Pubdate: Mon, 17 Jul 2000
Source: Associated Press
Copyright: 2000 Associated Press
Author: Christine Hanley
Note: This version is more extensive and includes specific criteria.


SAN FRANCISCO -(AP)- A federal judge has cleared the way for an Oakland club
to distribute marijuana for medicinal purposes, saying the government hasn't
proven why seriously ill patients should be denied the drug.

The groundbreaking decision will allow the Oakland Cannabis Buyers'
Cooperative to provide cannabis to members who face imminent harm from a
serious medical condition and have found that legal alternatives to
marijuana don't work or cause intolerable side effects.

"We believe this is the tip of the iceberg," said John Entwhistle, a
spokesman for Californians for Compassionate Use, the lobbying group that
wrote the state's medical marijuana initiative, known as Proposition 215.
"We think at least the feds are starting to recognize the strength and
reality of the medical necessity of using marijuana as medicine, at least
for certain conditions."

Justice Department spokeswoman Gretchen Michael said officials were
reviewing the decision by U.S. District Court Charles R. Breyer. She had no
further comment.

Breyer hinted during a hearing Friday that he would modify an injunction he
issued in 1998, noting that the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeal ordered
him to consider an exemption for patients who face imminent harm and have no
effective legal alternative to marijuana.

The appellate court, in its September ruling, found the government had
failed to rebut evidence that cannabis is the only effective treatment for a
large group of seriously ill patients.

So in lieu of any new arguments showing why it would not be in the public's
interest to exempt some patients from federal narcotics laws, Breyer said he
had little other choice.

"The government continues to press arguments which the 9th Circuit rejected,
including the argument that the court must find that enjoining the
distribution of cannabis to seriously ill individuals is in the public
interest because Congress has prohibited such conduct in favor of the
administrative process regulating the approval and distribution of drugs.

"As a result of the government's failure to offer any new evidence in
opposition to defendants' motion, and in light of the 9th Circuit's opinion,
the court must conclude that modifying the injunction as requested is in the
public interest and exercise its equitable discretion to do so," Breyer

Specifically, club members receiving medical marijuana must meet the
following criteria:

a.. Suffer from a serious medical condition

b.. Face "imminent harm" if they do not have access to cannabis.

c.. Need cannabis for treatment of a medical condition or to alleviate
symptoms associated with a condition.

d.. Have no reasonable legal alternative to cannabis for the effective
treatment or alleviation of a medical condition or symptoms. The victory for
the Oakland club is only the latest development in a years-old conflict
between federal narcotics regulations and Proposition 215, which has been
tangled up in court since California voters approved it in 1996.

The state initiative allows seriously ill patients to grow and use marijuana
for pain relief, with a doctor's recommendation, without being prosecuted
under state law. But federal law says marijuana has no medical purpose and
cannot be administered safely under medical supervision.

The Justice Department initially sued the Oakland club and five others in
Northern California to try and shut them down. Breyer's modification
partially exempts the Oakland club -- the only one to appeal -- from his
injunction that shut them down.

Measures similar to the California's initiative have passed in Alaska,
Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state, and Entwhistle
said Breyer's ruling is the latest sign that the federal government's
position is weakening.

"They used to be the wolf at the door. But now they've been pushed away," he
said, adding that his group expects the issue to be ultimately decided by
the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This is the beginning of something very big. It recognizes something we
knew all along," he said. "We believe the Supreme Court justices, and
anybody in federal court, will see the truth behind the use of marijuana.
This drug saves lives."

In Oakland, the news was met with equal optimism at the Cannabis Club.

"It's an historic day," said Jeffrey Jones, the owner and lead defendant in
the lawsuit. "For the first time in our nation's history, the Controlled
Substance Act . . . has been pierced in a way that allows a controlled
substance to be given out in a federally exempt way."
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