News Release

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February 18, 1999

AIDS Coalition Demands White House Legalize
Medical Marijuana

        February 18, 1999, Washington, D.C.:   Leaders of 17 national AIDS organizations sent a letter yesterday to the Office of National Drug Control Policy demanding federal officials allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to people suffering from the disease.
        "We urge you to help break the bureaucratic logjam that is keeping potentially life-saving medicine, marijuana, virtually inaccessible to thousands of people living with AIDS," says the letter, signed by the AIDS Action Council, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Latino Commission on AIDS, AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the Northwest AIDS Foundation, and other health organizations around the country.  They affirm that physicians specializing in AIDS care "widely recognize ... marijuana ... as an important component of treatment for some patients who suffer from symptoms of advanced-stage HIV disease and the multiple-drug therapies used to manage HIV."
        Signatories implore Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey to recommend immediate approval of the drug for seriously ill patients.   "Terminally ill patients cannot afford to wait for years of research to prove something they already know: medical marijuana works."  They conclude, "Under these circumstances, making marijuana immediately available ... to patients living with AIDS ... is a moderate step that can add to the federal government's responsiveness to the epidemic."
        The coalition notes that the Clinton administration already allows physicians to prescribe certain experimental AIDS medications prior to final FDA approval.  They argue that marijuana's relative safety and apparent efficacy warrant it similar status.
        "Thousands of Americans, many of them living with HIV, use marijuana as a medicine illegally, putting themselves at risk of arrest and prosecution," they state.  "People should not have to risk their health or jail to receive needed medical care."
        Proponents sent additional copies of the letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Office of National AIDS Policy and the U.S. House and Senate Majority and Minority Leaders.
        AIDS organizations historically have been outspoken in their support for legalizing medical marijuana.  The Washington D.C. based AIDS Action Council first called for "an elimination of federal restrictions that bar doctors from prescribing marijuana for medical use" in November 1996.   Several other prominent California AIDS organizations joined a successful class action lawsuit in 1997 that limited the government's ability to sanction doctors who recommend marijuana as a therapy for their patients.  This latest coalition marks the first time so many AIDS groups have united for "legal, immediate access to marijuana."
        NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre called the campaign significant, and representative of the broad support that exists for legalizing medical marijuana.  "Patients, doctors, and nurses support granting patients legal access to medical marijuana," he said.  "It remains politicians in Washington, not voters or the medical community, who continue to support policies prohibiting the use of marijuana as a legal medicine."
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.   Additional information is also available from Rachel Swain of Communication Works @ (415) 255-1946.

Medical Marijuana Opponents Mount Challenges In Oregon, Washington

        February 18, 1999, Portland, OR:   Legislators in Oregon and Washington are proposing legislation to restrict patients' ability to use medical marijuana legally under initiatives passed in November.
        "This is completely unnecessary," said Oregon initiative backer Geoff Sugerman.  "This is an effort to open the door to wholesale changes to a law the voters passed just a couple of months ago."
        Rob Killian, a Tacoma physician who spearheaded the Washington campaign, voiced similar concern.  "It's a blind-sided attempt to basically bring the government back into regulation of patients' and doctors' relationships," he said.
        Oregon's new law allows patients holding state permits to possess limited quantities of medical marijuana, and provides a legal defense for non-registered patients who use the drug under a doctor's supervision.  The state Health Division is responsible for issuing registration cards to patients, but has not yet done so.  Proposed legislative changes to the law drafted by Rep. Kevin Mannix (R-Salem) would remove legal protections for patients who possess more than one ounce of medical marijuana or cultivate more than three mature plants at one time.  House Bill 3052 also eliminates provisions requiring police to return medical marijuana to patients if they seized it improperly.
        Washington's law allows patients who have a doctor's recommendation to possess up to a 60 day supply of medical marijuana.   Proposed changes to the law in S.B. 5771 would require physicians who recommend marijuana to a patient to notify the state each time they do so.  It would also allow law enforcement access to the records of all patients and physicians who use or recommend medical marijuana.
        "Senate Bill 5771 will make it as difficult as possible for patients and doctors to use medical marijuana," said Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights.  "This bill is all about regulating and intimidating doctors and patients so severely that they will not take advantage of Washington's new state law."
        For more information, please contact either R. Keith Stroup, Esq. of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights @ (310) 394-2952.

Medical Marijuana Gains Ground in Hawaii

        February 18, 1999, Honolulu, HI:   Legislation that would exempt patients who use marijuana medicinally from state criminal penalties gained approval from the House Health Committee this week.   Supporters of the measure include Gov. Ben Cayetano and Health Director Bruce Anderson.
        Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii President Donald Topping said he was encouraged by the strong show of support.  "I am feeling better about the possibility of the legal use of medicinal marijuana in Hawaii than ever before," he said.  "We have the governor's support, as well as that of many informed and compassionate members of the Legislature.  Only law enforcement and the politically driven medical associations stand in the way."
        House Bill 1157 allows patients with a doctor's recommendation to possess marijuana for medical use.  The proposal also allows patients to assert their medical use of marijuana as an affirmative defense to any marijuana-related prosecution.  Lawmakers removed provisions requiring patients to enroll in a confidential patient registry, Topping said.
        The measure also demands Congress to legalize prescriptive access to marijuana for all Americans.  "[We] request the United States Congress and the President to enact appropriate legislation to permit marijuana to be prescribed by physicians and to allow states to develop regulations to ensure a safe, affordable, and controlled supply of marijuana for medical use," the bill states.
        The bill now goes before the House Judiciary Committee where lawmakers must act on it before March 5, 1999.  A Senate committee will vote on a pair of similar proposals tomorrow.
        For more information, please contact either Donald Topping of The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii @ (808) 988-4386 or R. Keith Stroup, Esq. of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.