News Release

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March 5, 1999

House Of Commons Holds First Ever Debate On Medical Marijuana
Considers Motion To Legalize Drug For Medical Purposes

        March 5, 1999, Ottawa, Ontario:   Canada's House of Commons debated yesterday a motion to recommend that the government "undertake all necessary steps to legalize the use of marijuana for health and medical purposes."  The House will vote on the motion, M-381, in June.   The hearing was the first time the House of Commons has debated legalizing medical marijuana.
        "We must now assume our responsibility as elected representatives by inviting the federal government to pass concrete measures without delay that will allow the therapeutic use of marijuana," bill sponsor MP Bernard Bigras (Bloc Quebecois-Rosemont) said.  "The Controlled Substances Act is totally devoid of understanding and compassion toward the chronically ill, who want nothing more than to live in dignity.  This act must be changed as soon as possible, in order to allow the medical use of marijuana by those who need it."
        Bigras testified that the Canadian AIDS Society, the Canadian Hemophilia Society, and several prominent doctors "unambiguously" favor legalizing medical marijuana.  He also attacked statements made by Health Minister Allan Rock one day earlier regarding the development of federal guidelines for medical marijuana clinical trials.  Bigras called Rock's statements a stalling tactic.
        "How can we have any faith in [the Health Minister's] words when, in the past, the Minister's actions did not fall in line with his commitments?" Bigras asked.  "Every time the issue of legalizing the therapeutic use of marijuana [comes] up, the Minister of Health or the Minister of Justice [tries] to duck it.  Their answer [is] always: they [are] open to the issue, their officials [are] studying it, and they hope to be able to announce a plan or something more specific in a few months, all the while hoping that the issue would go away."
        Bigras said that Rock has ignored requests from seriously ill patients who have applied to receive medical marijuana under the Health Canada special access program.  Recently, AIDS patient James Wakeford launched a civil suit against the federal government for the right to use medical marijuana after receiving no response from Rock's office.  "We know that there is no indication whatsoever that the Minister listens to patients," Bigras concluded.
        Minister of Health Secretary Elinor Caplan argued that existing federal law already allows for the regulated distribution of medical marijuana if the drug "is of good quality and originates from a legal or licit licensed supplier."  She said she intends to amend Bigras' motion to urge the government to develop guidelines for conducting medical marijuana research.
        Debate over M-81 will continue on two separate days schedule for later this spring.
        For more information, please contact either R. Keith Stroup, Esq. or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

British MP Backs Marijuana By Prescription

        March 5, 1999, London, England:   Member of Parliament Paul Flynn (Labour Party-Newport West) urged colleagues last week to support legalizing medical marijuana.  Flynn recently introduced legislation to allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana legally.
        "The tens of thousands of multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and cancer sufferers should not have to wait ... for a natural medicine which has been used by millions of people for thousands of years," he said.   "They want a medicine of their choice now so they can get pain relief, so that they can get a good night's sleep, or so they can stop feeling nauseous from the side effects of chemotherapy."
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee requested Parliament to legalize prescriptive access to medical marijuana in November, but government officials said they would not amend federal law before completing additional research.  Parliament recently approved human trials to determine marijuana's ability to control muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis patients and provide relief to post-operative pain sufferers.   Researchers said they expect to present their findings within two years.
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

House Rejects South Dakota Governor's Plan To Impose Mandatory Jail Time
For Pot Offenses

        March 5, 1999, Pierre, SD:   The House of Representatives tabled legislation yesterday that would have imposed mandatory jail sentences for all marijuana offenders, including children.  The House deep-sixed the proposal despite heavy lobbying by Gov. William Janklow (R), who introduced the bill, and majority support from the Senate and House State Affairs Committee.
        NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. praised the House's decision to kill the proposal.  "Marijuana smokers work hard, raise families, and contribute to their communities," he said.  "They are not part of the crime problem and we should not treat them like criminals.  This proposal would have needlessly wrecked the lives, careers, and families of thousands of otherwise law abiding citizens in South Dakota who smoke marijuana."
        The House voted 40 to 29 to table the legislation.
        Senate Bill 210 stated that any individual convicted of a marijuana violation shall serve ten days in jail.  Janklow's initial proposal mandated a 30 day sentence for all offenders, but the Senate amended the measure before passing it 22 to 11 last month.  The bill also appropriated $1 million to the Governor's office to pay informants up to $1,000 for evidence leading to arrest and conviction of anyone guilty of a marijuana violation.
        "Rather than imposing harsh and mandatory jail sentences for minor marijuana offenders, we should develop a policy that distinguishes between use and abuse, and which reflects the importance we have always attached in this country to the right of the individual to be free from the overreaching power of the state," Stroup concluded.
        For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or South Dakota dairy farmer and local NORML coordinator Joe Stein @ (605) 882-3936.

Alaska Medical Marijuana Law Takes Effect This Week

        March 5, 1999, Juneau, Alaska:   A voter-approved law shielding medicinal marijuana patients from criminal prosecution took effect yesterday.  It was one of four state initiatives passed in November protecting patients who use medical marijuana under a doctor's supervision.
        Alaska's new law allows patients to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana or cultivate three mature plants for medical use.   It encourages patients to enroll in a confidential registry where they will be issued a state identification card indicating they may legally possess medical marijuana.   The law also provides a legal defense for non-registered patients who have a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana.
        The Alaska Nurses Association lobbied for the law.  "Our position as nurses is that we listen to what the patients tell us and patients tell us this works," ANA spokeswoman Ileen Self said.
        Although the law orders the Department of Health and Social Services to issue identification cards to qualified patients, the office is not yet accepting applications, the Associated Press reported.
        Proponents say it is unlikely that state officials will mount any serious challenges to the law because state law limits the Legislature's ability to significantly alter voter-approved initiatives.
        For more information, please contact either R. Keith Stroup, Esq. or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.