California’s medical marijuana law survived yesterday when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider a Bush administration plan to punish doctors who recommend the drug to their patients, the San Francisco Chronicle says. Left intact ws a federal appeals court ruling that doctors and patients have the constitutional right to discuss the subject without fear of federal penalties against the physicians. The government had sought to revoke the doctors’ licenses to prescribe federally regulated narcotics and disqualify them from the Medicare program.
Dr. Milton Estes of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said he hadn’t seen such a serious federal threat against doctors since the days when some physicians were prosecuted for performing abortions.
John Walters, director of the White Office of Drug Control Policy, said the case dealt only with doctor-patient relationships and that the cultivation and sale of marijuana remains a federal crime. “It remains the charge of every responsible public official and medical professional to continue to protect the health of American citizens and reduce the harms caused by marijuana and other dependency-producing drugs,” he said.
Yesterday’s high court action involved just one aspect of Proposition 215, the 1996 California initiative that allowed patients with cancer, AIDS and other illnesses to use marijuana with a doctor’s approval. The federal government has won a series of court rulings limiting the scope of the measure, the model for laws in eight other states.
Federal authorities have shut down local dispensaries, raided growers and prosecuted medical marijuana suppliers. Federal courts have upheld those efforts, relying on the federal law that bans marijuana and recognizes no legitimate medical use. But marijuana remains widely available to medical patients, and the state continues to support medical marijuana. Under a new law, California will issue cards so medical marijuana patients can identify themselves to police as legitimate users.