News Release

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June 11, 1998

Senate Okays Massive Anti-Drug Package In Tobacco Bill

        June 11, 1998, Washington, D.C.:   The Senate narrowly approved an amendment to the tobacco-control bill on Tuesday that seeks to spend $16 billion targeting and enhancing penalties against marijuana users.   Amendment 2451, spearheaded by Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.), funds state efforts to "establish state registration programs" for convicted marijuana sellers, drug test teenage driver's license applicants, drug test junior high and high school students, allow law enforcement to check motorists for the presence of marijuana metabolites, and encourage small businesses to adopt drug-free workplace programs.  The measure also amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 by prohibiting anyone convicted of a felony drug offense from receiving any student loan, grant, or work assistance.
        "These Republican-backed anti-drug measures treat otherwise law abiding marijuana smokers as if they were enemies of the state," said NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq.  "Tens of thousands of hard-working, productive citizens -- including many of the best and brightest college students -- would be unfairly penalized by these draconian proposals."
        Stroup called the provision to register convicted marijuana sellers especially disturbing.  The amendment states that anyone "who is convicted of a criminal offense involving drug trafficking [must] register a current address with a designated state law enforcement agency for up to ten years following" the date of conviction or release from prison.  The provision further says that the information collected under the registration program "may be disclosed for any purpose permitted under the laws of the state."  Presently, several states have enacted similar registration laws for those individuals found guilty of committing sex offenses against children.
        Attorney Tanya Kangas, Director of Litigation for The NORML Foundation, said that many of the drug testing initiatives proposed by the amendment appear unworkable and may be unconstitutional.  "Implementing federal legislation to give law enforcement the authority to screen for drug metabolites 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 amendment proposes." 
        The proposal mandates law enforcement to suspend the license of any driver who tests positive for drug metabolites.  Marijuana metabolites may be present in urine for periods of 30 to 40 days after last use of the drug.
        Kangas also questioned the fairness of federally-encouraged suspicionless drug testing in schools and the workplace.   Presently, the Supreme Court maintains that drug testing by the state without individualized suspicion is legal only if there exists "special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement."
        The provision denying federal student loan assistance to convicted marijuana felons is similar to a House amendment approved earlier this year.  NORML National Campus Coordinator Aaron Wilson said that both pieces of legislation unfairly punish marijuana users.  "It is outrageous that Congress would pass this law denying financial aid to students for 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?"
        Senators voted 52-46 for the anti-drug amendment, with all but two Republicans supporting it and all Democrats opposed.  The tobacco measure still needs approval from the Senate and the House.
        "Attaching this amendment to the tobacco-control bill is nothing more than a sneak attack by Republicans to escalate the war on marijuana smokers," Stroup said.
    For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

New Hampshire Judge Dismisses Farmers Request To Grow Hemp

        June 11, 1998, Hopkington, NH:   A New Hampshire federal magistrate dismissed a suit today brought by parties seeking to enjoin Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials from prosecuting farmers who cultivate hemp. 
        New Hampshire state Rep. Derek Owen and the New Hampshire Hemp Council of Keene filed suit in U.S. District Court on April 30 asking the court to bar the agency from using federal anti-marijuana laws to prohibit hemp cultivation.  Owen, who co-sponsored unsuccessful legislation this spring to "permit the development of an industrial hemp industry in New Hampshire," sought the order so he could plant hemp on his farm this year.
        The federal judge ruled that the court lacked "subject matter jurisdiction" to hear the case because state law also forbids the cultivation of hemp.  Plaintiff's attorney, Gordon Blakeney of Concord, said he will file an immediate objection to the ruling.
        Plaintiffs argued that marijuana and hemp are two botanically different strains of the species Cannabis sativa, and that the federal law is ambiguous because it refers to a classification of plants "commonly understood to include more than one distinct variety."  Plaintiffs further contended that Congress intended only to criminalize the psychoactive variety of Cannabis sativa and not the non-psychoactive strain.  Blakeney also said that no criminal intent exists in legitimate hemp cultivation.
        A similar federal suit filed by a coalition of Kentucky farmers against the DEA and the Department of Justice remains pending.
        For more information, please contact either Attorney Gordon Blakeney @ (603) 225-2310 or Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

Washington State Democrats Back Medical Marijuana Initiative

        June 11, 1998, Yakima, WA:   Democrats approved a resolution supporting passage of the Washington State Medical Marijuana Initiative (I-692) at last week's State Democratic Convention. 
        State Sen. Jeanne Kohl (D-Seattle) called the party support "wonderful."  Kohl, along with Sen. Pat Thibadeau (D-Seattle), sponsored legislation this spring to exempt "seriously ill patients ... from liability and criminal prosecution for limited, personal possession and use of marijuana."  The legislation died in committee when Republican Sen. Alex Deccio (R-Yakima), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Longterm Care, refused to call the issue for a vote.
        Initiative 692 is based upon the Kohl/Thibadeau bill.  The initiative mandates that "patients with terminal or debilitating illnesses who, in the judgment of their physicians would benefit from the medical use of marijuana, shall not be found guilty of a crime under state law for their possession and limited use of marijuana."  The proposal would also exempt "primary caregivers" who assist patients with their medical marijuana treatment from state criminal prosecution.
        The Seattle-Post Intelligencer previously endorsed the measure last month.
        Proponents of I-692 must gather approximately 182,000 signatures by July 2 to place the measure on the November ballot.
        For more information, please contact Dr. Rob Killian of Washington Citizens for Medical Rights @ (206) 781-7716 or Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.