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Federal Judge Allows Medical Marijuana Class Action Suit To Proceed; Questions Why Government Supplies Medical Marijuana To Some Patients, Not Others

Thursday, 11 March 1999

A U.S. District Judge ruled this week that a government program that supplies medical marijuana to a small group of seriously ill patients, but refuses to enroll new applicants suffering from similar diseases, may violate "equal protection of the law" guaranteed by the Constitution. District Judge Marvin Katz's ruling allows a federal medical marijuana class action suit launched by Philadelphia attorney Lawrence Hirsch to proceed forward. Hirsch filed the suit on behalf of more than 100 patients who find medical relief from marijuana.

"We are gratified by Judge Katz's decision to recognize the central equal protection of law claim of the plaintiffs' class that it is fundamentally unfair, and apparently irrational for the United States government to supply therapeutic cannabis to a total of seven or eight Americans because it is medically necessary for their conditions, [but deny it to others,]" Hirsch said.

The federal Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) program began distributing marijuana cigarettes to select patients in 1978. The program ceased accepting new applicants in 1992, but continues to supply 300 marijuana cigarettes monthly to eight patients suffering from diseases such as glaucoma and epilepsy. Similar statewide programs also distributed medical marijuana to approximately 1,000 patients in the 1980s, but are no longer active.

Judge Katz dismissed in his ruling several other constitutional violations alleged by the plaintiffs.

NORML Legal Committee members Michael Cutler, Esq. of Boston Massachusetts and William Panzer, Esq. of Oakland, California have joined as co-counsel in the suit.

For more information, please contact either NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre or Litigation Director Tanya Kangas @ (202) 483-8751. Attorney Michael Cutler may be contacted @ (617) 739-9093 and William Panzer, Esq may be reached @ (510) 834-1892.