Several Editorials Express Support for Recent Court Ruling on Medical Marijuana
In light of a federal court ruling Tuesday that doctors cannot be prosecuted for recommending their patients use marijuana, the federal government should "abandon its misguided policy of targeting doctors and sick people" in its fight against the drug, the New York Times states in an editorial (New York Times, 10/31). In the decision, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco unanimously ruled that the federal government may not investigate or revoke the licenses of physicians who recommend marijuana use for sick patients. The decision -- which affects California, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington but not states outside the 9th Circuit's jurisdiction -- upheld a 1999 U.S. District Court decision that prevented federal prosecutors from punishing doctors who told patients that smoking marijuana could be "medically beneficial." The court panel added, however, that "prescribing" marijuana to a patient, as opposed to recommending it, would violate the law because while dispensing information is protected by the First Amendment, dispensing illegal drugs is not (California Healthline, 10/30). The decision "vindicate[es]" the speech rights of physicians and patients and should "prompt federal and state governments to reconsider" their medical marijuana policies, the Times states, concluding, "If the government wants to go after those who buy and sell marijuana, it should go after them directly and not suppress protected speech as a back-door means of enforcing drug laws" (New York Times, 10/31).
The "legal haze" around medical marijuana is "a little clearer" thanks to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to allow doctors to "speak in favor" of using marijuana, a Sacramento Bee editorial states. While the ruling does not "clear up" the conflicts between state and federal laws, including whether patients can buy and possess marijuana, the ruling does keep the doctor-patient relationship "above the legal fray," the Bee writes. According to the editorial, the court rightly viewed the case as "about doctors and free speech" and not medical marijuana. The editorial concludes, "Surely there are more fertile fields for the Bush administration to plow in the war against drugs than to go after these patients and their physicians" (Sacramento Bee, 11/1).
The appeals court decision on medical marijuana was a "common-sense ruling ... on a common-sense law," according to a Tennessean editorial. The law is "rooted in a worthy medical approach that any reasonable assessment would applaud." A doctor recommending the use of medical marijuana is "not the same as actually prescribing a drug." Instead, the physician is offering "advice," and the court was "right to see it that way." The Tennessean continues, "No doctor should feel prohibited to speak freely to a patient about the effects of engaging in a legal activity. ... The court is right to uphold that aspect of the law." The editorial concludes, "Other states should consider the ruling for the important protection it represents" (Tennessean, 11/1).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.