Supreme Court Upholds Medical Marijuana Rights
October 14, 2003
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected an attempt by the Bush Administration to punish physicians who talk with their patients about medical use of marijuana. The Supreme Court has upheld lower court rulings that the First Amendment rights of doctors would be violated by the Administration’s plan to strip doctors of their licenses if they recommend marijuana to patients who might be helped by it.The plan was widely seen as an indirect attack on the medical marijuana laws nine states have passed, since all require a doctor’s recommendation for patients to use marijuana legally.
“Today’s ruling is a rebuke to this administration’s attempt to deny medical science and the will of the people,” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access. “If the law allows doctors to recommend a medicine, that medicine should be legally available.”
Shortly after California’s Compassionate Use Act (Prop. 215) passed by voter initiative in 1996, federal officials announced they intended to stop the new law by taking away the licenses of any physicians who told patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, or other ailments that marijuana might help them. Before the government could take action against any physicians, Dr. Marcus Conant, a San Francisco AIDS specialist, obtained a permanent injunction to keep the federal government from punishing doctors for giving advice.
The District Court ruled that the government’s plan would be a clear violation of free speech protections because the government is seeking to prohibit not just the content of physicians’ conversations but a specific point of view -- the medical opinion that it might help a particular patient’s condition. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in a unanimous decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court, in refusing to hear the government’s appeal, has given it final approval.
In addition to California, eight other states – Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington – have also passed laws allowing legal use of marijuana on a doctor’s advice. The appeal the Supreme Court declined to hear was Walters v. Conant (03-40).
To talk with Steph Sherer, concerned doctors, or medical marijuana patients about today’s momentous decision, contact Americans for Safe Access at (510) 251-1856.
A national coalition of 5,500 patients, doctors and advocates, Americans for Safe Access is the leading organization devoted to medical marijuana.