Federal Court of Appeals Unanimously Upholds Doctor’s Right to Recommend Medical Marijuana to their Patients

Press Release October 28, 2002
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 510-208-7711

In a unanimous decision, the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled that doctors have the right to openly recommend or approve to marijuana as treatment to their patients. Patients are likewise free to receive this information. The decision upheld a lower court’s injunction prohibiting the Federal Government from threatening physicians with losing their licenses to prescribe medications should the doctor recommend, or even discuss, medical marijuana use with their patients.

“The 9th Circuit rebuffed the Federal Government’s attempt to gag physicians from speaking with their patients about something that our Drug Czar and Attorney General don’t like – medical marijuana” says Daniel N. Abrahamson, Director of Legal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Court went on to debunk the Justice Department’s claims that marijuana has no medical usefulness – citing a large body of medical research to the contrary.”

The Court went out of its way to note the abundance of medical research supporting the medicinal qualities of marijuana. Judge Kozinski cites extensive data from the White House Office of National Drug Control commissioned study put out by the National Institute of Medicine of the national Academy of Sciences (1999) which concluded that “scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation”, thereby validating the benefits of marijuana in a medical setting.

This decision gives the green light to physicians across the country to discuss the potential advantages of marijuana for symptom alleviation, and recommend its use where appropriate. Patients residing in any of the eight states that has legalized medical marijuana use can use their physicians’ recommendations for medical marijuana to shield themselves from state prosecution. These eight states are California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Maine and Hawaii.

In repudiating the Justice Department’s attempt to sanction physicians, the court emphasized that it is the job of physicians to treat their patients, and it is the role of the State, not the Federal Government, to regulate the practice of medicine. The court noted that it falls within the State’s power to regulate the doctor-patient relationship, as well as to permit patients to use medical marijuana under state law: the federal government cannot “commandeer” this power from the states.

The ruling in the Conant case is in response to the zealous efforts of Attorney General, John Ashcroft, and the Drug Czar, John Walters, to prevent patients from learning about or using medical marijuana as part of the federal government’s “war on drugs.”

In 1996, by popular vote, Californians passed Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act, declaring that laws against marijuana possession and cultivation “shall not apply to a patient, or to a patient’s primary caregiver, who possesses or cultivates marijuana … upon the written or oral recommendation or approval of a physician.” The Federal Government, however, threatened to punish physicians who recommended medical marijuana pursuant to state law.

ATTENTION JOURNALISTS: Drug Policy Alliance spokespeople are available for interviews or for further information. Please contact Tony Newman at 510-208-7711.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

Sign up for updates from DPA.