- October 14 - In an historic victory for medical marijuana patients and doctors, the U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear Conant v. Walters, letting stand an appellate court ruling barring the federal government from punishing physicians who recommend medical marijuana to patients.
"By deciding not to hear this case, the Supreme Court has eliminated any doubt that states have the right to protect medical marijuana patients under state law, and that physicians have the right to give patients honest advice and recommendations, whether the federal government approves or not," said Robert Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.
At issue in Conant was the right of physicians to recommend marijuana to patients when they believe its use would be beneficial. After California voters passed the state's medical marijuana law, Proposition 215, in 1996, the federal government threatened to revoke the DEA registrations of physicians who recommend marijuana -- taking away their right to prescribe any controlled substance and effectively putting them out of business.
A group of California physicians and patients, led by AIDS specialist Marcus Conant, M.D., sued in federal court, arguing that physicians have a First Amendment right to freely discuss any potentially beneficial treatment with patients. The doctors and patients won on both the district court and appellate levels, winning a unanimous ruling in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Justice Department, led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit ruling.
In addition to California, medical use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation is legal in Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
"Because federal law bars physicians from writing marijuana prescriptions, the right of doctors to recommend marijuana is essential to these state medical marijuana laws," Kampia said. "By refusing to consider the government's appeal, the Supreme Court has recognized that doctors and patients have a right to honestly discuss potential treatments, including marijuana, and the First Amendment forbids the federal government from intruding into those conversations."
With more than 13,000 members nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. To this end, MPP focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their doctors.