U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Whether to Hear Case Upholding Doctors

Press Release October 8, 2003
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 212-613-8026 or Shayna Samuels at 646-523-6961

On Tuesday, October 14 the U.S. Supreme Court will announce whether or not they will hear a case upholding a medical doctor’s right to recommend medical marijuana to his or her patients.

The Supreme Court is responding to a request by the Solicitor General to review last year’s unanimous decision by the Federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that doctors have the right to recommend or approve marijuana as treatment to their seriously ill patients. Patients are free to receive this information. This case — Conant v. Walters — upheld a lower court’s injunction prohibiting the Federal Government from threatening physicians with revoking their licenses to prescribe medications should the doctor recommend, or even discuss, medical marijuana use with their patients.

“The First Amendment protects doctor-patient speech,” said Daniel N. Abrahamson, Director of Legal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “The war on drugs should not be turned into a war against doctors and patients. The Conant case is not about the distribution of drugs, but the dissemination of medical information.” The Alliance, the nation’s leading organization working to end the war on drugs, helped initiate the class action lawsuit on behalf of California’s physicians and patients. Along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Alliance is leading the legal efforts challenging the federal policy that threatened the licenses of physicians who recommended medical use of marijuana.

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 physicians who recommend medical marijuana pursuant to state law. The patients involved in the Conant case suffer from cancer, AIDS and other serious illnesses, and rely on their physician’s candid and uncensored medical judgment to treat their debilitating and often life-threatening conditions.

“The State of California has developed a well-structured and thorough process through which it ensures the proper implementation of Prop 215,” Abrahamson said. “It has always been, and should continue to be, the state’s role to police the medical profession while balancing the First Amendment rights of doctors and patients. The federal government’s intrusion into this system is unwarranted and, if permitted, would undermine rather than promote patient health and medical confidentiality.”

Currently nine states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) have legalized some form of medical marijuana.

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

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