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The Clinton administration's three-year battle to prevent the use of marijuana as medicine as
allowed under California law got a well-deserved rebuke this month. A federal judge wisely
ruled that the administration could not punish doctors who recommend the benefits of
marijuana to their patients. Such a policy, wrote Judge William Alsup, raises "severe First
Amendment doubts."

Proposition 215, approved by voters in California in 1996, made it legal for seriously ill
patients to obtain and use marijuana when that therapy was recommended by a doctor.
Seven other states have since enacted similar measures. Marijuana possession remains illegal
under federal drug laws. But the federal government seldom prosecutes medical marijuana
users because the quantities are small and juries tend to sympathize with seriously ill
individuals. Instead the administration has tried to circumvent the California law by
threatening doctors who recommend marijuana with the loss of their federal licenses to
prescribe drugs.

A class action was brought by California doctors and AIDS and cancer patients who want to
use marijuana to curb nausea and weight loss. The suit charged the federal government with
interfering with patient-doctor communications and violating free speech rights. Judge Alsup
ruled that the federal government could not revoke drug licenses merely because a doctor
makes a legitimate medical judgment, even if the doctor's recommendation could then be used
by a patient to obtain marijuana under Proposition 215 in violation of federal law.

As the judge sensibly noted, a doctor may well make a recommendation for marijuana
without leading anyone to commit a federal crime. A patient armed with that
recommendation might lobby for a change in federal drug laws, or enroll in a federally
approved experimental marijuana therapy program, or even travel to a country where medical
marijuana use is legal. Besides, it is the patient and not the doctor who procures the drug.

Last year a report by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of
Sciences, found that ingredients in marijuana can be effective for treating some symptoms
associated with AIDS. It recommended development of better delivery systems, such as
inhalers or patches. In the interim, it said that people who do not respond to other therapies
should be allowed to smoke marijuana in controlled situations. The Clinton administration
should stop threatening doctors and make marijuana available to sick individuals who need

MAP posted-by: Richard Lake
Newshawk: Robert Field Common Sense for Drug Policy
Pubdate: Wed, 20 Sep 2000
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2000 The New York Times Company
Contact: letters@nytimes.com
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Forum: http://forums.nytimes.com/comment/