Supreme Court Lets Stand Ruling Protecting Doctors and Patients From Government Censorship

October 14, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK -- The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed the Supreme Court's decision to let stand a federal court of appeals ruling that allows doctors to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to patients. Today's announcement effectively upholds the medical marijuana provisions of seven states within the Ninth Circuit, where the original ruling was made.

""The Supreme Court's action today protects doctors and patients from government censorship of open and honest discussions in the exam room,"" said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project, who argued the ruling in the Ninth Circuit. ""Patients deserve access to accurate information about all possible medicines from their doctors, including medical marijuana.""

Boyd and others represent 15 doctors and patients in California who have suffered as a result of the federal government's threats to doctors regarding the discussion of marijuana as medicine. In the decision upheld by the Supreme Court, Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary Schroeder stated that the government's attempt to bar doctors from recommending medical marijuana strikes at ""core First Amendment interests of doctors and patients"" to speak frankly and openly.

The case arose after California voters passed Proposition 215 in November 1996, making it legal for patients to grow and possess marijuana for medical use when a doctor recommends it. The Clinton administration reacted by threatening to revoke the licenses of physicians who recommended medical use of marijuana. The Bush Administration continued that policy.

Dr. Marcus Conant, lead plaintiff in this case and AIDS specialist, said today's announcement ""means that I can do my job again and have real conversations with my patients about medical marijuana as part of their treatment options.""

Another plaintiff, Judith Cushner, a breast cancer survivor, said, ""It's good to know that the federal government can't gag my doctors anymore and that I can get straight answers from them about every aspect of my medical care.""

Since the case was first filed in 1997, nine states have approved medical marijuana ballot initiatives or laws (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) and others are considering measures.

The case is Walters v. Conant No. 03-40 (formerly Conant v. McCaffrey). The ACLU's legal brief and other case information is online at /node/16971

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