A federal appeals court in California this week struck an important blow for medical marijuana, and for the First Amendment. It held that the government cannot revoke the licenses of doctors who recommend marijuana to their patients. The federal government should now abandon its misguided policy of targeting doctors and sick people to fight marijuana use. The ruling gives new life to the medical marijuana initiative, also known as Proposition 215, which California voters passed in 1996.
The law permits seriously ill people to use marijuana on the advice of their physicians, and it says that doctors may not be punished for recommending marijuana to their patients. Shortly after it became law, the federal government announced it would use its authority under the Controlled Substances Act to revoke the prescription licenses of doctors who recommended marijuana to a patient. The appeals court rightly held that the policy strikes at 'core First Amendment interests of doctors and patients,' by interfering with doctors' ability to give honest and candid medical advice. If the government wants to go after those who buy and sell marijuana, it should go after them directly and not suppress protected speech as a back-door means of enforcing drug laws. The decision, in addition to vindicating the speech rights of doctors and patients, should prompt federal and state governments to reconsider their policies on medical marijuana. The war on drugs surely has better targets than cancer patients and terminally ill people who use marijuana, on the advice of doctors, to reduce their pain.