News Release

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April 29, 1999

Reform Party, Canada's Top Cops Back Removing Criminal
Pot Penalties

        April 29, 1999, Ottawa, Ontario:   Member of Parliament Keith Martin (Reform Party-Esquimalt) introduced legislation in the House of Commons Monday to remove criminal penalties for marijuana possession.   The bill, C-503, mimics a position adopted last week by the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs recommending marijuana offenders be fined, but no longer arrested.
        "Canadian law enforcement officers and some MPs aptly realize that otherwise law abiding citizens who smoke marijuana are not part of the crime problem and should not be treated like criminals," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said.  He noted that the proposed law is similar to those of ten U.S. states that treat marijuana possession as a fine-only offense.   Ticketed offenders would not have to go through the court system, or be booked by police under Martin's proposal.
        Martin told the House that fining marijuana smokers would generate funding for drug prevention and education programs.
        Barry King, who heads the CAPC's drug abuse committee, said decriminalization would free up judicial resources and allow police to focus on more serious crimes.  "This isn't legalization; it's decriminalization," he said.  "This is a balanced approach."
        While Canadian police support relaxing the marijuana laws, one anonymous senior law enforcement official told reporters at The National Post that pressure from U.S. officials may cause MPs to reject the proposal.   "I wonder how they [the U.S.] will react to know that the federal government is contemplating decriminalizing [marijuana] possession," he said.  "I suspect they would be somewhat pissed."
        For more information, please contact either R. Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.  A transcript of MP Keith Martin's statements to the House are available online at: <>.

California High Court Says Police Must Return Medical Marijuana To Patients

        April 29, 1999, Ukiah, CA:   Police who improperly seize medical marijuana from California patients must return it, according to a ruling by the state Supreme Court.  The decision forced Mendocino County police last week to return a half pound of dried marijuana to a Ukiah patient who used the drug in compliance with Proposition 215, the state's medical marijuana law.
        "It's the first time the Court has allowed a person to walk out of a police station with marijuana legally in their hands," said attorney Hannah Nelson, who handled the two-year case pro bono.  "The fact is that the marijuana was being used legally and he has a right to it."
        Police initially seized the marijuana in a 1997 raid on patients Christopher Brown and his wife, now deceased.  The District Attorney's office later dismissed charges against the couple after determining the defendants used the marijuana medically for their own personal use under a physician's supervision.
        Nelson filed a motion in municipal court mandating police to return the Brown's supply of medical marijuana.  The lower court granted the motion, and the Superior Court and the California Court of Appeals, First District, affirmed their decision.  The state appealed to the California Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower court rulings.
        "The Court found at all levels that the marijuana in this case was not contraband, but legal under state law," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said.  "Therefore, they had no choice but to order police to return Christopher Brown's legal property."
        The High Court dismissed the state's argument that the drug's illegal status under federal law prohibits police from returning marijuana deemed legal under state law.
        For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or attorney Hannah Nelson @ (707) 923-1933.

Oregon First State To License Medical Marijuana Patients

        April 29, 1999, Salem, OR:   Guidelines take effect next week allowing the state health department to register and license medical marijuana patients who legally possess the drug under state law.   Oregon will become the first state to issue ID cards to medical marijuana patients.
        "Medical marijuana proponents and law enforcement officials found common ground to encourage patients to register" when drafting the regulations, NORML Legal Committee member Leland Berger said.  Berger sat on an advisory task force that helped compose the guidelines.
        Oregon's medical marijuana law, passed by voters in November 1998, mandated the Oregon Health Division to establish a medical marijuana patient registry and issue identification cards to qualified applicants by May 1, 1999.  Patients issued ID cards and who possess state authorized quantities of marijuana will no longer be subject to arrest or criminal penalties.  Patients who possess larger amounts of marijuana, or who fail to register with the state, may raise at trial an affirmative defense of medical necessity against state criminal marijuana charges.
        The guidelines also allow the state to issue cards to patients' primary caregivers to shield them from prosecution.  Patients will have to reapply for ID cards annually, and will likely have to pay a $150 application fee to offset costs of the program.  The state registry will remain confidential and its records will not be subject to public disclosure.
        For more information, please call either Leland Berger of the NORML Legal Committee @ (503) 287-4688 or R. Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

Swiss Government Committee Says Legalize Marijuana

        April 29, 1999, Bern, Switzerland:   The Swiss government should legalize the sale and use of marijuana, a federally appointed panel urged last week.  Their recommendation responds to a government inquiry to revise the country's drug laws.
        The federal commission proposed licensing marijuana sales to Swiss adults.  The plan also would prohibit sellers from advertising the drug, and allow the state to regulate marijuana's market value.
        Panelists made their recommendation after determining that marijuana posed little danger as a gateway drug and negligible health risks compared to legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco.  The experts also acknowledged that marijuana prohibition failed to discourage widespread use of the drug.
        The Associated Press reported that Swiss Cabinet officials will likely reject the recommendation, but did not rule out the measure's eventual passage in a national referendum.
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

House Reps. To Introduce Student Drug Testing Bills In Congress

        April 29, 1999, Washington, D.C.:   U.S. Representatives John Peterson (R-Pa.) and James Rogan (R-Calif.) responded to last week's Littleton, Colorado school shooting by announcing that they will introduce a pair of bills allowing school officials to submit students to random drug tests.
        NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. criticized the proposals.  "While the Littleton shooting was obviously a tragedy, police confirmed that the suspects were drug free.  It is shameful for these members of Congress to exploit this tragedy to advance their misguided, drug war agenda."
        Peterson's measure would authorize participating school districts to administer random testing to students.  Federal grants would defray 50 percent of the costs associated with the testing, an aide to Peterson said.  The bill is scheduled to be introduced in Congress next week.
        Rogan's staff said he will introduce a similar bill today.
        For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.