News Release

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January 28, 1999

Justice Department Rejects Judge's Request To Expand Medical
Marijuana Distribution Program

        January 28, 1999, Philadelphia, PA:   Justice Department lawyers rejected a federal judge's request to expand a government program that presently provides medical marijuana to eight patients.  U.S. District Judge Marvin Katz asked federal officials to consider re-opening the program to new applicants as a way to settle a class action suit brought by Philadelphia attorney Lawrence Hirsch on behalf of more than 100 patients who find medical relief from marijuana.
        NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said he was not surprised by the government's decision.  "The federal government has made it clear they care more about maintaining marijuana prohibition than aiding the sick and dying," he said.
        The federal Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) program began distributing marijuana cigarettes to select patients in 1978.   The program ceased accepting new applicants in 1992, but continues to supply 300 marijuana cigarettes monthly to eight patients suffering from diseases such as glaucoma and epilepsy.  Similar statewide programs also distributed medical marijuana to approximately 1,000 patients in the 1980s, but are no longer active.
        The brief filed by the Justice Department states that federal officials discontinued the program because "It became clear that the potential widespread use of marijuana for 'medical' purposes under the program ... was bad public policy."
        "Is it better public policy to allow patients who could benefit from medical marijuana to suffer under the law?" Stroup asked.
        The DOJ brief also alleges that officials decided to close the IND program because new "alternative medicines such as Marinol -- a synthetic form of marijuana's active ingredient -- were becoming available."   In fact, however, the FDA approved Marinol in 1985, seven years prior to the
program's closure.  Many patients who use Marinol state that the drug only provides limited relief, particularly when compared to whole smoked marijuana.
        Hirsch's suit asserts that the federal drug laws prohibiting marijuana for medical purposes are legally arbitrary and unconstitutional.  Hirsch further argues that citizens have no equal protection of the law when the government supplies medical marijuana to eight patients and not to others who may be eligible.
        Hirsch said he will file a motion for summary judgment shortly.
        For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Litigation Director Tanya Kangas of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

Minnesota Pins Agriculture Hopes On Hemp

        January 28, 1999, St. Paul, MN:   Legislation introduced by Sen. Roger Moe seeks to establish a regulated hemp industry in Minnesota.  The bill would authorize licensed farmers to cultivate hemp for commercial purposes.
        Senate File 122 finds that "The development and use of industrial hemp [is] in the best interests of the state economy and agriculture and that the production of industrial hemp can be regulated so as not to interfere with the strict control on controlled substances."
        At least 29 nations, including Canada, France, England, Germany, Japan, and Australia allow farmers to grow non-psychoactive hemp for its fiber content.  This fall, authors of a University of North Dakota study recommended allowing American farmers to grow test plots of hemp for experimental production, and estimated that the crop could yield profits as high as $141 per acre to farmers.
        Moe spearheaded similar legislation last year that sought to allow farmers to grow limited quantities of hemp for research purposes.   The Legislature approved the measure but then-Gov. Arne Carlson vetoed it.   New Gov. Jesse Ventura says he supports the cultivation of hemp for industrial purposes.
        This year's bill now awaits action by Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.
        Legislators in Hawaii, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Virginia have also introduced hemp reform measures this year.
        For more information, please contact either R. Keith Stroup, Esq. or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Governor Rejects Parole For Medical Marijuana Patient Will Foster

        January 28, 1999, Oklahoma City, OK:   Governor Frank Keating rejected last week a unanimous parole board order to release medical marijuana patient Will Foster from jail.  Keating's decision came despite public outcry urging Foster's release and written recommendations from several prison officials on Foster's behalf.  Keating's office did not issue a public statement explaining his decision.
        An Oklahoma jury sentenced Foster in 1997 to 93 years in jail for cultivating marijuana in a 25-square foot underground shelter and other lesser marijuana-related charges.  Foster maintains that he grew the marijuana to alleviate the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.  However, Oklahoma law does not accept the defense of medical necessity as a basis for acquittal on a marijuana charge.
        This fall, an appeals court panel found Foster's sentence excessive and reduced the term to 20 years.  At Foster's first parole board hearing days later, officials unanimously voted to release him on parole upon approval from the governor.
        Foster will be eligible for parole consideration again in one year.
        For more information, please contact either R. Keith Stroup, Esq. of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

California A.G. Won't Intervene In High Profile Medical Marijuana Bust

        January 28, 1999, Tahoe City, CA:   California Attorney General Bill Lockyer says he supports patient access to medical marijuana under state law, but will not intervene on behalf of former Libertarian candidate Steve Kubby.  Kubby, the 1998 Libertarian candidate for governor, and his wife were arrested last week when police found marijuana growing in their home.
        Kubby, 52, is a longtime advocate for medical marijuana and uses the drug to treat adrenal cancer and hypertension.  He says that the marijuana seized by police was for him and his wife's own medicinal use under the supervision of a physician.
        Leaders from the national and state Libertarian Party condemned the arrest and called on Lockyer for assistance.  "Mr. Lockyer swore to uphold the laws of the state of California when he was inaugurated earlier this month," Libertarian state chair Mark Hinkle said.  "We are simply asking him to do so in this case.  It is a disgrace that law enforcement continues to ignore the will of the voters and prosecute law abiding citizens who are using a form of marijuana that is completely legal."
        The Associated Press reported yesterday that Lockyer will not try to halt Kubby's prosecution.
        The Kubby's are expected to plead "not guilty" at a preliminary hearing today to several related marijuana cultivated charges.
        "I can't think of anybody to whom Prop. 215 more directly applies than Steve Kubby," said Robert Raich, an attorney for the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative.  "He has a physician's authorization and he was growing only for his and his wife's personal medical use.  Prop 215. was written to keep patients out of jail."
        Kubby placed fourth in the 1998 gubernatorial race, taking nearly one percent of the vote.
        For more information, please contact either Litigation Director Tanya Kangas, Esq. or Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.