News Release

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June 4, 1998

Federal Court Halts School Board Policy Mandating Urine Tests
For Teachers

        June 4, 1998, New Orleans, LA:   Teachers and other public school employees may not be urine tested for drugs following an accident on the job, ruled the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week.
        NORML Legal Committee member William Rittenberg, Esq., who argued the case, praised the decision.  "Had the Circuit Court ruled differently, millions of Americans would have lost this privacy right," he said. 
        Finding an "insufficient nexus between suffering an injury at work and drug impairment," the Court determined that the drug testing policies of two Louisiana school boards ran contrary to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that protects citizens against unreasonable searches by the state.   The Court further ruled that the policies failed to fit within a "special needs exception" to the amendment previously determined by the Supreme Court to allow for school boards to drug test student athletes and public employers to test workers in safety sensitive positions.
        "Defendants are to be enjoined from requiring teachers, teacher's aids, and clerical workers to submit urine specimens for testing in post-injury screening, absent individualized suspicion of wrongful drug use," wrote Circuit Judge Higginbotham for the Court.  "It cannot be the case that a state's preference for means of detection is enough to waive off the protections of privacy afforded by insisting on individualized suspicion.  ... As destructive as drugs are and as precious are the charges of our teachers, special needs must rest on demonstrated realities.  Failure to do so leaves the effort to justify this testing as responsive to drugs in public schools as a 'kind of immolation of privacy and human dignity in symbolic opposition to drug use.'"
        The Court also determined that the school board's drug testing policy primarily supported the state's interest in "not paying compensation claims of employees whose injury was caused by drug use," and failed to serve their "general interest in a drug free school environment."  The state's true interest was insufficient to bypass constitutional protections, the Court said.
        Rittenberg speculated that the Fifth Circuit ruling calls into question the constitutionality of a 1997 Louisiana state law requiring all residents receiving state funds to pass a urine test.  If this sort of testing is unconstitutional for teachers, how is it justified for every person who receives a paycheck from the state, he asked.  So far, the Legislature has been unable to pay for the widespread drug testing proposal.
        The federal case is cited as No. 97-30885.
        For more information, please contact attorney William Rittenberg @ (504) 524-5555 or R. Keith Stroup, Esq. of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

California Legislators Urge President To Allow State Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

        June 4, 1998, Sacramento, CA:   Twenty-four California state lawmakers urged President Clinton in a letter last week to "call an immediate halt" to federal efforts to shut down six of the state's operating medical marijuana dispensaries.
        "We urge you to honor the will of the people of California ... and to join deliberations with our state on safe, affordable, responsible methods to distribute medicinal marijuana to needy Californians," the legislators declared. 
        Previous requests to federal officials by state lawmakers to support the state's medical marijuana distribution efforts have gone unanswered.
        The letter stated that the private dispensaries fill a void created by the passage of Proposition 215: a law approved by 56 percent of California voters legalizing the possession of medical marijuana, but failing to establish a distribution system for the drug.  The clubs "provide essential service to otherwise law abiding citizens whose only other option is to purchase marijuana from street dealers," the lawmakers stated.
        "Mr. President, we can't ignore this issue; it won't go away -- so long as human beings believe they have the right to attend to their own illness, as their doctor recommends, rather than as government dictates," the letter concluded.
        For more information, please contact either Dale Gieringer of California NORML @ (415) 563-5858 or Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

Michigan City May Lose Millions In State Funds For Lenient Marijuana Law

        June 4, 1998, Lansing, MI:   Language approved by the Michigan Senate in the state's budget bill threatens to strip the city of Ann Arbor of millions of dollars in state funds unless the city imposes stricter marijuana penalties.
        Ann Arbor Council Member Christopher Kolb (D) called the measure "blackmail," and many state representatives say the proposal is unconstitutional because it attempts to usurp power from local government and redirect it to the state.
        "I don't think the state Senate has any business dictating to local governments what they can do, especially withholding revenue sharing," said Rep. Mary Schroer (D-Scio Township). 
        An amendment to House Bill 5595 states that the department of treasury shall withhold ten percent in state revenue sharing funds to any city that fails to enforce state marijuana penalties.  Presently, only Ann Arbor has marijuana possession penalties lower than the state standard.  Simple possession of marijuana in the city is a noncriminal infraction punishable by a $50 fine.
        Amendment sponsor Sen. Mike Rogers (R-Brighton) said that the city's lenient marijuana policy sends the wrong message to children.   He said that if Ann Arbor lost state funding, residents may be "encouraged" to repeal the 1974 city law.
        Senators and representatives must still debate the budget bill in conference committee where opponents of the amendment say they will fight to eliminate the language from the budget.
        For more information, please contact either Paul Armentano or R. Keith Stroup, Esq. of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Early Studies Show Marijuana Derivative Prevents Brain Injuries

        June 4, 1998, Tel Aviv, Israel:   Israeli researchers are set to begin human trials on a synthetic analog derived from marijuana that appears to reduce damage to the brain caused by head trauma, strokes, and spinal cord injuries.
        Prior research on animals and a limited number of patients demonstrates that Dexanabinol protects healthy brain cells after trauma by blocking the neurotransmitter, glutamate.  Severe head injuries and strokes cause the release of excessive glutamate, often resulting in irreversible damage to brain cells.  
        Researchers said that they anticipate conducting a Phase III trial on 1,000 patients in the near future and hope to begin marketing the drug by the year 2000.
        NORML Foundation Chairman Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School called the preliminary findings "exciting," but criticized U.S. policies discouraging medical marijuana research.  "The kind of studies taking place in Israel should have been going on in the U.S. since the 1940s when scientists first began isolating chemical compounds in marijuana," he said. 
        For more information, please contact either Paul Armentano or Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.