DRUG WAR BRIEFS: Censored, Praised and Vilified

October 6- The Oregon Register Guard reports: Congress had the right to block District of Columbia residents from voting on whether to legalize marijuana for medical use, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

Reversing a lower court ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the Constitution gives Congress exclusive power to define the district's legislative authority.

Also, a congressional act barring D.C. residents from putting the legalization of marijuana on the ballot does not violate their First Amendment right to free speech.

Voters had passed a referendum legalizing marijuana in 1998, but Congress, which appropriates money for district elections, blocked the effort through legislation.

October 7- The UK Independent reports: The world's oldest euphoric drug is poised to make a return to the medicine cabinet. Cannabis, reputedly taken by Queen Victoria to quell her period pains but banished from Britain's schedule of medicinal drugs in 1971, is on the point of winning scientific backing for its role in easing the symptoms of chronic disease.

This week the Medical Research Council is due to announce that it has recruited the last of 660 patients to a UKP1.2m trial of cannabis-based medicines in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, the largest in the world.

Although final results will not be available until next summer, researchers are optimistic. Dr John Zajicek, consultant neurologist at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, who is leading the research, said: "I'm fairly confident we are going to find an effect in reducing spasticity, or muscle spasms, and it is also going to have an effect on bladder control.‰

"Anecdotally some patients have had tremendous benefit from it. There have been some whose lives have changed dramatically."

The medicinal benefits of cannabis have been known for at least 2,000 years. Its analgesic properties were described by the British herbalist Nicholas Culpepper in 1653. Two drugs based on the active constituent tetrahydrocannabinol ( THC ) have been used in the UK for over 30 years to treat nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, although their use has declined as better anti-emetics have been developed.

October 8- The Chico Enterprise Record reports: Bryan James Epis, co-founder of Medical Marijuana Caregivers in Chico, was sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison for his part in what prosecutors called an elaborate plan to make millions by selling pot.

In June, a jury of eight women and four men found the 35-year-old Epis guilty of charges of conspiring to grow more than 1,000 marijuana plants near Chico High School.

Epis, who says he uses marijuana for neck and back pain resulting from a 1983 near-fatal traffic crash, unsuccessfully argued during his weeks-long long trial that he had the right to dispense marijuana to seriously ill patients under Proposition 215 - California's Compassionate Use Act - approved by the voters in 1996.

"I am not a criminal," Epis said in a prepared statement Monday before his sentencing. "I am not ashamed of what I did. How can I be?" Epis said he fought the charges against him to effect change in the federal government's "inhumane" policy of prohibiting medically necessary use of marijuana.

"People should not have to choose between their liberty or their health," he told the court.

Handing down the mandatory minimum sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. said Epis' case is yet filled with issues his court "cannot properly resolve."

Epis' defense attorney, J. Tony Serra, said his client operated the Chico medical marijuana dispensary out of compassion. "He thought he was doing a good thing ... for the highest moral cause," Serra said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel Wong bristled at Serra's characterization, saying Epis operated out of one thing: greed, using the state's medical marijuana statute as a "license" to make money. "He is no different than any other drug trafficker or any other drug manufacturer that has come before this court," Wong said in his closing statement.

"His attempt to play up the people who need medicine is sickening."

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson at kcnelson@premier1.net.

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