MEDICAL MARIJUANA: ADMINISTRATION WARNS PHYSICIANS
Clinton administration officials announced Monday thatThis is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.
physicians in Arizona and California who prescribe marijuana for
their patients "could lose their prescription-writing privileges
and even face criminal charges" (AP/NEW YORK TIMES, 12/31).
"Noting the sharp rise of illegal drug use among adolescents,"
and saying there is "no scientific evidence" of health benefits
from marijuana, officials "labeled recent state measures
legalizing the medical use of marijuana as 'hoax initiatives'"
(Elsasser, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 12/31). Retired Gen. Barry
McCaffrey, the administration's drug czar, said, "These two
propositions simply do no affect federal law. ... These
propositions are not about compassion, they are about legalizing
dangerous drugs" (AP/TIMES, 12/31).
IN THE MAIL: The administration said "it will send out
letters warning possible sanctions against doctors, federal
contractors and others who invoke" the new state measures.
However, officials "acknowledged" that the administration "lacks
the resources and the legal authority for a more aggressive
crackdown." The administration's response highlights existing
laws banning marijuana use, "but does not propose any new
legislation, deployments of law enforcement officers or spending
plans" (Suro, WASHINGTON POST, 12/31).
LIVING IN FEAR: Doctors in Arizona and California "who
supported [the] ballot initiatives ... now say they will refuse
to recommend the drug for fear of jeopardizing" their medical
careers, WASHINGTON POST reports. Physicians are "worried about
the potential consequences of losing federal licenses to write
prescriptions and being excluded from the Medicare and Medicaid
programs or federal contracts or grants." Richard Cohen, an
oncologist and "active" supporter of California's Proposition
215, said, "There's no way I can recommend it now without risking
my livelihood. It's a threat to my license to write
prescriptions, and if I can't write prescriptions, I'm out of
business" (Claiborne, 1/1).
THE BATTLE: USA TODAY reports that the administration's
announcement was the "first shot in the war that began" when the
two ballot measures passed in November (Johnson, 12/31 - 1/1).
Supporters of California's Proposition 215 "said they're prepared
to go to court to defend it," noting that "they'll argue that
federal attempts to take physicians' licenses or to prosecute
them" would violate doctors' free speech rights. Bill Zimmerman,
who managed the Proposition 215 campaign, said, "We think the
federal government doesn't have the authority to tell doctors
what they can say or not say to their patients" (Villarreal, LOS
ANGELES DAILY NEWS, 1/2).