Pubdate: Tue, 09 Apr 2002
Source: Recorder, The (CA)
Copyright: 2002, NLP IP Company
Author: Greg Mitchell
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


A 9th Circuit panel sounded ready Monday to uphold an injunction that 
prohibits the federal government from investigating or punishing 
California doctors who recommend marijuana to patients.

Though it's possible the judges will send the case back to the trial 
court in light of last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision on medical 
marijuana, they expressed few reservations about the need for the 
injunction and seemed almost eager to keep it in place.

With Judge Alex Kozinski setting the tone, the panel hammered away at 
Department of Justice attorney Michael Stern, who argued the 
injunction has tied the government's hands from going after abuses.

"How is getting a note from your doctor," Kozinski asked him several 
times, "interfering with federal enforcement [of drug laws]? Be 

Stern said the laws could be undermined if doctors "encourage" 
patients to seek out marijuana.

But Kozinski said encouraging violations of the law is protected by 
the First Amendment. "You can do it all day long."

Conant v. Walters, 00-17222, was brought after the Clinton 
administration reacted to the passage of Proposition 215 by saying 
doctors who recommended marijuana to patients could lose their 
licenses to prescribe drugs.

Prop 215 provides a defense under state law for patients who use or 
purchase marijuana with a physician's recommendation. The 
recommendation needn't be in writing.

A group of doctors, led by UCSF's Dr. Marcus Conant, filed suit 
saying the Clinton policy interfered in the doctor-patient 
relationship. In September 2000, U.S. District Judge William Alsup 
permanently enjoined the government from either "revoking a 
class-member physician's DEA registration merely because the doctor 
recommends medical marijuana to a patient based on a sincere medical 
judgment" or "initiating any investigation solely on that ground."

9th Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder was skeptical of the government's 
position Monday, noting that a doctor's recommendation isn't the same 
as a prescription. "This really does sweep much more broadly," she 

"But the injunction sweeps broader," Stern countered, repeating his 
argument that the injunction goes far beyond protecting doctors who 
simply answer questions about marijuana.

Senior Judge Betty Fletcher asked Stern what he believed doctors 
could legally tell patients about marijuana.

But his examples, heavy with caveats, did little to satisfy the panel.

Kozinski told Stern that his "embellishments" and "hedging" made him 
"nervous," and asked him what a doctor could say about marijuana 
without any caveats.

"I don't really know," Stern said.

"How do you expect doctors to practice medicine," Kozinski asked, "if 
you don't really know?"

Referring to Ashcroft's Justice Department, which inherited the case 
from the Clinton administration, Kozinski then asked, "Why on earth 
does an administration that is committed to federalism ... want to go 
to these lengths to put doctors in jail?"

Stern's opponent, the American Civil Liberties Union's Graham Boyd, 
had a much easier time. The only tough question Kozinski asked was if 
he knew how to reach the author of one of the many amicus briefs. 
Kozinski was impressed, he told Boyd, by declarations submitted by 
four patients who receive marijuana as part of a federal program. "I 
thought it was very brave of them to do that," he said.

Judge Schroeder, meanwhile, asked Boyd if the case should be sent 
back to Alsup in light of the decision last year in U.S. v. Oakland 
Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 
8-0 that medical necessity wasn't a valid defense under federal law.

Boyd said the injunction wasn't related to or based on lower court 
rulings in that case, and so didn't require remand.

At one point, Boyd tried to draw a parallel between medical marijuana 
and contraception, which was illegal in many states until the U.S. 
Supreme Court intervened 40 years ago.

But Kozinski and Schroeder waved him off that path after noting some 

"Let's just not go there," Schroeder suggested.
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