[Media Awareness Project]

US: Not Fit to Print? The MMJ: Class Action Hearing

Newshawk: Richard Lake and Various Newshawks Pubdate: Mon, 8 Mar 1999 Source: As shown below

Note: The story we thought would be among the top news items for our readers last week appears to have never made it to print. Though our newshawks searched hard for it, there is no evidence so far that this story made the wire services, or even the local press in Philadelphia. Yes, some local TV coverage was reported. But where was the rest of the media?

Knowing of our reader's interest, we provide the High Times intro story below, and links to two other on-line summaries as well two pictures of the participants in this historical event - as a rare exception to our policy of not carrying web-published only items.

Our friend Richard Cowan provdes these internet articles: Report From Philadelphia: The Class Action Suit Goes Forward With The Government on The Defensive - 3 Prominent Lawyers Join Plaintiffs’ Team: http://www.marijuananews.com/report_from_philadelphia.htm A Legal Overview of the Medical Marijuana Class Action Case - By Michael D. Cutler, Esq.: http://www.marijuananews.com/a_legal_overview_of_the_medical_.htm

And Frank S. World has posted on his website these pictures of the patients at the Liberty Bell: http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Lobby/7417/images/ac_at_bell.jpg http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Lobby/7417/images/ac_chairsbell.jpg

From High Times News on-line 2 Mar 1998: Author - Dean Latimer - Special to HT News - Website http://www.hightimes.com/

Nearly a hundred documented medical patients from around the United States are convening in Philadelphia this week, many in wheelchairs, to learn exactly why the federal Department of Justice thinks they all ought to be in prison.

As plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the DoJ, all are self-admitted "users" of marijuana.

At a hearing on Wednesday, March 3, attorneys for the DoJ are scheduled to demand that their lawsuit be dismissed out of hand, leaving them open to criminal prosecution.

"This is not the kind of club you want to be a member of," observes Jeff Jones, director of the Oakland Cannabis Cooperative, who will be on hand in Philadelphia. Also present will be Elvy Musikka, a Florida glaucoma patient who receives legal marijuana through a special federal program, and can document that it has preserved her eyesight for decades.

Lynnette Shaw, director of the still-functioning Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana near San Francisco, will be there, along with Andrea Nagy, whose Ventura County medical-cannabis co-op near LA.. was zoned out of existence last year. Nearly all the plaintiffs have already been dragged repeatedly into court as defendants, and are standing up for tens of thousands of other US patients who have to use pot medicinally in secret, in daily danger of arrest and prosecution. One quadriplegic plaintiff whose attendance had been expected, Daniel Asbury of Toledo, OH, was busted by US Customs just last week, over a package of medical-grade cannabis which had been mailed to his address from Europe.

The "People's Class Action For Freedom From Government Prohibition of Therapeutic Cannabis", initiated two years ago by Philadelphia public-interest lawyer Lawrence Hirsch, (http://www.fairlaw.org/) has already gone much, much further than the Department of Justice is comfortable with. When Hirsch filed it last July in Philadelphia Federal District Court, challenging the basic constitutionality of the marijuana laws and calling for government accommodation of medical-marijuana patients' needs as a matter of compassion, the DoJ's lawyers curtly responded, in essence, that only Congress is empowered to change any drug laws, not the courts.

This routine DoJ argument did not prevail with the Hon. Marvin Katz, 68, the semi-retired federal judge presiding specially over this case. After carefully reading the personal medical histories of all 165 plaintiffs, incorporated in the suit as sworn affidavits, Judge Katz surprised both sides of the case by emphasizing the government's obligation to exercise compassion in writing and enforcing the laws--a precedent established in 1970, and cited by Hirsch for the first time in a medical-marijuana context.

After that precedent was established in law, the federal government quickly initiated a Compassionate Investigative New Drug program (IND) for medical-marijuana patients, Hirsch argued for the class-action plaintiffs. Under this program, hundreds of government-processed marijuana cigarettes were distributed monthly to patients suffering from glaucoma, cancer and other documented conditions. Although it (somewhat mysteriously) stopped accepting new patients in 1992, the Compassionate IND program still today provides eight surviving individuals with medical pot, and protection from prosecution for possessing it. Responding to this argument in Katz's courtroom last October, civil attorneys for the DoJ and the DEA simply claimed that Hirsh's suit "lacks merit and should be dismissed as a matter of law." To their manifest surprise, reported Hirsch's paralegal, Joan Bello, Judge Katz asked them to explain exactly why the Compassionate IND marijuana program had been effectively closed down in 1992. Bello, author of The Benefits of Medical Marijuana and herself a patient-plaintiff, says Judge Katz himself reacted with surprise when the feds acknowledged that the IND program's suspension had absolutely nothing to do with medicine. "It became clear," the DoJ belatedly responded in a vague brief, "the potential widespread use of marijuana for 'medical' purposes under the program... was bad public policy."

Critics of the government's "public policy" toward medicinal cannabis have long contended that the IND program was closed down simply because too many AIDS patients were asking to enlist in it, and the feds were averse to "sending a message" that homosexuals and intravenous drug addicts, however sick they may be, deserve compassionate exception to punitive drug laws. On Wednesday, the Department of Justice will be responding to these critics, and their response will be covered in this space.