Source:   AP Wire, Friday, April 11, 1997 

JUDGE BARS PUNISHMENT OF DOCTORS FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA

   By BOB EGELKO
 Associated Press Writer

   SAN FRANCISCO (AP)  A federal judge Friday temporarily barred
government action against California doctors who recommend marijuana for
their patients, saying federal policy on the issue was too confusing.

   The ruling doesn't change federal law which deems any marijuana use
illegal. But the temporary restraining order was an important firstround
victory for supporters of the state's medical marijuana ballot issue.

   The measure, approved by voters last November, allows patients in
California to grow and possess marijuana for medical use at the
recommendation of their doctors.

   The Clinton administration responded by saying doctors who recommend
marijuana could lose their federal authority to prescribe medicine, be
disqualified from Medicare and Medicaid and face criminal prosecution.

   Drug czar Barry McCaffrey's office later issued a clarification, saying
doctors could discuss marijuana as long as they didn't recommend it.

   But U.S. District Judge Fern Smith said the distinction between discuss
and recommend can be fuzzy, leaving doctors uncertain what they can tell
patients. She issued the restraining order in a lawsuit filed in January by
four medical marijuana users  one of them a San Francisco prosecutor with
AIDS  and several doctors who treat AIDS and cancer patients.

   The doctors said they considered marijuana the best treatment for some
patients' nausea and other side effects of chemotherapy.

   "It is time for drug czar Barry McCaffrey and the Clinton administration
to end their threats and let Proposition 215 work as the voters intended,"
Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights said in a statement.

   Patricia Seitz, chief lawyer for McCaffrey, said the administration
hoped to move toward a settlement at a conference Thursday ordered by the
judge.

   In her order, the judge said that doctors have censored their
discussions with patients about marijuana because they don't know what they
are allowed to say, and that patients felt their "ability to receive open
and honest medical advice" was diminished.

   She also said there was at least a serious question about whether the
government's policy violated freedom of speech.

   Graham Boyd, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said they were not arguing for
a doctor's right to prescribe marijuana or to knowingly help a patient to
obtain it, only for the right to give appropriate medical advice.

   The restraining order will be in effect until the judge decides whether
to grant a preliminary injunction that would last until the lawsuit goes to
trial.