Supreme Court Rejects Anti-marijuana Case

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court rejected an appeal that
jeopardized state medical marijuana laws that allow ill patients to
smoke pot if they get a doctor's recommendation.

Justices turned down the Bush administration's request to consider
whether the federal government can punish doctors for recommending or
perhaps even talking about the benefits of the drug to sick patients.
An appeals court said they cannot.

Nine states have laws legalizing marijuana for patients with physician
recommendations or prescriptions: Alaska, Arizona, California,
Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, and 35 states
have passed legislation recognizing marijuana's medicinal value. But
federal law bans the use of pot under any circumstances.

The case gave the court an opportunity to review its second medical
marijuana case in two years. The last one involved cannabis clubs.

This one presented a more difficult issue, pitting free-speech rights
of doctors against government power to keep physicians from
encouraging illegal drug use. A ruling for the administration would
have made the state medical marijuana laws unusable.

Some California doctors and patients, in filings at the Supreme Court,
compared doctor information on pot to physicians' advice on "red wine
to reduce the risk of heart disease, Vitamin C, acupuncture, or
chicken soup."

The administration, which has taken a hard stand against the state
laws, argued that public heath -- not the First Amendment free-speech
rights of doctors or patients -- was at stake.

"The provision of medical advice -- whether it be that the patient
take aspirin or vitamin C, lose or gain weight, exercise or rest,
smoke or refrain from smoking marijuana -- is not pure speech. It is
the conduct of the practice of medicine. As such, it is subject to
reasonable regulation," Solicitor General Theodore Olson said in court
papers.

Some people had expected the Supreme Court to step into the case,
which comes from California, the battleground over the subject.

Keith Vines, a prosecutor in San Francisco who used marijuana to
overcome HIV-related illnesses, was among those who challenged a
policy, put in place during the Clinton administration. That policy
requires the revocation of federal prescription licenses of doctors
who recommend marijuana.

"If the government is zipping them up, and we're not being told about
options, that's negligence," Vines said.

Policy supporters contend that the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration must be allowed to protect the public.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that
physicians should be able to speak candidly with patients without fear
of government sanctions, but they can be punished if they actually
help patients obtain the drug.

Doctors fear losing their prescription-writing powers, which would put
them out of business.

"It's taking the culture war issue of the moment and using it in a way
that could undermine the First Amendment, medical profession, and
patients' well-being," said Graham Boyd, an American Civil Liberties
Union attorney representing patients, doctors, and other groups.

The case is Walters v. Conant, 03-40.

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On the Net:

Supreme Court case file: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/docket/03-40.htm


Pubdate: Tue, 14 Oct 2003
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2003 Associated Press
Source: Press, The (OH)
Copyright: 2003 The Press, Metro Press
Contact: news@presspublications.com
Website: Pages of the Press