Newshawk: General Pulaski and Matt Briscoe
Source: Hartford Advocate (CT)
Copyright: 1998 New Mass. Media, Inc.
Pubdate: 12-19 Nov 1998
Author: Ken Krayeske
Note: The website for the class action suit is
Note: Inset box, large: "In addition to justice, the important compassion
issue is involved.  What are our values in terms of government interference
into our personal lives?" -- Larry Hirsch


Philadelphia civil rights attorney Larry Hirsch scoured every state in the
country for the right mix of medical marijuana patients to join a class
action suit against the government of the United States of America.  He
found women and men, AIDS patients and hemophiliacs, Vietnam vets and hemp

A few miles down the road from Ledyard, in a wildlife refuge in Quaker Hill,
Hirsch found Mark Braunstein, a 47-year-old paraplegic, college librarian
and vegetarian.  "I've sat on my duff long enough.  I hereby stand up for my
medical rights," Braunstein says as petitioner number 32 in the suit
entitled [start ital]The Action Class for Freedom from Government
Prohibition of Therapeutic Cannabis[end ital].  Braunstein is one of 181
medical pot users named as plaintiffs.

The 123-page suit alleges that the federal government exceeds its authority
in prohibiting marijuana for medicinal use for ailments ranging from muscle
spasms and glaucoma to AIDS wasting syndrome and arthritis.  Such laws, the
suit claims, violate the First, Fourth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and 10th
amendments.  "We seek a judgement against the government that the laws are
unconstitutional as they apply to cannabis," Hirsch says.  "In addition to
justice, the important compassion issue is involved.  What are our values in
terms of government interference into our personal lives?"

Braunstein is one of the few petitioners to avoid arrest for using medicinal
cannabis.  He attributes his freedom to the 1970 Connecticut law legalizing
medical marijuana for glaucoma and nausea from chemotherapy.  The law sits
on the books untested, Braunstein says, because no doctor or pharmacist
wants to take the risk.  Under federal law, doctors face sanctions for even
discussing marijuana with patients, a situation being redressed in
state-by-state referendums. So far Colorado, Arizona, Washington, Nevada,
Alaska and California residents have voted to allow the medicinal use of
marijuana, although the federal government is fighting many of those

Medicinal marijuana never crossed Braunstein's mind until his 39th birthday,
when he dove into shallow water and suffered spinal cord injuries that
paralyzed him from the waist down.  A strict vegetarian, Braunstein also
eschews alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, white flour, white sugar, white salt,
vitamin pills, and recreational or pharmaceutical powders.

Pot for medicinal uses, however, is another matter.  Knowing that
prescription drugs may have side effects and generate industrial pollution,
Braunstein decided, after much research, that organic marijuana was the best
medicine for the pain and muscle spasms he regularly endures.  "Cannabis
relaxes spinal cord injury spasms more effectively than tranquilizers, and
relieves spinal cord injury pains more safely than do narcotics," he says in
the suit.  "It is the one medication that treats both the spasms and the

The course of the suit, filed on July 3, 1998, in United States District
Court in Philadelphia, has Braunstein optimistic.  "It seems promising
rather than the typical waste of time," he says.  Drawing somewhat
sympathetic Judge Marvin Katz was a good first step, according to Hirsch.
"We happened to get one who isn't a politician," he says.

Katz set aside the Justice Department's September motion to dismiss the
suit, giving Hirsch until Nov. 26 to amend the claim.  In the meantime, on
Oct. 21, Katz proposed a settlement for the government to provide
medical-grade marijuana to plaintiffs the same way it does now to eight
people in accordance with the federal 1978 compassionate use policy.  Katz
also suggested that the plaintiffs submit to research studies, a notion that
Hirsch says his class would accept.

Attorneys from the Department of Justice are reviewing the idea, according
to spokesman Gregory King, who ways the government will respond by the end
of the year.  He cannot comment on preliminary leanings, although he says
the two lawyers working on the case consult regularly with the Drug
Enforcement Administration.  He is unaware of any talks between the Justice
Department and the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Calculating the costs associated with defending the suit are impossible,
King says.  So, too, is his ability to speculate on the repercussions of any

But Hirsch, and experienced class action litigator, likes dreaming about the
implications of a win.  "The government could provide that it is legal for
people to cultivate themselves to use for their own health purposes,
whatever they may be," he says.  "Or if they decided they had some
legitimate right to regulate cannabis, then they would have to start the
legislative process to see what the rationality of those laws would be."

- ---
Checked-by: Don Beck