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... a weekly service for the media on news items related to Marijuana Prohibition.
June 27, 1996
American Medical Association Shelves Report
Drafted By NORML Board Member
'Harm Reduction' Placed On Back Burner For Now
June 24, 1996, Washington, D.C.: A
report drafted by NORML board member and New York Medical
School Professor John P. Morgan, M.D. for the American Medical
Association has been put on hold after objections were raised by
several prominent medical groups regarding the paper's
content. Specifically, certain doctors were uncomfortable
with Morgan's recommendations that marijuana be legalized and
that "use, possession and low- level sales of all
psycho-active drugs should be a subject of police action only
when these activities are associated with a disruption of public
Dr. John Ambre, director of the AMA's Office of Medical Information Services, told reporters that he recruited Morgan to draft a report for the AMA, but would not divulge any information regarding the paper's contents or prospects.
Morgan said that he was contacted by the AMA's House of Delegates requesting a report on the subject of "harm reduction" -- a policy commonly defined as helping drug users minimize the dangers to themselves without mandating that they stop using drugs. "It struck most of us that the biggest harm reduction we could see would be to stop putting people in jail [for drug use,]" Morgan explained. Morgan was assisted by fellow NORML board member Lynn Zimmer, Ph.D. of Queens College in New York, and Ethan Nadelmann, Ph.D. of the Lindesmith Center.
Although Morgan maintains that the reaction within the AMA to his proposals was largely favorable, the issue of harm reduction was absent from the association's agenda during it's annual meeting in Chicago.
Mark Stuart, a spokesman for the AMA told reporters that he expected a revised version of the report to be submitted at the organization's interim meeting in December.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.
Canadian Marijuana Reform Debate Yields Few Results
June 24, 1996, Ottawa, Canada:
Ongoing debates regarding the possibility of marijuana decriminalization
in Canada yielded few tangible results as the Standing Senate
Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs recommended no
significant changes be made to the Controlled Drugs and
Substances Act (bill C-8). This legislation is intended to
replace the Narcotic Control Act and, according to many Canadian
activists, will greatly expand the reach of Canada's illicit drug
laws. Bill C-8 will become law when an Order in Council is
passed later this year.
The Senate Committee's recommendation shocked many who noted that several of its members had publicly stated that they supported the decriminalization of marijuana. In attempt to explain the Senate's last minute flip-flop, Committee Chair Senator Sharon Carstairs told the Montreal Gazette that the committee members were serious about decriminalization, but felt that such a recommendation would be politically futile at this point. "The majority of the Senators -- and I was with them -- felt all the evidence indicated decriminalization for simple possession [of marijuana] is the way we should be going," she reaffirmed. However, Carstairs said that many committee members believed such a proposal would violate several international treaties that Canada has signed and would have been struck down by the House of Commons.
If there is to be any relief for the cannabis community after the latest round of political debate, it may come by way of an approved amendment by Liberal Senator Lorna Milne that exempts "mature hemp stock" from the definition of marijuana. Although hemp industry proponents note that the passage of the amendment does little to open the door to allow for the widespread cultivation of hemp for commercial purposes, it does remove some of the regulatory restraints (e.g., licensing) that are currently in place regarding hemp fiber and products. "For Canada to develop hemp as an agricultural crop, the mature hemp stalk and the valuable fibre (sic) acquired from it must be free from over-regulation," Milne explained. "Without the amendment, the stalks, fibre (sic) and fibre (sic) products derived from them such as paper, would continue to be treated as though they were narcotic substances, simply due to the definition of the bill."
A staff member for Senator Milne informed NORML that he believes the Canadian government intends to draft a proposal to allow farmers to grow hemp for commercial purposes, but many Canadian activists feel that such legislation is still a long way off. Currently, tests plots of industrial hemp are grown in Canada under strict regulation for research purposes.
For more information on bill C-8, please contact Dana Larsen of Cannabis Canada @ (800) 330-HEMP or visit the website of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy @: http://fox.nstn.ca/~eoscapel/cfdp/cfdp.html. For more information regarding the status of industrial hemp in Canada, please contact the office of Senator Lorna Milne @ (613) 947-7695 or Ruth Shamai of The Natural Order @ (416) 656-2067. Shamai may be contacted via e-mail @: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Supreme Court Upholds Civil Forfeiture In Drug Cases
June 24, 1996, Washington, D.C.: The
United States Supreme Court ruled that the government may both
prosecute individuals on drug charges for criminal violations and
seize their property without violating constitutional protections
against double jeopardy.
Writing the decision for the court, Justice William Rehnquist wrote that, "We hold that these ... civil forfeitures are neither punishment nor criminal for the purposes of double jeopardy." Rather, Rehnquist defined forfeitures as remedial civil sanctions. Ironically, the high court has ruled in earlier cases that fines and tax stamps on illicit drugs may, in some circumstances, constitute punishment under the law and are applicable to double jeopardy.
The court further maintained that Congress had intended forfeiture to be a civil act and noted that, "Requiring the forfeiture of property ... ensures that [owners] will not permit that property to be used for illegal purposes." The opinion added that the court has a long history of upholding forfeiture as constitutional, although many of the cases cited involved either contraband (e.g., unlicensed firearms, pirated goods, etc.) or property that was integrally involved in the commission of a crime. This latter point led lone dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens to write, "There is simply no rational basis for characterizing the seizure of [a] ... home as anything other than punishment for [a] crime. The house was neither proceeds nor contraband and its value had no relation to the government's authority to seize it."
"During oral arguments [during which I was present,] several justices found the government's argument intellectually incoherent," explained NORML Legal Committee Member Jeffrey Steinborn. "In the opinion, they accept the government's theory. [Therefore,] we can expect the Supreme Court to continue to indulge the government and we can expect the government to indulge in runaway forfeiture."
According to government statistics, the Justice Department collected nearly $550 million in assets from civil forfeiture in 1994. Approximately $235 million went directly to state and local law enforcement agencies.
For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or F.E.A.R. (Forfeiture Endangers American Rights) @ (415) 388-8128. F.E.A.R. may be contacted on the Internet @: http://www.fear.org/
Federal Government Unveils New Plan To Target Drug Use Among Adolescents
June 24, 1996, Washington, D.C.: The
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in cooperation
with the National Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), unveiled a
new campaign to warn adolescents of the dangers of tobacco,
alcohol, and illicit drugs. Entitled "Reality
Check," the campaign is being launched primarily in response
to recent evidence of rising teen marijuana use.
"Today, too many teenagers think marijuana won't harm their health or ruin their lives," HHS Secretary Donna Shalala told the crowd at the 100th Annual National PTA Convention in Washington, D.C. "We want to help [parents] send a clear message to their children that drugs are illegal, dangerous and wrong."
At the focus of the campaign are two publications that explain to parents the best way to speak with their children about illicit substances and encourage them to remain drug free. One section of the booklet Keeping Youth Drug Free even advises parents how to answer questions from their children regarding their past use of marijuana. "Many people my age ... tried marijuana, ... but we didn't know as much about it as we do now," the pamphlet recommends parents explain. "I tried it [a] couple times because friends of mine were doing it. And then I stopped because I decided it just wasn't a good thing to do."
"As long as the federal government continues to lump the alleged dangers of marijuana alongside the harm caused by other illicit drugs such as crack and heroin, any campaign hoping to 'educate' children about the risks of using marijuana will be only minimally effective," stated NORML Deputy Director Allen St. Pierre. NORML maintains that cannabis consumption should be limited to adults only.
For a free copy of the "Reality Check" kit, please call SAMSHA Center for Substance Abuse Prevention @ (800) 767-0117.
California High Court Rules
That Judges Are Not Mandated To Impose 'Three Strikes' Law
June 20, 1996, San Francisco, CA: In
a ruling that may affect an estimated 16,000 inmates, the
California Supreme Court decided that judges are not required to
impose mandatory prison sentences of 25 years to life on repeat
offenders if they feel such a sentence is overly cruel. The unanimous
decision, which has drawn praise from many civil libertarians and
harsh criticism from Governor Pete Wilson, is retroactive and
could potentially reduce the sentences of individuals who were
given stiffer prison terms under the 1994 "three
"The mindless and inexorable demand for a life sentence for minor offenses has become a bit more mindful," said Vincent Schiraldi, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.
"Because this decision was unanimous and from a conservative court, other courts [across the nation] may look to this opinion as challenges arise to their own laws," added Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.
The court's decision stemmed from a San Diego case in which a repeat offender was charged with possessing a small amount of cocaine. Feeling that the mandatory sentence was an unfit punishment for the crime, the judge moved to strike the defendant's previous convictions so he could plea bargain. The prosecutor in the case objected, maintaining that under the "three strikes" legislation, the judge lacked the right.
The ruling maintained that denying judges their traditional discretion over sentencing violates the separation of powers guaranteed in the state Constitution. The court asserted that their decision did not spell the end of "three strikes" law, but merely returned the customary power of judicial discretion back to the judges.
Following the court's decision, Gov. Wilson -- an ardent proponent of mandatory sentencing -- pledged to find a way to bypass the court's ruling with either a referendum or by introducing similar legislation. However, legal scholars believe that the court will strike these measures down as well.
"Those who repeatedly assault our citizens ... must pay a sever price for their crimes," Wilson said. "I intend to keep faith with the people of California who have every right to demand protection against career criminals and predators."
For more information, please contact Julie Stewart of Families Against Mandatory Minimums @ (202) 457-5790 or Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation @ (202) 835- 9075.
Florida To Adopt Standards Regarding Hair Testing
June 1996, Tallahassee, FL: A bill
(SB 518) amending drug testing laws to specifically establish
standards and procedures regarding the use of hair specimens in
drug testing has become law in Florida. The measure passed
without the governor's signature and makes Florida the first state
in the nation to explicitly address and endorse the use of hair
samples to test for illegal drug use.
Proponents of the measure argue that the testing procedure offers significant advantages over urinalysis. Specifically, backers of the procedure maintain that hair testing gives employers a longer window of detection -- commonly allowing employers to determine drug use that took place several months earlier. Proponents also maintain that hair tests are much more difficult to beat than is urinalysis.
However, critics of the use of hair specimens in drug testing assert that the procedure has major flaws. For one, recent studies indicate that the hair of African-American males may collect nearly eight times as much drugs as either female African-Americans or Caucasians. These findings indicate the potential for racial and sexual bias in hair testing, critics warn. In addition, hair testing remains a new technology that many feel is still in need of further scientific evaluation. "Hair analysis for the presence of drugs is unproven [and] unsupported by scientific literature or controlled trials," said Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokeswoman Sharon Snider in a 1995 Providence Journal interview.
Despite the procedures recent recognition in Florida, hair testing on a national basis has yet to receive the same level of technical and legal acceptance that has been accorded to urinalysis drug testing and many courts will not accept the findings of hair testing alone as a positive indication of drug use.
For more information on hair testing, please contact Allen St. Pierre of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.
Canadians Nationwide Set To Celebrate Cannabis Day On July 1
June 19, 1996, Vancouver, Canada:
Canadian marijuana reform activists across the nation will be
celebrating Cannabis Day on July 1. In Vancouver, rally
organizers are promoting a parade and will be setting up a
variety of exhibits about marijuana and industrial hemp.
There will also be live music and speakers including Dr.
Alexander Sumach, Canadian author Chris Bennet, and Elvy Musikka,
one of the eight American patients who legally receives marijuana
as a medicine from the federal government.
Coinciding rallies will also be held in other cities across Canada, including Victoria, Nanaimo, Edmonton, and Thunder Bay. A "virtual rally" is also scheduled to take place on the Internet at the Hemp BC website located at: http://www.hempbc.com/.
For more information, please contact David Malmo-Levine of Hemp BC @ (604) 669-9069.
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