News Release

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August 27, 1998

Louisiana Governor Backs Unprecedented Drug Testing Plan Despite Costs, Legal Problems

        August 27, 1998, Baton Rouge, LA:   Governor Mike Foster vowed to implement random drug testing to nearly 30,000 state welfare recipients after criticizing the results of a questionnaire that determined few recipients used drugs.  If approved, the state-sponsored drug testing program would likely be the largest in the nation.
        "It is unprecedented for a Legislature to single out indigents and compel them to prove they are 'drug free' as a condition of receiving financial assistance," said attorney Tanya Kangas, Director of Litigation for The NORML Foundation.
        A 1997 law mandates drug testing for virtually all residents receiving moneys from the state, including welfare recipients, state employees, elected officials, state university students, and those holding state contracts.  Thus far, efforts to implement the new law have focused almost exclusively on welfare recipients.
        "There is no chance this law will survive a court challenge," NORML Legal Committee member William Rittenberg said.  In May, Rittenberg successfully argued before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that teachers and other public school employees may not be tested for drugs following an accident on the job.  "This Legislature likes to provide work and easy cases to civil rights lawyers," he said.
        State officials began screening welfare recipients for drugs this summer by administering a written questionnaire that contained questions regarding substance abuse.  Governor Foster sharply criticized the procedure after it netted fewer than 100 potential drug abusers out of 2,600 candidates.   A Department of Social Services spokesman said the initial screening is necessary because the state cannot test welfare recipients without reasonable suspicion of drug use.
        Apart from Constitutional issues, Foster's plan also raises some serious financial questions.  Rittenberg estimates that implementing urine tests to the state's large welfare population will cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
        Individuals who refuse to comply with the policy or who test positive on more than one occasion will no longer receive state aid, the 1997 law stipulates.
        For more information, please contact either attorney William Rittenberg @ (504) 524-5555 or Tanya Kangas of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

Government's Household Survey Data Contradicts Prop. 215 Critics

        August 27, 1998, Washington, DC:   Use of marijuana and other drugs among adolescents has not increased in California since the passage of Proposition 215, according to data released Friday by the government's National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.
        "These figures belie claims of Prop. 215 opponents, led by Attorney General Dan Lungren and Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, that the approval of medical marijuana will lead to an explosion of teen drug abuse in California," Dale Gieringer said.
        The survey found that adolescent marijuana use is lower in California than in other states.  Among youth age 12 to 17, less than seven percent of Californians reported using marijuana monthly versus ten percent nationwide.
        Survey data did find that a higher percentage of California adults reported using marijuana than the national average, but noted that this figure has remained stable since 1994.
        "The new Household data, the first to cover the post-1996 period, flatly contradict claims that Proposition 215 sent a 'damaging signal' to both adults and children," Gieringer said.  This year's Household survey included special close-up data for California at the request of Office of National Drug Control Policy head Barry McCaffrey.  After the passage of Proposition 215 in November 1996, McCaffrey alleged that "increased drug abuse in every category will be the inevitable result" of the medical marijuana law.
        Nationwide, the survey determined that more adolescents reported using marijuana in 1997 than the previous year.
        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.

Private Researcher Plants First Medical Marijuana Crop

        August 27, 1998, London, England:   The first private researcher to receive a federal license to grow marijuana for medical purposes planted his initial crop Monday.  He will grow the plants at an undisclosed greenhouse research facility in the south of England.
        Dr. Geoffrey Guy, chairman of GW Pharmaceuticals, received permission from the federal government in June to grow marijuana for medical research.  He announced in July that he will begin clinical trials to examine the therapeutic effects of whole smoked marijuana on multiple sclerosis patients, and discouraged efforts to synthesize medical compounds in the plant.  "I don't see the value in taking apart something that seems to work at the moment," he previously told a House of Lords committee.
        Private researchers in America who wish to follow in Guy's footsteps will be disappointed.  Presently, only the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has permission to grow marijuana for research purposes.   The agency almost exclusively limits it supply of marijuana to federal researchers hoping to determine harmful effects of the plant.  In August 1997, a National Institute of Health (NIH) expert panel on medical marijuana urged NIDA to implement policy changes to expedite medical marijuana research, but the agency has refused to do so.
        For more information, please contact either Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or NORML board member Rick Doblin @ (617) 484-9509.

DEA Says Federal Marijuana Prohibition Trumps Tribal Law Okaying
Hemp Cultivation

        August 27, 1998, Pine Ridge, SD:   Federal officials will not recognize legislation passed recently by Council members of the Oglala Sioux Indian Tribe legally distinguishing between marijuana and hemp, a DEA spokesman announced recently.  The conflict appears to set the stage for a federal lawsuit if tribal members go through with plans to cultivate the non-psychoactive strain of the plant.
        Tom Cook, who is overseeing the Sioux hemp project, said that the tribe anticipates filing an injunction against the DEA.   "[This is] a question [of] whether the tribe has sovereignty over its own land."
        Earlier this month, council members approved an ordinance recognizing hemp as a "safe and profitable" crop that is legally distinct from marijuana.  Responding to the measure, DEA Acting Associate Chief Counsel May Kate Whaelen said that the agency would still move to prosecute anyone cultivating hemp on the reservation.
        For more information, please contact either Paul Armentano or attorney Tanya Kangas of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.   Tom Cook may be contacted @ (308) 432-2290.