More MS news articles for August 2000

U.S. Pledges to Resist State's Medical Marijuana Law

Court: Government vows to penalize doctors who recommend pot. ACLU suit says that violates free speech.

From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO--The Department of Justice pledged Thursday to continue resisting California's voter-approved medical marijuana law, arguing that the government has the right to penalize doctors who recommend cannabis by revoking their licenses to dispense medication.

Justice Department lawyers argued their position in U.S. District Court here during what may be the final stage of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU contends that the government's position violates doctors' free speech rights, and that many doctors now resist recommending pot for fear of losing their federal right to prescribe medication.

U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup was expected to rule within weeks, lawyers said, and the ruling could have broad implications for several states with similar laws.

Measures similar to California's Proposition 215, which voters approved in 1996, have passed in Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state.

Department of Justice lawyer Joseph W. Lobue told the judge that the government doesn't care whether California voters approved the so-called Compassionate Use Act, which allows patients to grow and possess marijuana for medical use with a doctor's recommendation.

"It doesn't matter what California says," Lobue argued.

Arguing that federal law applies to the country no matter how states may have voted, Lobue said the government would take the same position "in Oklahoma if they had that law."

Legal jockeying in California began three years ago when White House drug policy chief Barry McCaffrey said that doctors who recommended marijuana would lose their federal licenses to prescribe controlled substances. He said the doctors would be excluded from Medicare and Medicaid and could face criminal charges.

"That is censorship in its pure and complete form," ACLU attorney Graham Boyd said Thursday.

In 1997, a federal judge issued a temporary order prohibiting the government from taking such action pending the case's resolution.

Ten doctors and five of their patients, all of whom are represented by the ACLU, say marijuana can be beneficial to patients with AIDS, HIV, cancer, glaucoma and seizures or muscle spasms associated with chronic, debilitating conditions.

The government's position is that marijuana has no proven medical benefits and that the Federal Drug Administration has not authorized doctors to even recommend it.