Source: Bay Area Reporter (CA) Contact: Website: Copyright: 1998 The Bay Area Reporter Pubdate: Thurs, 29 Oct 1998 Author: Liz Highleyman Note: The website for this lawsuit is at:


A U.S. District Court in Philadelphia last Wednesday, October 21 heard the first arguments in a class action suit challenging the federal government's prohibition on the use of medical cannabis.

The lawsuit - Kuromiya vs. the U.S. - involves 166 plaintiffs from 49 states (the Action Class for Freedom of Therapeutic Cannabis). They claim to represent an estimated 97 million Americans who use medicinal marijuana to help stimulate their appetite to prevent wasting, relieve the effects of nausea due to chemotherapy, reduce high eye pressure related to glaucoma, or for other medical purposes.

The plaintiffs assert that the government's medical marijuana ban is unconstitutional, and violates the first, fourth, sixth, eighth, ninth, and 10th amendments. In particular, plaintiffs claim that the prohibition violates their rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

According to plaintiffs' attorney Lawrence Elliott Hirsch, "There can be no more cruel and unusual punishment than to deprive a seriously ill or disabled person of the only remedy that has been found to work."

The lead plaintiff in the suit, Kiyoshi Kuromiya, is a longtime AIDS activist who uses medical cannabis to help control HIV-related wasting. Kuromiya and several other plaintiffs detailed their personal experiences using medicinal marijuana and how it has helped them deal with various maladies. He stated that the Marinol pill, which contains a synthesized analogue of an active ingredient of marijuana, did not work for him because pill-taking triggered his nausea and it takes up to an hour for Marinol's effects to kick in.

'Quite Supportive' Judge

According to a report from Hirsch, District Court Judge Marvin Katz denied the federal government's motion to have the case dismissed on the grounds that the government is within its rights to regulate drugs as interstate commerce.

In response to a question from the judge, federal attorneys acknowledged that the government does provide medical cannabis to eight patients, the few that remain from an earlier compassionate use program. According to Kuromiya, the presence of the compassionate use program "collapses in one fell swoop the government's argument that marijuana is not therapeutically effective," and "flies in the face of [drug czar General Barry] McCaffrey's statement that there is scientific proof of the unworthiness of cannabis as a therapeutic treatment for any condition."

Likening the situation to the unfairness of providing morphine for pain relief to only eight people, the judge proposed a settlement in which the federal government would enroll the plaintiffs in the cannabis compassionate use program. The attorney for the federal government said the proposal was costly and unacceptable. The plaintiffs' attorney will poll the Action Class to determine whether members will accept the settlement.

Kuromiya characterized Katz as "quite supportive," and said that the Action Class has "cleared its first hurdle." The plaintiffs will file an amendment to their lawsuit, and the government will have 60 days to respond. Both sides were asked by the judge to provide additional information, including scientific data related to the medicinal use of cannabis.