News Release

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October 16, 1998

Oakland Medical Marijuana Club Scheduled For Shut Down Monday

        October 16, 1998, Oakland, CA:   In a ruling called "reprehensible" by Oakland Council member Nate Miley, U.S. Court Judge Charles Breyer granted federal marshals the authority to close the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative at 5 p.m. Monday.  The Judge initially ordered the
club closed Friday, October 16, but granted the Cooperative a three day reprieve pending an appeal from the club's attorneys.
        "Judge Breyer's decision makes a travesty of fundamental American values regarding local government, patients' rights, and states' rights," said California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer, who is organizing a patient protest outside the club at 4 p.m. Monday.
        Breyer rejected several defenses raised by the club's attorneys, including arguments that closing the Cooperative would violate a patient's constitutional right to relieve excruciating pain.  "Defendants have failed to proffer evidence that each and every person to whom they distributed marijuana needed the marijuana to protect such a fundamental right," he wrote.   Ironically, Breyer acknowledged that closing the club may cause "human suffering," and admitted that attorneys provided sufficient evidence that Cooperative members used marijuana for medical reasons.
        Robert Raich, an attorney for the Oakland Cooperative, strongly criticized Breyer's ruling and the federal ban on medical marijuana.   "Even though our members testified that medical cannabis has actually saved their lives, they didn't say they would die tomorrow without [it,]" he said.   "As a result, over 2,000 patients may lose their access to a necessary and life-saving medicine.
        "There is no rational basis for the federal government to deny patients medical marijuana," he continued.   "It's like Congress has passed a law declaring the world is flat and that we don't need to consider any facts."
        Oakland city officials said they will continue to support efforts to make medical marijuana safely available to patients.  Officials previously deputized the Oakland club staff in an attempt to immunize them from federal prosecution, but Judge Breyer rejected that argument.
        Breyer refused to order the closure of a second medical marijuana dispensary, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in the city of Fairfax.  NORML Legal Committee member William Panzer, an attorney for the club, said that Breyer ordered a jury trial to determine whether the club sold marijuana in violation of federal law.
        For more information, please contact either Dale Gieringer of California NORML @ (415) 563-5858 or NORML Legal Committee member William Panzer @ (510) 834-1892.

High Court Won't Revive Tax Stamp Law On Illegal Drugs

        October 16, 1998, Washington, D.C.:   The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision finding North Carolina's tax on illegal drugs unconstitutional.  The lower court based its decision on evidence that the Constitution's ban on double punishment for the same crime prohibits the collection of such taxes.
        "Drug tax stamp laws are based on nothing more than a legal fiction," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of The NORML Foundation.  "How can the state require individuals to pay a tax on products they may not legally own after they have already been criminally prosecuted?"
        The Supreme Court's failure to revive North Carolina's tax law raises speculation regarding the legality of similar laws in other states.  State courts in Indiana, Texas, and Wisconsin recently struck down similar drug tax laws.
        "The High Court agrees that states may not treat the imposition of its drug tax as a civil sanction," said St. Pierre.   "It is clearly a punitive criminal penalty."
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Attorney Tanya Kangas of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.