A federal judge has dismissed a Redding doctor's First Amendment lawsuit in which he accused law enforcement officials of targeting him because he was an outspoken cannabis advocate who recommended marijuana to patients. Dr. Philip Denney says he plans to appeal the decision handed down recently by Senior Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of the U.S. Eastern District Court in Sacramento.

"We feel this is definitely not over," Denney said. "We feel that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is going to be very interested in reading the matter." Denney claims that federal law enforcement officials teamed with Redding police, the Shasta County District Attorney's Office and others to target him during their investigation of Dixon Herbs, a marijuana dispensary that agents busted and shut down in December 2005.

In a suit filed in November 2006, Denney alleged an informant and an ATF agent visited his office on separate occasions, gave false identification, reported chronic pain and received written recommendations for marijuana. Denney said the agents wrote in their report they debated wearing a wire to their sessions with the doctor. The agents then went to the Redding herb store and bought medical marijuana, according to court documents.

Denney alleges that his practice was targeted because he’s a vocal medical marijuana advocate who frequently recommends the drug. Being targeted by agents because of his advocacy is a violation of rights protected by the First Amendment, the state law that legalized medical marijuana and a Ninth Circuit ruling that guaranteed a doctor’s right to recommend it to patients, he said.

Lawyers for the various law enforcement agencies named in the suit said Denney was never the target of the investigation. Rather, his office was chosen because of convenience and because employees at Dixon Herbs had recommended the informants go there to get a doctor’s recommendation for medicinal cannabis.

“We were not out to get him,” Redding police Capt. Peter Hansen said Friday. “What he was doing, even though we may not agree with it, was in compliance with the law. He wasn’t the focus of the investigation.”

In his ruling late last month, Karlton agreed that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the agents went to the doctor’s office because he was so outspoken, nor was there enough evidence to say they singled him out from other physicians who also prescribed medicinal pot.

But Denney said he thinks judges on the Ninth Circuit might see the issue differently, considering they were the ones who originally ruled that doctors could discuss the drug with their patients and recommend its use.

“If he wants to continue taking it up, we’ll continue fighting it because they’re absolutely no merit to his claim,” said Shasta County District Attorney Jerry Benito.

Doctors have been able to recommend marijuana in California to patients since 1996, despite federal laws that say it’s illegal. Doctors may be able to “recommend” the drug in written form, but they are forbidden from writing a formal marijuana prescription, nor can they assist patients in obtaining marijuana or grow it for their patients to use.

Source: redding.com
Copyright: 2008, redding.com
Contact: Reporter Ryan Sabalow, rsabalow@redding.com
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