986" are available from NORML upon request.