MEDICINAL MARIJUANA: ADMINISTRATION TO PROSECUTE DOCTORS
Following "an intense and sometimes unwieldy" six-weekThis is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.
debate over how the federal government should respond to recently
passed ballot initiatives in California and Arizona allowing for
the medical use of marijuana and other illegal drugs (see AHL
11/6), federal officials have decided that they will not file
suit to block either of the measures. Instead, "they plan to
prosecute and strip prescription licenses from doctors who help
supply such drugs to even seriously ill people," according to the
NEW YORK TIMES. The Clinton administration "will undertake a
public-relations offensive to reiterate the health dangers of
illegal drugs, leave it to state and local police to arrest
people for marijuana possession, and focus federal law-
enforcement efforts on the doctors who help to provide otherwise
illegal drugs and the dealers who distribute them." Gen. Barry
McCaffrey, who heads the Office of National Drug Control Policy,
sent the recommendations to President Clinton Friday.
ON DOCTORS: "The plan to move against the doctors -- both
by revoking the Drug Enforcement Administration registration they
need to prescribe controlled drugs, and, in more serious cases,
by prosecuting them - is the centerpiece of" McCaffrey's
recommendations. Federal law enforcement officials said they
will "seek out doctors who become the source of drug
recommendations for many patients, using surveillance and
informers if they cannot identify suspects by word-of-mouth, news
articles and the Internet." They said doctors "could be
prosecuted under laws against conspiring to distribute drugs,
drug possession and improper record-keeping." Individuals
arrested "with small amounts of marijuana will be able to argue
in court that they had a medical authorization for the drugs,"
but will then "have to identify their doctor." Under current
federal law, the attorney general can revoke, deny or suspend a
physician's license to prescribe if the doctor "acts in a manner
'inconsistent with the public interest.'" TIMES notes, however,
that "[t]he sanction would not necessarily affect a doctor's
license to practice medicine." While some doctors advocate the
use of marijuana for certain medical conditions, "national
medical and health associations generally reject its use," TIMES
OTHER PROVISIONS: The plan also calls for the Department of
Health and Human Services to launch a campaign to "discredit the
notion that smoking marijuana has medicinal benefits" and suggest
that other governmental agencies "remind Americans that the
medical use of marijuana and other drugs will not be accepted as
an excuse in the application of drug-testing laws to airline
pilots, truck drivers, members of the armed forces, and others."
Officials involved with formulating the policy said the president
was likely to approve some of its "basic elements" as proposed.
The administration's formal policy announcement is expected
sometime early next year (Golden, 12/23).