News Release

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May 20, 1999

Alaska Legislature Limits Voter-Approved Medical
Marijuana Law

        May 20, 1999, Juneau, Alaska:  The Legislature approved a measure this week limiting legal protections for medical marijuana patients.  The bill, S.B. 94, amends provisions of a November initiative that legalized the use of medical marijuana under a physician's supervision.
        Alaskans for Medical Rights spokesman David Finkelstein called the revised law unnecessary, but conceded it will still protect many bona fide medical marijuana patients from state prosecution.  "While we opposed the involvement of the Legislature in the initiative process, the final version of S.B. 94 will still work for patients," he said.  Finkelstein noted that grassroots opposition to the Senate bill persuaded legislators to eliminate some of its most restrictive provisions.
        Senate Bill 94 removes legal protections for medical marijuana patients who refuse to register with the state health department, or who possess greater amounts of marijuana than authorized by state law.  The state's present medical marijuana law, approved by 58 percent of voters, affords a legal defense to non-registered patients and those who can demonstrate adequate need to possess large quantities of medical
        The Department of Health and Social Services will approve regulations next month to begin licensing qualified medical marijuana patients.  Senate Bill 94 includes a $58,000 appropriation to fund the confidential patient registry program.
        Provisions requiring physicians to certify that "there are no other legal treatments that can be tolerated by the patient that are as effective" as marijuana, and limiting the types of diseases that marijuana may legally treat, were eliminated from S.B. 94.  The bill also includes language allowing nurse practitioners and physician's assistants to legally recommend marijuana to a patient.
        Governor Tony Knowles (D) is expected to sign the bill shortly.
        For more information, please contact either R. Keith Stroup, Esq. of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or David Finkelstein of Alaskans for Medical Rights @ (907) 277-2567.  To download a copy of S.B. 94, please visit: <>

Illinois Adopts Legislation To Study Hemp Production

        May 20, 1999, Springfield, IL:  The Illinois House approved a resolution yesterday allowing university researchers to study the economic viability of industrial hemp.   The Senate had already approved a similar resolution, S.R. 49, on March 23, 1999.
        "Hemp is a profitable economic crop in Western Europe and Canada," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said.   "There is no doubt that this study will find it potentially profitable for Illinois farmers as well."
        House Resolution 168 authorizes a 13-member task force to investigate hemp's economic potential as a cash crop, and identify legal obstacles to production.  The committee will report its findings to the Legislature by
January 1, 2000.
        A handful of Legislatures have approved state-sponsored hemp research studies since 1996.  The most recent study, prepared by North Dakota State University, estimates that hemp could yield profits as high as $141 per acre to farmers.  North Dakota became the first state to legalize domestic hemp production last month.
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751 or NORML board member Don Wirtshafter of The Ohio Hempery @ (740) 662-4367.  To download a copy of the Illinois resolutions, please visit: <>.

Australian Medical Association Endorses Medical Marijuana Trials,
Decriminalization For Personal Use

        May 20, 1999, Sidney, New South Wales:  The government should make marijuana available as a medicine to seriously ill patients, and remove criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) declared recently.   They said that drugs should be treated as a health issue, not as a criminal matter.
        "The Australian Medical Association is the latest group to join a worldwide coalition of health organizations calling for legal access to medical marijuana and an end to prohibition," NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said.
        The AMA's position statement regarding decriminalization states, "Prison sentences are ... inappropriate for offenses related to the use, or possession for personal use, of small amounts of cannabis."
        For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.  To view a listing of health organizations supporting access to medical marijuana, please visit: <>.   To read the AMA's position statement, please visit: <>.

Marijuana-Like Drugs Could Treat Schizophrenia, Study Suggests

        May 20, 1999, Irvine, CA:  A marijuana-like chemical produced naturally in the brain appears in higher levels in schizophrenics, a recent study of ten mentally ill patients revealed.  Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, speculated that the body may be producing higher amounts of the chemical, called anandamide, to fight the disease, the Orange County Register reported.
        "Our findings of high levels of anandamide in these patients does indicate that [it] plays an important role in the development of the disease," Daniele Piomelli, an associate professor of pharmacology at UCI, said.   He noted that "many schizophrenics smoke marijuana and claim it eases some of their symptoms."
        Previous research at UCI found that the brain's nerve cells use anandamide to modify the effects of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for stimulating movement and other behavior.  Scientists believe that excessive dopamine production causes some symptoms of schizophrenia, which affects one percent of the population.  Current medication for schizophrenia block dopamine production, but are not always effective and have side effects.
        "The idea is to develop novel medicines that use marijuana as a model," Piomelli said.  "We want to activate some of the cannabinoid receptors in the brain without producing the high.  ... By understanding how the anandamide system works similarly to marijuana, we can explore ways to treat [schizophrenia and other] diseases more effectively."
        Piomelli's said he hopes to expand his study to 200 patients, but warned that anandamide's effects on schizophrenia are still not well understood.
        His findings will appear in next months issue of the journal, Neuroreport.
        For more information, please contact Drs. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School @ (617) 277-3621 or John P. Morgan of the City University of New York (CUNY) Medical School @ (212) 650-8255.