U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Doctors

Press Release October 13, 2003
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Tony Newman at 212-613-8026 or Shayna Samuels at 646-523-6961

Tuesday, October 14 — In a major victory for doctors and seriously ill patients who rely on marijuana to relieve their suffering, the U.S. Supreme Court today decided not to review a lower court’s decision which upheld a medical doctor’s right to recommend medical marijuana to his or her patients. Both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush have tried to stop medical marijuana in states that have approved it by threatening to remove the license of any doctor who even mentions medical marijuana to a patient.

Today’s decision by the Supreme Court was in response 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. The Ninth Circuit is the largest of the 13 federal circuits, and includes all federal courts in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The 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.

“Federal police don’t belong in a doctor’s office,” said Daniel N. Abrahamson, Director of Legal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Patients’ rights and the will of state voters have both been vindicated today.” 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 lead 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. Under today’s decision, the federal government’s intrusion into this system should come to and end.”

Currently ten states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, 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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