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IACM-Bulletin of 20 February 2000

Germany: Constitutional Court does not accept complaints of eight patients / Plans to apply for applications to the Health Ministry

On 8 February a decision of the Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) of 20 January was published, saying that the complaints of eight persons, suffering from severe diseases (multiple sclerosis, HIV, hepatitis C, epilepsy etc.) will not be accepted on formal grounds. With their complaints of 14 December the patients wanted to achieve the right to use cannabis medicinally to alleviate their complaints.

The judges argued that they should have tried other legal means before. These are an application to the Federal Institute for Pharmaceuticals and Medical Products (Bundesinstitut fur Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte) in Berlin, an independent agency of the Federal Health Ministry, and an application for 'preventive legal protection' against prosecution and investigations of the police.

According to the German Narcotic Act the use of cannabis is allowed only for "scientific and other purposes of public interest". Until now an application to the Federal Institute for Pharmaceuticals and Medical Products to obtain the right to use cannabis as a medicine was generally regarded as hopeless.

But the Constitutional Court that enjoys great authority in Germany ascertained: "The medical supply of the population is a public purpose that may justify an approval in individual cases." Thus, a corresponding application would "not be hopeless from the start".

The German media generally commented on this decision very optimistic and interpreted it as a realistic option to achieve an approval for the medical use of cannabis. However, the probability to achieve such an exemption approval is indeed rather low, since the legal requirements to such an approval are very high.

Prof. Lorenz Boellinger, dean of the Faculty of Law of the University of Bremen, who is advocating the eight patients, said: "Despite the non-acceptance this decision makes clear that the Constitutional Court is seriously considering the option of a medical therapy with cannabis and is trying to point out a passable way. If necessary a refusal by the Federal Institute has to be contested before the courts. If the worst comes to the worst there remains a new complaint before the Constitutional Court."

Dr. Franjo Grotenhermen of the Association for Cannabis as Medicine, who composed the medical expert opinions for the patients, said: "We will see if the Federal Institute for Pharmaceuticals and Medical Products will act that strictly negative in the future as it has done so far. The argumentation of the court can be taken as another starting point, that can put motion into the unsatisfying legal situation."

It is planned to apply for some well substantiated approvals at the Federal Institute for Pharmaceuticals and Medical Products. Besides, there will be applications for approvals of preventive legal protection against investigations of the police and prosecution before the provincial high courts.

The decision of the Constitutional Court seems to show some effect already. Last week the criminal procedure of a man with hepatitis C, diabetes mellitus and renal dialysis was suspended. The attorney said, he would "beware of demanding a penalty".

(Sources: dpa of 8 and 10 February 2000, Aerztezeitung of 9 February 2000, Frankfurter Rundschau of 9 February 2000, Die Tageszeitung of 9 February 2000, Sueddeutsche Zeitung of 10 February 2000)

Canada: Medical marijuana club raided

On 10 February police arrested two employees of the Compassion Club in Montreal and seized the names of 27 doctors who had recommended cannabis for their ailing patients. The Compassion Club has chapters in Toronto and Vancouver.

Marc St. Maurice and Alexandre Neron appeared in court on 11 February on charges of possessing 66 grams of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking. They will return to court on 13 March. The raid also raises the possibility of holding doctors criminally responsible for recommending cannabis to their patients. Police confiscated evidence from physicians who had suggested marijuana use to 33 patients and forwarded it to Crown prosecutors.

Health Minister Allan Rock, who was in Montreal to announce increased funding for medical research, wouldn't comment on the arrests but said he has been trying to expand the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. "I think the better approach is (...) that they are given access to marijuana that is safe and clean from a government source," he said. Ottawa gave 20 people legal permission last fall to grow and use marijuana for therapeutic purposes.

(Sources: Globe and Mail of 12 February 2000, Vancouver Sun of 12 February 2000)

Kanada/USA: Canadian court orders Renee Boje surrendered for extradition

On 9 February a judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia signed an order to have Renee Danielle Boje extradited to Los Angeles, where a conviction on drug charges would land her a minimum of 10 years in jail. The justice minister must now decide whether there are compassionate reasons not to send the 30-year-old artist back home.

Boje was arrested in July 1997 along with several other medical-marijuana advocates after U.S. federal authorities discovered thousands of marijuana plants growing at the Bel-Air mansion of cancer patient Todd McCormick. Police claimed to have observed her and another woman watering the pot plants one day. She was doing sketches of marijuana plants for a book McCormick was writing on growing marijuana.

Boje came to Canada in 1998 on advice from a lawyer after the U.S. charges were briefly withdrawn. She still has a refugee claim pending because she believes she is the victim of political persecution by U.S. federal authorities who do not recognize rights that Californians voted themselves in a state-wide 1996 referendum that allows marijuana to be grown for certain medical conditions.

(Sources: The Province of 10 February 2000, Vancouver Sun of 10 February 2000, NORML of 10 February 2000)

News in brief

USA:
Legislation was introduced in the Iowa State Senate that would legalize the medical use of marijuana for certain medical conditions. This legislature joins Maryland this session by introducing a medical marijuana bill. And there are also two bills in the state legislature for legalizing marijuana for medical purposes in Hawaii. Since 1996, California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Maine, have approved voter initiatives to legalize medical marijuana. Citizens of Colorado and Nevada will vote on similar medical use initiatives in November. (Sources: NORML of 10 February 2000, Honolulu Star-Bulletin of 16 February 2000)

USA:
A quadriplegic was sentenced in Augusta to seven years in prison for possession of marijuana. Louis E. Covar, who is confined to a wheelchair unable to control the muscles below his shoulders, says he uses the illegal drug for medical reasons. He was convicted of marijuana possession last March and sentenced to seven years of probation on the condition that he keep the marijuana to himself. But on 17. February a judge revoked probation because he sold the drug. According to NORML another severely disabled person, Deborah Lynn Quinn from Arizona, was sentenced last week to a year in prison for breaking probation after being found with less than four ounces of marijuana. (Sources: AP of 18 February 2000, NORML of 17 February 2000)

UK:
A multiple sclerosis sufferer who smokes cannabis is to be prosecuted for a second time for using the drug. Lezley Gibson, 35, of Alston, Cumbria, was first prosecuted 10 years ago for possession of cannabis. She says the drug helps alleviate the symptoms of the muscle-wasting illness she was diagnosed with aged 20. A judge at Carlisle Crown Court gave her a two-year conditional discharge. (Source: PA News of 18 February 2000)

A glimpse @ the past

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Two years ago

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