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IACM-Bulletin of 19 September 1999

USA: Federal Appeals Court opens door to legal medical use of cannabis

Doctors and Medical Marijuana Patients are better protected from federal harassment following a court ruling from the San Francisco-based Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On 13 September, for the first time ever, the Court has held that there exists a medical necessity argument for the medical use of marijuana for some patients. This ruling could supersede the controlled substances act which prohibits the medical use of marijuana on a federal level.

In a strong blow to the federal government's crackdown on medical marijuana, the Ninth Circuit Court ordered a lower court judge to reconsider his 1998 injunction closing down the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative (OCBC) in California. In a 3-0 decision, the appeals court said Judge Charles Breyer had not given proper weight to the possibility that marijuana was an indispensable treatment for people served by the club and thus potentially protected by the "medical necessity" defence.

Medical necessity, as defined by earlier court cases, means that patients have found every legal alternative to marijuana ineffective in treating their conditions and that they would suffer imminent harm without access to the drug. In its decision, the appeals court held that the Oakland club had demonstrated "there is a class of people with serious medical conditions for whom the use of cannabis is necessary in order to treat or alleviate those conditions or their symptoms; who will suffer serious harm if they are denied cannabis; and for whom there is no legal alternative."

As a result of the appeals court's action, Judge Charles Breyer must now consider allowing some medical marijuana patients to organize distribution facilities for themselves and other patients. Robert Raich, a lawyer for the OCBC, said Monday's court decision could have an impact far beyond California. The 9th Circuit makes law for nine Western states, including the states where medicinal-marijuana movement has gained momentum in recent years.

Though not as broad, the court's language was consistent with the 1996 California initiative allowing patients with a doctor's recommendation to possess and use marijuana for serious illnesses without prosecution under state law. It's also consistent with medical marijuana laws in four other states -- Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. For those states -- and Nevada, which is considering a similar law -- the ruling appears to recognize a defence of "medical necessity".

Dave Fratello, spokesman for Americans For Medical Rights which sponsored Proposition 215, the California Medical Marijuana Initiative, stated "these new state laws passed by voter initiative cry out for recognition on a federal level that marijuana has a place in medicine -- we may now see that there is a way for this activity to be done legally under federal law."

(Sources: AP of 13 and 14 September 1999, Reuters of 14 September 1999, PRNewswire of 15 September 1999)

Switzerland: MS Society for legal medical use of cannabis

On 14 September an International Week on MS has begun in Basel. Parallel with a meeting of MS societies of 36 countries there is a first joined congress of the American and EURopean Committee for the Treatment and Research of MS. 2,800 participants are expected in Basel.

A workshop on the possibilities and limits of HEMP (cannabis) for the alleviation of MS symptoms caused great interest. Participants reported of positive experiences, but were irritated by the prohibition of cannabis. Dr. Claude Vaney, head physician of the department for neurology of the "Höhenklinik Montana" in Bern, who chaired the workshop, said: "Cannabis can be an effective alternative for patients that do not respond to ordinary drugs."

People do not seek getting high, Vaney told the audience about his experiences with MS patients, that use cannabis. About every second of his patients ask him about HEMP. He called the muscle relaxing effect of the drug "evident", and the pain mitigating effect was "clearly demonstrated" in animal experiments.

However, he does not want to give a general recommendation before the action has not been demonstrated in a clinical study. In co-operation with the Ministry of Health Vaney is preparing such a study. The Swiss MS Society is speaking up for a legalization of the medical use of HEMP within the planned revision of the Swiss Narcotics Act. Besides, the self-medication with cannabis is largely tolerated by the authorities in different cantons.

Claudia Zbinden and Madeleine Lers of the MS Self-Help-Group DeutschFreiburg have installed an info-phone for HEMP and MS. "Patients do not all react equally," says Madeleine Lers. But the great majority of the feedback is positive. Info-phone MS and HEMP: +41 (0)79 217 54 43 (Claudia Zbinden), +41 (0)79 330 66 03 (Madeleine Lers).

(Sources: Basler Zeitung of 14 and 15 September 1999)

News in brief

Australia:
The New South Wales government will try to pass the most controversial legislation it has ever considered during the parliamentary session beginning tomorrow. Drug reforms to be considered as part of the package include a cannabis cautioning system and regional trials of a compulsory treatment program for small-time users of heroin, speed, LSD and ecstasy.
(Source: AAP of 6 September 1999)

Germany:
At the fourth International CannaBusiness from 17 to 19 September in Hennef near Cologne Dr. Franjo Grotenhermen of the scientific staff of the nova-Institute, Chairman of the Association for Cannabis as Medicine, was awarded the "Hanfpreis '99" (HEMP Award 1999).

A glimpse @ the past

One year ago

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