Marijuana Policy Project

Walmart Fires Cancer Patient for Legally Using Medical Marijuana

Joseph Casias, 29, has sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor.

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More Evidence That Marijuana Prevents Cancer

Among the more interesting pieces of news that came out while I was on vacation the first half of August was a new study in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, which found that marijuana smokers have a lower risk of head and neck cancers than people who don’t smoke marijuana. Alas, this important research has been largely ignored by the news media.

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Could Medical Marijuana Have Saved Michael Jackson?

Okay, let me say right up front that a) I know that headline is provocative, and b) neither I nor anyone can answer the question with any certainty given what we know and don’t know so far about Michael Jackson’s death. But the question needs to be asked.

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Can THC Help Some Schizophrenics?

The surprising finding that THC might help at least a small percentage of schizophrenia patients for whom conventional treatments have failed was reported in the June issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.

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Will Legalizing Pot Save California from its Cash Crunch?

California state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has announced the introduction of legislation to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcoholic beverages. The bill, the first of its kind ever introduced in California, would create a regulatory structure similar to that used for beer, wine, and liquor, permitting taxed sales to adults while barring sales to or possession by those under 21.

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Letter from Steve Fox

Yesterday, the Marijuana Policy Project, in conjunction with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), scored a major victory in Congress. Due primarily to the efforts of these two organizations, Republicans in control of the U.S. House Government Reform Committee were forced to postpone the vote on the "Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2003" (H.R. 2086).

Readers like you deserve a great deal of credit for this victory. From the time we e-mailed you our alert last Friday until the day before the committee hearing -- a span of only six days -- more than 3,500 faxes were sent to Congress through our Web site. If you were one of the thousands to respond, thank you. (MPP would also like to thank organizations such as the ACLU and Working Assets for inspiring their members and supporters to take action in this grassroots lobbying effort.)

At issue was a provision that would have made the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign available to the drug czar for political purposes. Under this new provision, the drug czar would have been able to spend up to $1 billion over the next five years on ads designed to defeat ballot initiatives or candidates who support drug policy reform legislation.

This provision very likely would have quietly passed through the committee, if not for the work of MPP and DPA. Instead, the issue ended up on the cover of Roll Call, a must-read newspaper on Capitol Hill, and inspired some great editorial coverage in the Orange County Register and the Baltimore Sun.

Now, all of Congress is questioning whether the ultimate purpose of the Media Campaign is prevention or politics. Moreover, the Democrats now appear to be unified against the drug czar's use of taxpayer dollars to oppose ballot initiatives.

In no uncertain terms, this incredible turn of events in Washington is the direct result of MPP's "War on Drug Czar." Here is how we reached the current situation:

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Maryland Protects Pot Patients

Maryland's General Assembly today rebuffed White House "Drug Czar" John Walters, becoming the second state legislature to protect medical marijuana patients from the threat of jail. Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R), who cosponsored the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is expected to sign the measure into law.

Maryland law presently provides penalties for marijuana possession of up to a year in state prison and a $1,000 fine. Under S.B. 502, which the Senate passed today by a 29-17 vote, patients using marijuana to treat the symptoms of illnesses such as cancer, AIDS and Crohn's disease would face no more than a $100 fine.

Seven of the existing state medical marijuana laws -- in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington -- were enacted via ballot initiatives. In 2000, Hawaii became the first state to pass a medical marijuana law through the state legislature.

Drug Czar John Walters made a last-ditch attempt to stop Maryland's bill on Monday, calling it a "cynical, cruel and immoral effort to use the sick and suffering," according to the Associated Press.

"Today is an historic day," said Robert Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "The Maryland legislature has shown the courage to defy the federal drug czar by reducing penalties for medical marijuana, right in the backyard of a hostile White House. Unfortunately, the bill is weaker than the laws in the eight states where medical marijuana is legal. The bill protects marijuana-using patients from jail, but they can still be arrested, handcuffed, prosecuted, and forced to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees."

"I am proud of the Senate for ignoring the last-minute campaign of lies conducted by John Walters," said Erin Hildebrandt, a medical marijuana patient and mother of five from Smithsburg, who testified for the bill. "Crohn's disease used to leave me too sick to even get out of bed, other than to go to the bathroom or the doctor's office, until I discovered that marijuana helped me more than any medicine I had ever tried. Medical marijuana literally gave me my life back. It is John Walters who is `cruel, immoral and cynical,' not the people working to protect patients."

"John Walters lost this battle because science, compassion, and common sense -- not to mention 80 percent of the American people -- are on our side," Kampia added. "We will be back next year to enact full legal protections for patients, and we expect to win."

With 11,000 members nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. To this end, MPP focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their doctors.

Marijuana "Decriminalization" Bills In Six States

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Vermont Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill

Marijuana Policy Project press release

The Vermont Senate today passed S. 76, the medical marijuana bill, by a vote of 22-7. In the wake of this resounding endorsement, supporters are increasingly optimistic about the measure's prospects for becoming law this year.

"Last year, the Vermont House passed a nearly identical bill by a vote of 82-59, becoming the first Republican-controlled state legislative chamber ever to pass a medical marijuana bill," said Billy Rogers, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, D.C. "We have every reason to expect a similar vote this year. Then, the question will be whether or not Governor Jim Douglas follows the will of Vermont's citizens and their elected representatives."

Vermonters strongly support protection from arrest for seriously ill medical marijuana patients. In a poll conducted last year by the Lucas Organization, commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, 75.7 percent of Vermonters said they "support changing the law to allow people with cancer, AIDS, and other serious illnesses to use and grow their own marijuana for medical purposes, if they have the approval of their physicians."

Gov. Douglas has given somewhat mixed signals on the issue. In a Feb. 26 interview with the Rutland Herald, he implied he might oppose the bill, citing federal opposition to medical marijuana. But in an interview in the March issue of Out in the Mountains, Douglas said, "There's a lot of evidence that it does some good and is effective where other substances aren't for certain patients and certain types of pain." He promised to speak to the governors of the eight states with existing medical marijuana laws "and ask them about their experience."

"If Governor Douglas speaks to those eight other governors, what he will hear is that across the board these laws have worked smoothly, with few problems," Rogers said. "He will hear that the federal government has never challenged the right of states to protect seriously ill medical marijuana patients under state law. And once he hears that eight state medical marijuana laws are working well, we are optimistic he will act to protect the sick and vulnerable in Vermont from the risk of arrest and jail for the simple act of taking their medicine."

With 11,000 members nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. To this end, MPP focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their doctors.


A new survey of U.S. teenagers released August 20 by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse generated shocked headlines nationwide. Newspapers across the country blared variations on the same theme: "Students Say Pot Easier to Buy than Beer, Cigarettes."

Well duh.

What almost no one in the media picked up on is that NCASA and others have been reporting similar results for years. The real story, which went virtually unreported, is that the new survey demonstrates the harm done to our youth by the "War on Drugs." We are, quite literally, driving kids to drink. Teens have been telling NCASA survey-takers since the mid-1990s that marijuana is easier for them to buy than beer -- at roughly the same proportion as in the new survey. The only real change is that the recent push to curb cigarette sales to minors has had some success in making tobacco harder for teens to get.

Last year, the government-funded Monitoring the Future study reported, "Since the study began in 1975, between 83% and 90% of every [high school] senior class has said that they could get marijuana fairly easily or very easily." Other government figures show that youth marijuana use has risen over 2000% since marijuana was banned by federal law in 1937. If the idea is to discourage teens from using marijuana, maybe -- just maybe -- prohibition hasn’t worked.

The real news in the survey is what’s happening to teens attitudes toward drinking. While a larger percentage than ever reported their schools as being "drug-free," the number of kids saying they get drunk at least once a month went up by over a third from last year.

An insight into that disturbing statistic is buried on page 37 of the NCASA report. Asked to rank tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, ecstacy and alcohol from most harmful to least harmful, 42% of teens ranked alcohol as "least harmful, while only 15% gave marijuana the "least harmful" rank. 27% rated marijuana as either the first or second most harmful, compared to just 10% for alcohol. That should scare any responsible parent out of their wits. By the two most objectively quantifiable measures, toxicity and addiction potential, alcohol is far more dangerous than marijuana. Alcohol kills over 100,000 Americans each year. It’s easy to fatally overdose on alcohol and, sadly, we hear of college kids and others doing just that every year. But the medical literature has never documented a single fatal marijuana overdose. Indeed, scientists have long agreed that it’s impossible to fatally overdose by smoking marijuana.

As for addiction, the Institute of Medicine -- in a 1999 study commissioned by the White House -- noted that 15% of alcohol users become dependent, compared to 9% of marijuana users. The British government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs came to the same conclusion earlier this year, stating that the addiction potential of marijuana is "well below nicotine and alcohol." But those potentially life-saving facts aren’t part of what we teach our kids. Instead, we bombard them with Drug War propaganda that crudely exaggerates the dangers of illegal drugs, leaving them with the mistaken impression that alcohol is relatively harmless. The price, alas, will be paid in corpses.

Bruce Mirken, a longtime health journalist whose work has appeared in Men’s Health, AIDS Treatment News and the San Francisco Chronicle, now serves as Director of Communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.

A Hero Prepares to Betray Us

To gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is a hero - and deservedly so. When the religious right fought a desperate battle to stop Vermont's civil unions law, Gov. Dean stood firm for what he believed was right. In large part because of this man's courage, same-sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples under Vermont law.

But right now all signs are that Gov. Dean is preparing to betray our brothers and sisters with AIDS. It is up to us to change his mind.

On March 15 the Vermont House of Representatives passed H645, which would protect seriously ill patients from the possibility of arrest and jail for using medical marijuana with their doctors' recommendation. The 82-59 vote was particularly historic because it marked the first time a Republican-controlled legislative house has passed a medical marijuana law.

This should have been the hardest step, since Vermont's Senate is controlled by the Democrats, who have historically been more open-minded than Republicans about medical marijuana. But Dean is also a Democrat, and a hard-line opponent of any liberalization of marijuana laws, even for medical use. Word around the statehouse is that Dean is leaning on Democratic senators to kill the bill or bottle it up in committee, so that he won't have to veto it.

A veto would be politically inconvenient, since a recent poll showed that three quarters of Vermont voters want to legalize medical marijuana for the seriously ill. But if the bill does pass, a veto by Gov. Dean is considered a strong possibility.

That would be a tragedy for Vermonters with AIDS or other serious illnesses. In our community, we have seen the benefits of medical marijuana again and again. We've seen it help people with wasting syndrome eat enough to stay alive. More recently, marijuana has helped thousands cope with the nausea and lack of appetite that is often caused by the unforgiving anti-HIV drug cocktails they must take to keep their virus in check.

My friend Mary is typical. After a dozen years of fighting HIV she says bluntly, "I'm alive because of medical marijuana." Without it, the side effects of her medications would be intolerable.

Mary is lucky: She lives in California, which legalized medical use of marijuana in 1996. But last October federal agents shut down the medical cannabis co-op where Mary received her supply safely. Until she found a safe alternative source she had to do without - and lost 12 pounds in three weeks.

As the full-page ad that appeared in the March 6 New York Times showed, medical marijuana is no longer a fringe issue. It is supported by everyone from Walter Cronkite to the American Public Health Association, not to mention the National Association of People With AIDS and such esteemed physicians as former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders and noted AIDS researcher Dr. Michael Saag.

Gov. Dean is a physician himself. He should listen to the voices of his colleagues as well as those of the sick and the people who care for them. He must remember the ancient physician's credo: First, do no harm. Killing H645, whether it's done by public veto or private stealth, would do immense harm.

Please write to: Governor Howard Dean, M.D. 109 State Street, Pavilion Montpelier, VT 05609-0101. You can send also your letter by fax to 802-828-3339, or visit for more information.

Bruce Mirken, Acting Director of Communications at the Marijuana Policy Project, is a longtime health journalist who has covered HIV/AIDS research and policy for many publications.

Sam Farr Joins the Fight

U.S. Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), whose district includes much of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in northern California, has joined the battle to protect patients from the Drug Enforcement Administration's ongoing war against medical marijuana, signing on this week as a cosponsor of H.R. 2592.

H.R. 2592, the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act, is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). It would protect patients by blocking federal interference with medical marijuana programs authorized by state law. It would also move marijuana into Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act, allowing physicians to prescribe it as they can presently prescribe or administer morphine, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

"Clearly there are identifiable benefits to the use of marijuana under medically prescribed conditions," Rep. Farr said. "Plain and simple, it's just not good policy to keep patients from doctor-approved health treatments even if those treatments are not mainstream. In the case of marijuana, the people of the state of California understand and support it for medicinal use. Unfortunately, the federal government is not on the same page. I believe states that approve medical marijuana should be allowed to provide it however they see fit, the federal government notwithstanding. H.R. 2592 will give states this right, and I am proud to support it."

Farr becomes the tenth California representative to cosponsor H.R. 2592 and the third new California cosponsor since the DEA began its latest effort to shut down California medical marijuana providers on October 25, 2001. The most recent raids, conducted in San Francisco on February 12, provoked a firestorm of protest from local elected officials and citizens. "Californians are angry that the federal government keeps trying to trample the decision they made in 1996 when they passed Proposition 215," said MPP director of government relations Steve Fox. "Representatives are hearing from their constituents that they've had enough." Proposition 215 legalized medical use of marijuana by patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and other diseases. Seven other states now have similar laws.

"During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush said that he thought the medical marijuana issue was one that states should be able to decide `as they so choose,'" Fox added. "He's gone back on that promise. During a time of tight budgets and daily worries about possible terrorist attacks, why are we wasting law-enforcement resources trying to keep sick people from getting their medicine?"

Fox added that the California raids contradict the President's stated concern that the illegal drug trade helps fund terrorists. "By closing down legitimate providers who work closely with local government and law enforcement, the DEA is forcing patients to get their medicine from street dealers. There is a growing recognition that this policy is pointless, destructive, and wasteful."

The Marijuana Policy Project works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption of marijuana, and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. To this end, MPP focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their doctors.