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. . . a weekly service for the media on news items related to marijuana prohibition.

March 19, 1998

"Who's Afraid of Hemp?" Drug Testing Industry Running Scared
Calls On Congress To Prohibit Legal Hemp Products

        March 19, 1998, Research Triangle Park, NC:  A leading drug-testing industry trade journal is calling on Congress to amend federal law to prohibit the possession and sale of hemp products.   The call to action, highlighted in the January 1998 edition of MRO Alert, is in response to mounting scientific evidence demonstrating that standard drug tests cannot distinguish whether an individual has smoked marijuana or consumed legal hemp products.
        "There is little question that the most pressing issue in drug testing today is the commercial distribution of hemp products, ... which when used or ingested result in forensically significant amounts of cannabinoids in urine, blood, saliva, and hair,"  Theodore Shults wrote in the January issue.   "The adverse impact such products have on drug testing programs is profound.
        "... The solution is to draft acceptable federal legislative action that will amend the Federal Drug Control Act.   Essentially, this would remove products that would cause a positive urinalysis from distribution and make their use 'illegal.'"
        Hemp health products, such as hemp seed oil, are sold commercially in health food stores across the nation.  Presently, health professionals like Dr. Andrew Weil tout the nutritional benefits of hemp oil, noting that it is second only to soy in protein and contains the highest concentration of essential amino and fatty acids found in any food.
        The oil may be applied to foods just prior to consumption or ingested in capsule form.  A series of studies conducted this past summer and reported in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology indicated that regular users of the oil may test positive for low levels of THC.
        Most recently, a jury in Delaware overturned a U.S. Air Force court martial after hearing evidence that hemp oil may test positive for marijuana on a urine test.
        Federal law exempts the importation and possession of hemp fiber, seeds, and products from the list of controlled substances.
        "To call on Congress to prohibit a legal, $25 million per year hemp industry because the consumption of some products may compromise current drug-testing technology is ludicrous," said Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation.  "This is the equivalent of demanding Congress to ban poppy seeds because their ingestion may test positive for opiates."
        Shults admitted that persuading Congress to amend the federal marijuana law may be difficult because "these products that need to be controlled do not by themselves cause psychotropic effects."  However, he warned if the government does not take action, then "It is only a matter of time before federal drug testing programs will be legally challenged on this constitutional issue."
        "The arrogance of the drug testing establishment to call on the federal government to prohibit a non-psychoactive, legal product rather than re-examine their own testing technology defies logical explanation," St. Pierre said.  He noted that drug testing labs could avoid confusion between inhaled marijuana and commercial hemp simply by raising their calibration levels for THC metabolites.
        "This is nothing more than 'reefer madness' revisited," he said.
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.  For more information on hemp seed oil, please contact NORML board member Donald Wirtshafter of The Ohio Hempery @ (614) 662-4367.

Local Pressure In Support Of California CBCs Mounts As Federal Hearing
To Close Clubs Approaches

        March 19, 1998, San Francisco, CA:   Local communities and politicians continue their support of state marijuana dispensaries as a showdown with federal officials seeking to close the clubs draws closer.
        "There is a mounting local rebellion against the federal government's lawsuit," said California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer.  "California's medical marijuana clubs are an asset to the community.   [They] provide medicine to the truly ill, divert traffic from street dealers, provide gainful employment and taxes, and keep marijuana out of the hands of children.   That's better than our federal drug policy has done."
        On Wednesday, a coalition of California mayors demanded President Clinton block federal efforts to shut down the clubs. 
        "At stake is the well being of 11,000 California residents," the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and West Hollywood said in a letter to Clinton.  They also asked him to suspend enforcement of federal drug laws that threaten the existence of the state's 20+ marijuana dispensaries.
        "If the centers are shut down, many [seriously ill patients] will be compelled to search back alleys and street corners for their medicine," the mayors wrote.  "This will not only endanger their lives, but place an unnecessary burden on our local police departments."
        The mayors further urged the federal government to let local authorities "formalize dispensary systems that live up to the spirit of the law, and most importantly, make marijuana available, safe and accessible to suffering patients."
        The mayors' plea comes just days before a scheduled hearing in U.S. District Court in San Francisco to determine whether Justice Department officials can close six dispensaries for violating federal drug laws.
        In a separate effort against the federal suit, the cities of San Francisco and Oakland filed a "friend of the court" brief in support of the clubs.  The amicus brief warns that if the federal suit is successful in closing down the state's leading CBCs, "What is now a reasonably well controlled, safe distribution system ... will instead devolve into a completely unregulated, public nuisance."
        "San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan's amicus brief -- now joined by the city of Oakland -- is yet further evidence that most Californians oppose federal efforts to obstruct the mandate of Proposition 215 by closing the medical marijuana clubs," Gieringer said.
        Earlier this week, Hallinan promised that patients in San Francisco will continue to get medical marijuana through some organized distribution system even if the federal judge rules against the clubs.  Attorney General Dan Lungren responded that city officials would be subject to arrest and prosecution if they decide to distribute marijuana for medical purposes.
        For more information, please contact either Dale Gieringer of California NORML @ (415) 563-5858 or Tanya Kangas, Esq., Director of Litigation for The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

Journal of the American Medical Association Reports That Majority Of Americans Favor Legal Access To Medical Marijuana

        March 19, 1998, Chicago, IL:   A study in the current issue of The Journal of The American Medical Association (JAMA) summarizing 47 national surveys over the past 20 years indicates that roughly 60 percent of those polled supported allowing physicians to prescribe medical marijuana for seriously ill patients.  Not all the studies surveyed specifically examined respondents' views on medical marijuana.
        "The JAMA finding reinforces the results of nearly a dozen polls conducted after the passage of Prop. 215 in California indicating that a majority of Americans strongly favor allowing seriously ill patients access to medical marijuana," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said.
        For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.  A breakdown of medical marijuana opinion polls conducted between 1995 and 1997 appears on NORML's website at: www.norml.org.



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