MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Ruling Allows Doctors to Recommend Usage
A federal judge in California ruled yesterday that physicians have a "constitutional right" to recommend marijuana to patients for medicinal use and banned the federal government from revoking doctors' licenses to prescribe medicine if they recommend the drug, the San Jose Mercury News reports. U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup wrote in his decision, "Physicians have a legitimate need to discuss with and to recommend to their patients all medically acceptable forms of treatment. If such recommendations could not be communicated, then the physician-patient relationship would be seriously impaired." He added that the government cannot investigate doctors who make such recommendations, even if the physician "anticipates that the recommendation will, in turn, be used by the patient to obtain marijuana in violation of federal law." The ruling is the latest in the battle over Proposition 215, a voter initiative passed in 1996 that allows patients with "chronic, debilitating illnesses," like AIDS and cancer, to legally use marijuana following a doctor's recommendation. The ACLU filed the class-action suit alleging that the government was violating physicians' free speech rights. ACLU attorney Graham Boyd said, "This decision draws a very clear, bright line in protecting doctors who recommend marijuana. The bottom line is that with this order, doctors and patients can once again freely discuss marijuana without fear of federal punishment." California doctors also praised the ruling, as many said they were reluctant to recommend marijuana for fear of government retribution despite a 1997 temporary injunction issued against the government. Alsup's decision could have serious implications across the country, as Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have passed measures similar to Prop. 215 (Chiu, 9/8). Robert Weiner, spokesperson for White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey, said that McCaffrey and the Justice Department "will study and analyze the decision closely." The government has the option of appealing the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco (Purdum, New York Times, 9/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.