ACLU Urges Supreme Court to Let Stand Ruling Allowing Doctors to Discuss Medical Marijuana

September 5, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW HAVEN – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a legal brief asking the United States Supreme Court to let stand a federal appeals court ruling that allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other life-threatening diseases.

“”What’s at issue is the ability of doctors to speak openly and honestly with their patients about marijuana as a viable therapy option,”” said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project. “”Patients deserve access to accurate information about its medicinal value in treating pain, nausea, wasting syndrome, and other symptoms of life-threatening diseases.””

Boyd represents 15 doctors and patients in California who have suffered as a result of the federal government’s threats to doctors regarding the discussion of marijuana as medicine. He argued the case successfully before a federal appeals court last year and will argue it before the Supreme Court if the Justices decide to review the ruling.

The case arose after California voters passed Proposition 215 in November 1996, which makes it legal for patients to grow and possess marijuana for medical use when a doctor recommends it. The Clinton administration reacted by threatening to revoke the licenses of physicians who recommended medical use of marijuana. The Bush Administration has continued that policy.

The ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance successfully challenged the policy in the lower courts, and in October 2002 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld that ruling. In a decision authored by Chief Judge Mary Schroeder, the court said that the government’s attempt to bar doctors from recommending medical marijuana “”does?strike at core First Amendment interests of doctors and patients,”” and that “”physicians must be able to speak frankly and openly to patients.””

The ACLU’s brief filed today urges the Supreme Court to allow that ruling to stand. The Supreme Court is expected to decide in early October whether or not to hear the federal government’s appeal.

Since the case was first filed in 1997, nine states have approved medical marijuana ballot initiatives or laws (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) and others are considering measures. Except for Maine and Colorado, every one of those states comes under the jurisdiction of the appeals court.

The case is Walters v. Conant, No. 03-40 (formerly Conant v. McCaffrey). The ACLU’s legal brief is online at /node/34908

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