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Medicinal Marijuana Ban May Fall

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Pubdate: Sat, 15 Jul 2000
Source: Oakland Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2000 MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers
Contact: eangtrib@newschoice.com
Address: 66 Jack London Sq., Oakland, CA 94607

Author: Josh Richman

MEDICINAL MARIJUANA BAN MAY FALL

'Banner Week' For Pot Patients Sees Release Of First U.S. Study

A federal judge hinted Friday he will modify -- or perhaps lift -- a ban
that has kept the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative and other Northern
California medicinal marijuana clubs from dispensing the drug to people with
certain illnesses.

Robert Raich, the cooperative's attorney, said U.S. District Judge Charles
R. Breyer spoke during a hearing on the cooperative's motion to modify the
1998 injunction.

Oakland City Attorney Jayne Williams and San Francisco District Attorney
Terence Hallinan were there to argue on the cooperative's behalf, Raich
said, "but as it turned out ... it wasn't necessary for us to say much at
all."

Raich said Breyer seemed to indicate he will issue a written ruling Monday
to change the injunction to permit medicinal marijuana dispensation. He is
doing so "because of the 9th Circuit's opinion regarding medical necessity,"
Raich said.

Medicinal marijuana clubs opened all over the state after California voters
in 1996 approved Proposition 215, which allowed patients with serious
illnesses to get and use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

Breyer issued an injunction in 1998 closing the Oakland cooperative and five
other Northern California clubs after the U.S. Justice Department argued
that federal law absolutely bans marijuana distribution and use, no matter
what any state statute or ballot initiative says.

But last September, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Breyer
should reconsider the case and let the clubs claim there is a medical
necessity for medicinal marijuana use.

The Oakland cooperative has stayed open under the injunction -- it stopped
official distribution of marijuana but has kept providing information and
support to its more than 2,500 members.

Executive director Jeff Jones noted Friday that this has been a banner week
for medicinal marijuana advocates and patients. On Thursday, University of
California, San Francisco researcher Donald Abrams released the first U.S.
study of medicinal marijuana use by people with HIV, the virus that leads to
AIDS.

Some people rely on marijuana's appetite-boosting effect to combat the
nausea and weight loss associated with AIDS, and Abrams' study found smoking
marijuana does not interfere with anti-retroviral drugs used to fight HIV.

On Friday, Hallinan kicked off San Francisco's new program of issuing
identification cards that protect medicinal marijuana users from prosecution
for possessing the drug. The cards have no effect on federal law governing
marijuana.

Jones said these events make it clear the federal government is "overdue" to
move marijuana out of its current, most-restricted classification under the
Controlled Substances Act.

Marijuana is listed on Schedule One, along with drugs such as heroin and LSD
that the government believes are unsafe, have high potential for abuse and
have no recognized medicinal value.

"We're now dealing with a substance that has accepted medical use, which is
not the definition of Schedule One," Jones said.

Jones said he's "no more than cautiously optimistic" about the ruling Breyer
will issue Monday.

"It seemed as if ... he looked at the 9th Circuit decision of last September
as a report card, and the report card told him what he needed to do so he's
going to fill in the blanks and issue a decision on Monday," Jones said,
adding Breyer didn't seem happy to have been second-guessed by the appellate
court.

Jones said Breyer asked Justice Department lawyer Mark Quinlivan on Friday
what public harm would be done by letting the Oakland cooperative distribute
marijuana to patients with physicians' recommendations. Quinlivan had no
answer, Jones claimed.

Quinlivan couldn't be reached later Friday, and Justice Department officials
said they won't comment until Breyer issues his ruling.