Pubdate: Sat, 1 May 1999
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 1999 The Seattle Times Company
Author:  Carol M. Ostrom, Seattle Times staff reporter


Patients whose doctors have balked at signing letters authorizing their use
of marijuana gathered for a mild-mannered protest at Harborview Medical
Center yesterday, lining up for interviews with a retired psychiatrist and
marijuana activist who signed for at least a half-dozen patients.

At Harborview, an HIV/AIDS clinic has become a lightening rod for the issue.
Patients there who say they need to smoke marijuana to curb nausea or to
stimulate their appetite complain that they are being left in legal jeopardy.

About a dozen men and women took part in the demonstration near the medical
center's west entrance. Thomas Hooton, medical director of the clinic,
predicted the agitation by patients would "give us a kick in the butt"
toward a more speedy formulation of guidelines for doctors on authorizing
medical marijuana.

Hooton heads a new joint Harborview-University of Washington task force
charged with creating guidelines for medical providers.

Despite passage last fall of an initiative legalizing marijuana use by
certain patients authorized by their doctors, many doctors have been
reluctant to recommend marijuana use for fear of interference by the federal
government, which still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the most
restricted category.

Doctors are torn, Hooton said, between wanting to do what they believe is
right for their patients and wanting to be on solid legal ground.

"The initiative didn't clarify anything for us," he said.

Hooton said he had advised clinic providers to "hold off" signing
authorizations until a policy was created but said he would have "no
problem" with a doctor who decided to sign such a letter.

Doctors in the Veterans Administration hospital system, however, have been
advised by their legal counsel not to recommend marijuana use.

Francis Podrebarac, the psychiatrist who signed authorization letters, said
he's not afraid of retaliation by the federal government.

"I'm doing the right thing," said Podrebarac.

Nobody but the federal government thinks marijuana should be a Schedule I
drug, he said.

Today, marijuana activists plan to gather for a "Million Marijuana March,"
sponsored by several groups. Beginning at noon at Volunteer Park, marchers
will head down Broadway to Pike Street to Westlake Center. For more
information, call 206-781-5734 or on the Internet, find or

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