Pubdate: Wed, 15 Oct 2003
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2003 The Baltimore Sun, a Times Mirror Newspaper.
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


The supreme court sent a strong signal yesterday that it agrees with
those who think the federal anti-marijuana campaign has gone overboard.

In an attempt to thwart the growing movement toward legalizing
marijuana for medical use, federal officials sought to yank
prescription licenses from physicians who recommend or even discuss
the potential benefits of the drug with patients. But the high court
refused yesterday to even listen to arguments about why it should
overturn an appeals court ruling blocking punishment or investigation
of such doctors.

Thus, without taking a formal position on the broader policy, the
court has allowed states the leeway to make their own decisions about
whether to make pot available to sick people. Further, it refrained
from intervening in the doctor-patient relationship to censor
physicians' advice.

President Bush's drug czar, John P. Walters, who has built
enthusiastically on anti-marijuana policies launched during the
Clinton administration, should take the hint from the court and
practice restraint.

Mr. Walters is convinced medical use of marijuana is just a scam by
potheads who want to legalize the drug for recreational purposes. He
has used his official pulpit and taxpayer money to lobby fiercely
against state legislation allowing doctors to prescribe pot for
patients with cancer, AIDS and other devastating ailments who are
seeking relief from pain and nausea.

Despite Mr. Walters' protests, nine states have passed such laws.
Maryland took a smaller step this year by reducing the criminal
penalty for marijuana possession to a $100 fine for defendants who can
prove they have a medical need for the drug.

But the practical value of these state laws hinged heavily on the
outcome of the case in California, where federal officials tried to
void a medical marijuana exemption by punishing doctors who took
advantage of it to recommend the drug for the patients.

In its ruling in the case, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said
physicians could be prosecuted for helping patients obtain marijuana
because it is still illegal under federal law. But it affirmed the
free speech rights of doctors to speak candidly to patients without
fear of government reprisal.

The high court's decision to let that ruling stand is only a milestone
in a long-running saga, but an important one worth applauding.
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