Calif. Docs Can Recommend Marijuana

Monday, September 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The government cannot penalize California doctors who recommend marijuana for medical purposes under the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law by revoking their prescription licenses, a federal judge has ruled.

The order by U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup Thursday came a month after the federal government said it would resist the law, known as Proposition 215.

Alsup wrote that the Department of Justice is permanently prohibited from revoking licenses to dispense medication ``merely because the doctor recommends medical marijuana to a patient based on a sincere medical judgment and from initiating any investigation solely on that ground.''

He also wrote that his order applies even if ``the physician anticipates that the recommendation will, in turn, be used by the patient to obtain marijuana in violation of federal law.''

``We really cannot comment this evening,'' Department of Justice spokeswoman Gretchen Michael said. ``We haven't seen the judge's order yet.''

The ruling could have broad implications for several states with similar laws. It was the latest development in a conflict between federal narcotics laws and the California initiative approved by voters in 1996.

The state initiative allows seriously ill patients to grow and use marijuana for pain relief, with a doctor's recommendation, without state penalties. But federal law says marijuana has no medical purposes and cannot be administered safely under medical supervision.

Initiatives similar to California's have been passed in Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit, contended that the government's position violates doctors' free speech rights, and that many doctors were resisting recommending pot for fear of losing their federal right to prescribe medication.

``This is important because doctors and patients can feel free to discuss marijuana as an option,'' said Graham Boyd, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.