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Newshawk: Stop Hatch-Feinstein
Pubdate: Sat, 05 Aug 2000
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2000 The Register-Guard
Contact: rgletters@guardnet.com
Address: PO Box 10188, Eugene, OR 97440-2188


SAN FRANCISCO - The Clinton administration is continuing its war against California's
medical marijuana law, arguing in federal court that doctors who recommend the drug should
lose their authority to prescribe legal medicines.

"It doesn't matter what California says," Justice Department lawyer Joseph Lobue said
Thursday at a hearing on a suit seeking to protect doctors from punishment for advising their
patients to use marijuana. "There is a national standard."

A doctor who tells a patient that marijuana is the best remedy available for nausea or other
effects of treatments for cancer and AIDS "has recommended use of a drug that has been
found to be unsafe" by Congress and the Food and Drug Administration, Lobue said. He
likened it to a lawyer's recommending that a client commit perjury.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup must decide whether to extend, expand or withdraw an
order issued by another judge in 1997 barring the federal government from acting against
California doctors who recommended marijuana to their patients under the 1996 medical
marijuana initiative, Proposition 215.

The initiative allowed patients to use marijuana, based on a doctor's recommendation, without
risking prosecution under state drug laws. As a state measure, however, it could not override
federal laws against marijuana distribution.

The Clinton administration's drug policy chief, Barry McCaffrey, opposed Prop. 215 and
announced after its passage that any doctors who prescribed or recommended marijuana
would lose their federal licenses to prescribe drugs, would be excluded from Medicare and
MediCal and could face criminal prosecution.

That prompted a lawsuit by a group of doctors and their patients, who said the government
was violating their freedom of speech.

U.S. District Judge Fern Smith issued an injunction protecting doctors, which will remain in
effect until Alsup rules.

On another front, the Justice Department moved to shut down marijuana cooperatives and
clubs that blossomed across the state to distribute the drug to patients after Prop. 215.

Last month, however, a federal judge ruled that the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative
could provide marijuana to seriously ill patients who had no effective legal therapy available.

The Clinton administration has asked the Supreme Court to overturn an appellate ruling that
laid the foundation for the Oakland decision by recognizing a defense of ``medical necessity''
against federal drug prosecutions.

At Thursday's hearing, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Graham Boyd told Alsup that
many doctors remained afraid even to discuss marijuana with their patients, despite Smith's

"There is nothing that favors use of marijuana that a physician can say and not risk
punishment," Boyd said. "That is censorship."