Pubdate: Wed, 15 Oct 2003
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2003 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Author: Joshua L. Weinstein, Portland Press Herald Writer
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Cited: Drug Policy Alliance
Cited: Maine Medical Association
Bookmark: (Walters v. Conant)


The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a position long held
by the Maine Medical Association: That physicians cannot be punished
for recommending some of their patients use marijuana.

Maine is one of nine states that have legalized marijuana for
medicinal purposes and one of eight affected by the court's decision

"This case, if ever there was a case, ought to make physicians feel
absolutely comfortable in speaking candidly with patients about
medical marijuana," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs
for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Whether the doctors are in Maine or
whether they're in California, they should have the First Amendment
right to speak candidly with patients about medical marijuana."

Gordon Smith, the executive director of the Maine Medical Association,
said "it's a decision that medicine across the country anticipated and
is pleased to get. If it had gone the other way, it's marijuana today
and some other type of therapeutic modality tomorrow. Most of medicine
will be happy with the decision."

The decision was a defeat for the Bush administration, which wanted to
prohibit doctors from recommending marijuana, or perhaps talking about
its benefits. An appellate court ruled in 2002 that the government
cannot revoke doctors' prescription licenses over the issue, and the
Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to review that ruling.

Tuesday, the Supreme Court declined the invitation. By not reviewing
the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that the Justice
Department's policy violated doctors' right of free speech, justices
effectively said that physicians across the country are allowed to
talk about, and recommend, marijuana.

The case, Conant v. Walters "should put an end to this question," said
James M. Cameron, a Maine assistant attorney general. "This decision
is significant in that it does stand for the proposition that doctors
can speak freely to their patients - even for things like using
marijuana to alleviate their suffering."

Under a Maine law that voters approved in 1999, patients with specific
conditions such as AIDS are allowed to use marijuana if they discuss
it with their physicians and the doctors agree that marijuana might
help them.

Charlie Wynott, an AIDS patient who uses marijuana, and who has had
difficulty finding a Maine doctor willing to talk about marijuana,
said Tuesday he is pleased with the Supreme Court's decision, though
he fears some doctors will remain reluctant to recommend marijuana. It
took him some time to find a physician in this state willing to offer
the recommendation, even though his Florida physician had done so.
"They're all generally still paranoid about even discussing it with
their patients from my experience," he said.

Steve Fox, director of government relations with the Washington,
D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, said that "there may have been
some nervousness among doctors with this case unsettled, but from the
beginning, each court that has looked at this has said that doctors
clearly have a First Amendment right to recommend medical marijuana."

He noted that the Maine Legislature was the first to strengthen a
state's medical marijuana law. Last year, it increased the amount of
marijuana a patient can possess from 1 1/4 ounces to 2 1/2 ounces.

Under federal law, marijuana remains illegal under any circumstances.
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