Newsbrief: Bill to Protect Medical Marijuana Patients Introduced in Senate 11/19/04

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For the first time, the US Senate will consider a bill designed to protect medical marijuana patients. Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Jim Jeffords (I-VT) have introduced the "Truth in Trials Act," which would protect patients in states that have recognized medical marijuana from federal prosecution if they are in compliance with state law.

The bill, S. 2989, is similar to H.R. 1717, the "Truth in Trials Act," that was introduced by a bipartisan coalition in the House last year. That bill was inspired in part by the prosecution of Ed Rosenthal, who was found guilty in federal court of marijuana cultivation after jurors were not allowed to hear evidence that he was working with local authorities and that the marijuana was for medical use.

Notably, two of the Senate bill's three sponsors are from Vermont, which in May became the ninth state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes ( Since then, one more state, Montana, has joined the roster.

"This is a narrowly-tailored bill," said Sen. Durbin in a statement introducing the measure. "Under this legislation, defendants in the ten states with medicinal marijuana laws could be found not guilty of violating federal law if their actions are done in compliance with state law."

Currently, medical marijuana growers or users charged under federal law are barred from raising the issue in their defense. This bill would change that by allowing defendants to present evidence their involvement with marijuana was for medical reasons and in accord with state laws.

"As it stands today, federal law denies medical marijuana defendants a basic right that every other defendant has, the right to explain what they did to the jury," said Robert Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (, in a statement greeting the bill's introduction. "If you shoot someone, you are allowed to explain why you did it, but if you're a disabled patient growing marijuana to relieve your pain and suffering, you can't. Jurors who could imprison someone for decades have a right to hear the whole truth, not a censored version that is stripped of facts the federal government doesn't like."

Read the bill, S. 2989, online by going to and typing in the bill number.

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Issue #363 , 11/19/04

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