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IACM-Bulletin of 12 December 1999

USA: Class-action lawsuit for medical use of marijuana dismissed

On 1 December a federal judge dismissed a class-action lawsuit brought by 165 people who sought to extend a government program allowing people to use marijuana for medical purposes. U.S. District Judge Marvin Katz ruled that the government acted properly when it ended its "compassionate use" program in 1992. The program had allowed certain people to use marijuana for medical reasons, but has slowly been phased out.

Only 8 patients nationwide still receive marijuana under the program. The federal Compassionate Investigational New Drug program began distributing marijuana cigarettes to select patients in 1978. The program ceased accepting new applicants in 1992, but continues to supply 300 marijuana cigarettes monthly to eight patients suffering from diseases such as glaucoma and epilepsy.

The plaintiffs sought the freedom to use marijuana "without control or interference" by the government. "If the government allows eight people to get it, then all people who need it should be able to get it," their attorney, Lawrence Hirsch, had argued at a hearing.

The complaint, originally filed on 3 July 1998, alleged the Controlled Substances Act was unconstitutional as applied to marijuana and raised an equal protection challenge to both the scheduling of the THC containing drug Marinol and the refusal of the government to provide marijuana to the plaintiffs under the "compassionate use" program. On 10 March 1999, the court dismissed all of plaintiffs' claims except the claim regarding access to the "compassionate use" program.

Now, this claim was dismissed, too. Katz ruled that although it seems odd for the government to be giving out marijuana, even to a few people, it was acceptable to phase out the program gradually. Those involved in the program before 1992 should retain the right to use the drug until their deaths, he said. "The issue is not whether the government's position is correct but whether it is rational," the judge wrote in his decision.

(Sources: AP of 3 December 1999, NORML of 9 December 1999)

Science: Research program at the University of California

California legislature allocated funding for a research program at the University of California (UC) to study the medicinal benefits of marijuana. Which universities will participate in the research program have not yet been determined.

The three-year research program to investigate the benefits of marijuana was recently signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis. The purpose of the legislation is to convince the federal government of marijuana's usefulness and to provide concrete data to physicians about the drug's use, said Rand Martin, chief of staff for State Sen. John Vasconcellos, who was the sponsor of the research bill.

One anticipated problem for the researchers is obtaining marijuana for the study. The federal government has placed several legal barriers in the way of getting marijuana for research, said Mark A.R. Kleiman, professor of public policy and director of the drug policy analysis program. "The California attorney general has the ability to make seized cannabis available, though," he said.

The research program is the latest development in the ongoing battle between the federal and state governments over the legalization of medicinal marijuana. "Federal law trumps state law. Until the federal government allows marijuana for medicinal purposes, any state law will be limited," said David Sklansky, professor of law.

(Sources: Daily Bruin of 6 December 1999, AP of 10 September 1999)

News in brief

On 14 December 1999 six clients of Lorenz Boellinger, professor of law at the University of Bremen, will hand in a complaint before the Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) against the prohibition of a therapy with cannabis. They suffer from different diseases (multiple sclerosis, HIV infection, hepatitis C, migraine, Tourette's syndrome, epilepsy). Their physicians have certified them that they benefit from the use of cannabis products and extensive expert opinions document the possible therapeutic effect of cannabis in their symptoms. Several media plan reports, among them the news broadcast "Heute Journal" of the ZDF (Second German Television) at noon of 14 December. A similar action before the Constitutional Court is planned by some physicians.

Andalusia will allow research into the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for AIDS, cancer and asthma sufferers. A legal report carried out by the regional government considers its use legal under strict control.
(Source: El Pais of 1 November 1999)

A Circuit Court judge has ordered the Portland Police Bureau to return marijuana to a Southeast Portland man who wants the drug to treat his debilitating medical conditions. The bureau says it would be violating federal law if it released the drugs, and the Portland City Council will decide whether to appeal the court's decision. A year after Oregon voters approved the medical use of marijuana, the case may be the first in the state, in which police have been told to return narcotics to an individual. Judge Robert Redding's ruling in October was one of the first tests of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, said Richard White, the patient's attorney.
(Source: The Oregonian of 8 December 1999)

A glimpse @ the past

One year ago

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