In the early 1970’s the US government started giving medical marijuana joints to Robert Randall, who successfully sued the feds and forced them to supply him with pot. Without ingesting cannabis on a regular basis Randall would go blind from severe glaucoma. He was supplied with marijuana under the Compassionate Investigative New Drug (IND) program. Over the years, the government reluctantly added more patients to the program, until it abruptly stopped accepting new patients in 1992.
Now a massive lawsuit against the government could open up the program to many new patients, forcing the US feds to supply legal marijuana to some of their sickest and most desperate citizens.
A simple question
In July 1998, Philadelphia civil attorney and public-interest lawyer Lawrence Hirsch filed a class action suit “for freedom from government prohibition of therapeutic cannabis.” Representing 165 people from 49 states, Hirsch’s lengthy suit details the ailments of each of the plaintiffs, and how cannabis helped them where pharmaceuticals could not. The range of ailments includes AIDS, depression, Lou Gehrig’s disease, PMS, chronic pain, alcoholism, and many others. It also covers the history of cannabis in the US, and the arbitrary and unconstitutional nature of marijuana prohibition.
“It was a very simple question that we asked the government to answer,” Hirsch explains. “If eight people are thriving in the IND program, enjoying the medical benefits of marijuana, why aren’t these 165 people, and indeed the millions of other people who could benefit from marijuana, also allowed to be in the IND?”
According to Hirsch, the IND’s closure amounts to discrimination against all medical marijuana users who are not enrolled in the program.
A fair and compassionate judge
Federal attorneys were apparently overconfident and unprepared for Hirsch’s challenge. They seem to have assumed that the case, being heard by Federal Judge Marvin Katz in the US District Court in Philadelphia, would be summarily dismissed just because they asked for it to be.
Instead, Katz stunned the government’s lackeys by requiring that they provide documentation about the IND and why it was closed. After meeting many of the medically-disabled plaintiffs in the case, whose wheelchairs and nurses jammed the courtroom during the March hearings, Katz also decided to test the government’s assertion that medical marijuana was of no value.
Department of Justice attorney Arthur Goldberg admitted to Katz that he didn’t know how the IND program was founded, administered or closed. When Goldberg stated the tired old lie that marijuana was “highly susceptible to abuse” and had no medical value, many of the plaintiffs vocalized their displeasure at the obviously false assertion. Katz had to quiet the courtroom!
The hearing ended with Katz ruling against the government’s request that the case be summarily dismissed.
Hirsch, his co-attorneys and his plaintiffs are elated, and are anticipating a full trial sometime this summer.
“We are deeply indebted to Judge Katz,” Hirsch said. “It is hard to find a fair, compassionate and open-minded judge on the federal bench, but this man is a brilliant jurist who also has a kind heart.”
Gathering for the challenge
The patient-plaintiffs from across the nation had congregated upon the courtroom for the March court hearings. The call had gone out for funds, and donations were collected from a number of supporters. The largest donor by far was Marc Emery, publisher of Cannabis Culture, who gave several thousand dollars towards the challenge. Sixty-five patients made it to the courthouse for the hearing. Some could not attend because their medical conditions kept them from travelling, others because they were in jail for medical marijuana offences.
“Marc’s generosity came at just the right time,” said Hirsch. “We needed to be able to bring these patients into the courtroom and show the judge and the media the human effects of this discrimination. The government was offered a chance to settle the suit by providing 300 marijuana cigarettes a month to every person who qualifies for the IND. They wouldn’t agree, and I think they’ll regret it.”