This week, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) holds its annual conference in San Francisco; cannabis studies in the UK could win marijuana the title of the new aspirin of the 21st century; and officials in Santa Cruz, CA, file a lawsuit against Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Drug Enforcement Administration to stop them from raiding local medical marijuana distribution facilities.

April 17-20 -- National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) holds its annual conference in San Francisco, CA. Speakers include ACLU President Nadine Strossen, San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, Harvard Medical School's Dr. Lester Grinspoon, as well as actor Woody Harrelson and popular sex advice columnist Dan Savage.

The event was attended by 500 people, including progressive politicians, medical marijuana patients and caregivers, and student activists. The theme: "Back to the Basics: Stop Arresting Marijuana Smokers."

April 19 -- The New Zealand Herald reports: Cannabis, the third most popular recreational drug after alcohol and tobacco, could win new role as the aspirin of the 21st century, with growing evidence that its compounds may protect the brain against the damaging effects of aging.

Although the drug distorts perception and affects short-term memory, it may also help prevent degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's and motor neuron diseases.

Scientists at the Institute of Neurology in Queens Square, London, say the "huge potential" of cannabis compounds is emerging, as understanding of its biological and pharmacological properties improves.

Professor Alan Thompson and his colleagues wrote in Lancet Neurology: "Basic research is discovering interesting members of this family of compounds that have previously unknown qualities, the most notable of which is the capacity for neuroprotection."

Professor Thompson's team says: "Even if the results of these studies are not as positive as many expect them to be, that we are only just beginning to appreciate the huge therapeutic potential of this family of compounds is clear."

April 21 -- The Associated Press reports: In hopes of stopping federal agents from again raiding a farm that provides marijuana to sick and dying people, Santa Cruz officials said they will file a lawsuit against Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Attorneys representing the city and county of Santa Cruz, as well as seven medical marijuana users, said Monday they plan to file the papers Wednesday in San Jose federal court.

"The city of Santa Cruz wants to prevent raids on medical marijuana. This is a public health issue to this community," said Santa Cruz City Attorney John Barisone on Monday.

The lawsuit comes in response to a DEA raid last September at a small pot farm located on a quiet coastal road about 15 miles north of town. Agents uprooted about 165 plants and arrested the owners, Valerie and Michael Corral.

The raid outraged local officials, who have since sponsored a medical marijuana giveaway from the steps of City Hall. They also deputized the Corrals, who are the founders the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, allowing them to cultivate, distribute and possess medical marijuana under a city ordinance.

Lawyers for Santa Cruz said the lawsuit will claim that the seven patient plaintiffs have had their medicine substantially decreased since the raid, and that WAMM has been unable to provide its patients with necessary medicine. This has caused an "insurmountable" level of pain and suffering and hastened the deaths of the most vulnerable WAMM members, lawyers said.

The lawsuit, to be filed as County of Santa Cruz v. Ashcroft et. al, asks the federal courts to enjoin the federal government from raiding the WAMM gardens in the future.

DEA spokesman Richard Meyer in San Francisco said Monday he could not comment on pending litigation, but that his agency's mission is very clear: "To enforce the Controlled Substances Act." Meyer said that raiding medical marijuana clubs and farms is the DEA's duty. "Our goal is to seize illegal drugs and arrest the perpetrators and bring them to justice," he said.

Community members in this liberal central California community repeatedly have supported medical marijuana. In 1992, 77 percent of Santa Cruz voters approved a measure ending the prohibition of medical marijuana. Four years later, state voters approved Proposition 215, which allows marijuana for medicinal purposes. And in 2000, the city council approved an ordinance allowing medical marijuana to be grown and used without a prescription.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.


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