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February 15, 1996

Update: Judge Drops Charges Against Medical Marijuana User Todd McCormick

February 13, 1996, Bryan, OH: Judge Anthony Gretick has dismissed drug charges against medical marijuana user and activist Todd McCormick.

McCormick, who has a prescription from a physician in Holland to use cannabis as a medicine, was arrested this past summer when Ohio State Patrolmen discovered in excess of thirty pounds of marijuana in his van.

Judge Gretick ruled that state troopers had illegally searched McCormick's vehicle and ordered that the evidence be suppressed. It is expected that the state will appeal Gretick's verdict.

Since the beginning of this case, McCormick has maintained that the search had been illegal and that the marijuana seized was intended solely for medical use and not for sale. McCormick, 25, is the founder of the San Diego Compassionate Use Club in California and was driving to his home state of Rhode Island to establish a similar club when he was arrested.

McCormick's case garnered national headlines this past fall when it was revealed that Judge Gretick was considering allowing McCormick to have legal access to cannabis while in jail. For much of his life, McCormick has used marijuana as a therapeutic to alleviate pain associated with a rare strain of cancer he suffers from known as histiocytosis X. While in Holland, McCormick received a prescription for the use of 1 to 10 grams of marijuana daily from Dr. R. T. Trossel of the Preventive Medicine Center in Rotterdam.

"I'm sure he can't live without it," Trossel notes, "because he becomes completely paralyzed. ...I am convinced [that] there are no other drugs that would give him the same relief. He's tried them all ... [and] ... this seems to have the best effect on him."

McCormick, who had recently been residing in the Netherlands, states that he is pleased with Gretick's ruling and plans on returning to Rhode Island shortly. He notes that he is considering filing charges against the state of Ohio.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of NORML at (202) 483-5500 or Don Wirtshafter of The Ohio Hempery at (800) BUY-HEMP.

Medical Marijuana Sentence Reduction Bill Introduced In California

February 5, 1996, San Francisco, CA: State Assemblyman John Burton (D-San Francisco) has introduced legislation (AB 2120) that would provide some relief for patients who choose to cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The bill (AB 2120) would reclassify such personal cultivation and use of medical marijuana as a misdemeanor, thereby allowing judges to grant a wide variety of sentencing alternatives. Currently, marijuana cultivation in California is categorized as a felony offense and those found guilty may be subject to up to three years in state prison.

The medical sentence reduction bill is scheduled to be heard before the Public Safety Committee of the State Assembly in March. Burton's bill represents the fourth year in a row that the state legislature has attempted to reconcile the continuing demand from the medical community for access to medical marijuana.

"This bill is a real ... effort to relieve the suffering of thousands of seriously ill people," says Dennis Peron, Director of Californians for Compassionate Use. "This is surely the least we can do." The Californians for Compassionate Use coalition is currently attempting to place a medical marijuana initiative on the 1996 general election ballot by collecting 600,000 signatures by April 20, 1996.

For more information, please contact Dennis Peron of CCU at (415) 621-3986.

Hemp Legislation Gathers Steam With Vermont Legislators

February 9, 1996, Montpelier, Vermont: Legislation that proposes to permit development of a domestic hemp industry in Vermont was passed by the House Agriculture Committee in a 7-3 vote.

Modeled closely after a Colorado hemp bill, Vermont's legislation (H.783) would allow limited test cultivation of industrial hemp to take place at the University of Vermont for the next two years. The bill will go before the house floor for a second reading on February 20.

"There is nothing on the radar screen that has nearly the magnitude of economic benefit that hemp has for our farmers," states Rep. Fred Maslack (R-Poultney), one of the bill's primary supporters. "The federal government has no business interfering with state legislation." Maslack notes that the hemp issue is a bi-partisan issue with "momentum in the house."

For more information on the status of this bill, please contact the Vermont Legislative Council at (802) 828-2424.

Wait Till Next Year:
Hawaii House Agriculture Committee Postpones Voting On Hemp Cultivation Bill Until 1997

February 12, 1996, Honolulu, Hawaii: The House Agriculture Committee has voted to postpone deciding on a bill that would allow Hawaii to cultivate industrial hemp until "more scientific information" can be gathered.

Legislation introduced by state Rep. David Tarnas would amend the state law to authorize the production, possession, and commerce of non-psychoactive industrial hemp in Hawaii. Tarnas maintains that the cultivation of industrial hemp in Hawaii could provide local farmers with a prosperous economic and environmental future. "Hawaii has the opportunity to capture a significant market share as the first hemp production in the U.S.A.," he wrote this past November.

Less enthusiastic were the members of the House Agriculture Committee who decided to hold off acting on Tarnas' bill until the 1997 legislative session. The committee's main concern appeared to be over the question of cross-pollination, stated an aid of Rep. Tarnas who attended the hearings.

Law enforcement officials testified that marijuana growers would be able to grow psychoactive strains of cannabis alongside of non-psychoactive hemp.

Hemp proponents denied this claim and argued that the growth of high grade marijuana was not possible in such close proximity to industrial hemp.

An aid of Rep. Tarnas maintains that he will "absolutely" reintroduce hemp cultivation legislation next year. In the meantime, the House of Representatives has released a concurrent resolution (H.C.R. 28) requesting the establishment of a "state licensing program for the agricultural production of industrial cannabis hemp for food, fuel, and fiber, and the establishment of a pilot project to conduct agronomic research on industrial cannabis hemp."

For more information, please contact Rep. David Tarnas at (808) 586-8510.

For more information on industrial hemp or a copy of H.C.R. 28, please contact Allen St. Pierre of NORML at (202) 483-5500.





Regional and other news

Body Count

The "Portland" zoned edition in Thursday's
Oregonian, delivered to subscribers in the central metropolitan area, shows that only two of nine felons sentenced to jail or prison in the latest week were controlled-substance offenders (Feb. 15, 1996, p. 3M-MP-SE 8). This is remarkably low by recent standards. A quick tally of 1996 sentences to date in Multnomah County shows that 43 of 69 terms were meted out for controlled-substance violations. (Jan. 4: nine of 13; Jan. 11: eight of 12; Jan. 18: 12 of 13; Jan. 25: (according to an Oregonian newsroom employee) carried over to the next week; Feb. 1: five of nine; Feb. 8: seven of 13; Feb. 15: two of nine. That is, to date in 1996, controlled-substance offenders made up 62.3 percent of all felons sentenced to jail or prison sentences in Multnomah County. Whence the notion that our jails are being overwhelmed by violent offenders serving mandatory-minimums created by Measure 11 in 1994?

Portland NORML Meeting Feb. 28

The February meeting of the Portland chapter of NORML will begin 7:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 28, at the Phantom Gallery, 3125 SE Belmont St. One speaker will be Jerry Janes, a methadone patient who will talk about the use of cannabis by opiate addicts and how Portland methadone dealers (legal) are now testing for pot and are planning to kick addicts off the program if they test positive. This is one of countless examples of public policies that ignore the standard of "harm reduction," and its proven benefits. Another topic at the Feb. 28 meeting may be, with a view to a huge upcoming May 21 Multnomah County vote on a bond measure to build more jails, whether Portland NORML should try to educate the voters and influence the outcome or if that would interfere with the current effort to gather signatures for the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 1997. Members and nonmembers are welcome.

Charity Doesn't Begin At Home

Local charities in Denton County, Texas (about 40 miles north of Dallas) have teamed up to help pay for the families of 200 prisoners from Oregon to come visit them. The story was reported on the local (Denton County) 10 o'clock television news on Feb. 10, according to our Texas correspondent.

Multnomah County Prosecutor Moves To Dismiss Felony Drug Charge Due To Medical Necessity

As reported in part by Willamette Week (Feb. 14, "Medical Marijuana Case Dismissed," p. 9), Senior Deputy District Attorney Gary Meabe last month moved to dismiss felony pot charges against Scott McKinney. McKinney was ably represented by Portland attorney Lee Berger, but Berger says Meabe was most influenced by McKinney's obvious condition as a late-stage AIDS patient, so the case is not necessarily a useful precedent to others.

While various people have thrown around the term "medical necessity" in McKinney's case, it is more of a practical description of the prosecutor's take on McKinney's condition than a legal precedent of use to others. In particular, the judge in the case did not rule that McKinney could put on a "Choice of Evils" defense.

Fred Kirste, McKinney's roommate, faced even stiffer sanctions as the actual cultivator but received just a "stern warning from the judge not to do it again."

(While we appreciate the legal realities, how is this just, if it increases McKinney's suffering and hastens his demise?)

The only defense available to medical-marijuana defendants in Oregon is the state's "Choice of Evils" statute, ORS 161.200. In Oregon, medical-marijuana defendants' Common Law (and Constitutional) right to self preservation and the preservation of others' lives has been taken away by the state's adoption of the Model Penal Code 'Choice of Evils' justification defense, ORS 161.200, Oregon's "Choice of Evils" statute. Although the legal concept of "necessity" for otherwise illegal acts goes back to Common Law, no Common Law medical-necessity defense has ever been allowed by an Oregon judge (unlike in every state contiguous to Oregon).

ORS 161.200 creates a defense to otherwise illegal conduct where the person's conduct is necessary as an emergency measure to avoid an imminent public or private injury. Oregon appellate courts have allowed judges to require a pre-trial showing by the defense before allowing it to be presented to a jury.

Other Multnomah County Circuit Court judges besides Gallagher have allowed the defense to be invoked twice in recent memory, though. Local attorneys Rob Wolf and John Henry Hingson defended those cases, at least one involving a husband-and-wife medical-marijuana situation, where one was ill and the other was the caregiver. Irritable bowel syndrome was the medical condition cited by Wolf's clients. Both went to the jury, but both were convicted. Wolf's case was prosecuted by Thomas Smith-Cupani under Judge Frankel. In the case of Wolf's clients, both counts were 10-2, although two different jurors held out on each guilty verdict. Barring changes in the law, those two singular cases are the exceptions to the otherwise consistent refusal by Multnomah County judges to allow medical-marijuana defendants' the "Choice of Evils" defense. Until at least one such unfavorable ruling is appealed to the state Supreme Court, the luck of the draw (in judge assignments) may be the best hope for Portland-area medical-cannabis defendants.

[A postscript from Portland NORML - unable to obtain medicine, McKinney died of AIDS wasting syndrome later in 1996.]

Drug Laws Create Greatest Racial Sentencing Disparities In California

The Feb. 13, 1996 San Francisco Chronicle reports that "Nearly 40 percent of African-American men in their 20s in California are imprisoned, on parole or on probation, a rate nearly eight times higher than for whites, according to a disturbing criminal justice study." The new study, released Feb. 12, is titled "Young African Americans and the Criminal Justice System in California: Five years Later."

"Racial Gap in Sentences Growing - New Figures Show Blacks Jailed More," by Clarence Johnson, a Chronicle staff writer, states that the new study, issued by the nonprofit Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and funded by the Van Loben Cels Foundation and the California Wellness Foundation, shows the rate for young blacks is the highest in the nation. In the same age group, only 5 percent of whites and 11 percent of Latinos in California are under the control of the criminal justice system. Although blacks make up nearly one third of the prison population, their rate of illegal-drug use is the same as whites', yet they constitute 18 percent of those arrested. Whites make up 53 percent of those arrested, but fewer than 30 percent of the state's inmates. Nearly 60 percent of black inmates are serving time for non-violent offenses. One third of white first offenders had their charges reduced, while only one-quarter of African Americans and Latinos were given similar considerations. Vincent Schiraldi, the author of the study, attributed the high numbers for black men to tougher punishment for the use of crack cocaine than for other drugs; stricter sentencing laws; the prison construction boom; and poverty, lack of good jobs, and poor education in inner cities. The Los Angeles Times also ran a story on the new study, noting that it showed African-Americans are charged under California's "three-strikes" law at 17 times the rate of whites in Los Angeles and 13 times the rate of whites in San Francisco. The new report comes in the wake of a 1995 study by the Washington-based National Sentencing Project which shows that in the past five years the number of young blacks under some form of criminal control has jumped from 25 percent to nearly 33 percent.

Dutch Post Their Side Of Story

The Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports has made a report available to the public concerning the Dutch approach to drug policy. The report can be found on the World Wide Web and is highly recommended to anyone interested in "harm reduction" and other uniquely effective drug-policy innovations in the Netherlands. It is also a useful antidote to the distortions propagated by the DEA (against whose misinformation the Dutch have lodged strong protests in the past). The URL is:

Des Moines Register Calls For Re-Examination Of Drug Policy

The mass media continue to respond overwhelmingly favorably to The National Review special edition of Feb. 12, The War on Drugs is Lost. An official editorial in the Sunday, Feb. 11, 1996 Des Moines Register joins the chorus calling for an open and honest re-examination of American drug policy. A complete ascii version of "If the drug war has failed, what next? The end of prohibition should be open for discussion" is available on request.

The Secret To Pat Buchanan's Success

Speaking of Iowa and national politics, the national media seem to be missing a significant factor behind the swelling popularity of GOP candidate Pat Buchanan. Iowa NORML activist Carl Olsen, a longtime registered Republican, reports "I just returned from my Republican precinct caucus. ... The first order of business was selecting a presidential candidate. The chair asked for speeches supporting the candidates. When my turn came, I said I was an activist working to legalize marijuana for medical use, and was supporting Pat Buchanan, because Buchanan is the only Republican candidate that has come out in support of medical marijuana. I said I had newspaper articles where Buchanan had publicly supported allowing doctors and patients to use marijuana without government interference. Several others gave speeches supporting Buchanan, mostly because he isn't a politician. There were no speeches in support of any other candidates. The vote was taken and Buchanan got 28 votes, all of the others got about 6 votes each. ... "

And you thought it was about abortion?

Marijuana-Related Emergency-Room Admissions

Remember the federal anti-marijuana campaign launched last summer that was designed to shatter the drug's image as a relatively benign or "soft" drug? Drug Czar Lee Brown, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and others began flooding the media with reports of epidemic numbers of marijuana-related emergency room episodes. For example, during his introductory speech at NIDA's first-ever marijuana conference in July, Brown remarked that marijuana "is a very dangerous drug that can well cause you to fight for your ... life in a hospital emergency room." However, now that the final annual figures have been released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), it is apparent that our nation's anti-drug leaders have some explaining to do.

According to a report in the January 1996 Ongoing Briefing published by National NORML, "for all of the talk and media attention surrounding the alleged risk of marijuana induced emergency room visits, year-end figures reported by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) indicate that marijuana alone contributed to only .0002 [yes, that's .0002] percent of the total number of emergency room visits for 1994. This data thoroughly refutes Brown's much-repeated claims that marijuana is a highly dangerous drug and that it is responsible for sending record numbers of individuals to hospital emergency rooms."

"The data recently released by DAWN also directly conflict with additional statements made by federal prohibitionists that compared the number of marijuana related emergency episodes to those of cocaine. For example, this summer Brown told the national media that, "[Marijuana] now sends nearly as many people to the hospital as cocaine." (Washington Post, July 28, 1995) In contrast, the figures released at the end of the year demonstrate that more than seven times as many individuals went to the emergency room because of cocaine related episodes in 1994 as did those who consumed marijuana alone. Therefore, the final data released by DAWN indicate that Brown and others grossly exaggerated their previous statements regarding marijuana-related emergency room dangers and admissions to incorrectly imply that marijuana health risks are comparable to those of hard drugs such as cocaine. (*Note* An exceptionally small percentage of marijuana users are admitted to hospital emergency rooms after suffering panic attacks from consuming cannabis. These attacks are typically relegated to inexperienced users, are relatively harmless, and subside within a few hours.)"

"Overall, the use of illicit drugs accounted for only .003 percent of the total number of emergency room episodes in 1994. [Yes, that's .003 percent.] An estimated 38 percent of all drug-related emergency visits were attributed to suicide attempts and only 8 percent (or .0005 percent of the total number of episodes) were linked to recreational drug use."

[End excerpt]

There has never been a documented case of anyone dying or suffering permanent harm from a cannabis overdose. According to "Consequences of Alcoholism, Alcohol Use and Abuse," published by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc., from 15 percent to 25 percent of all emergency-room admissions involve alcohol (p. 236). Similarly, self-reports of alcohol use indicate that 55 percent of people injured in fights had consumed alcohol prior to the event. More than half of homicide victims tested positive for alcohol.

Obesity Kills 300,000 (Pot 0)

According to an item in the Wall Street Journal Technology section on Nov. 17, 1995, by Joseph Pereira, titled, "FDA Advisory Panel Urges Approval of the First New Diet Pill in Decades," paragraph five: "As many as 60 million Americans are overweight, and obesity has become the second- biggest killer of Americans after smoking, claiming 300,000 lives a year through hypertension, diabetes and heart disease."

That's about three times the annual toll from alcohol and three-quarters of the annual toll from tobacco. By comparison, although the vast majority of cannabis consumers quit by about the age of 38, a variety of statistical evidence shows even long-term use of marijuana does not correlate with a shorter than normal lifespan.

The History Of The Non-Medical Use Of Drugs In The United States

Clifford Schaffer of The Drug Reform Coordination Network recently transcribed and posted "The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States," a lecture presented by Charles Whitebread to the California Judges Association 1995 annual conference.

Whitebread's lecture is an excellent but relatively brief account showing that drug prohibition originated not from concern for public health or safety but entirely out of ignorance, religious intolerance and racial prejudice.

A law professor at the University of Southern California, Whitebread previously taught at the University of Virginia from 1968 to 1981. In that time period, the first major piece he wrote was "The Forbidden Fruit and the Tree of Knowledge - The Legal History of Marihuana in the United States." His co-author was Professor Richard Bonnie, still of the faculty of the University of Virginia. It was published - all 450 pages - in the Virginia Law Review in October of 1970. It got a ton of national attention because no one had ever done the legal history of marijuana before. As a result, Professor Bonnie was named the Deputy Director of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse and Whitebread became a consultant to the commission. To read Whitebread's lecture click here.



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