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High court’s inaction aids push for medical marijuana

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court has given a boost to the campaign for the medical use of marijuana.

The high court has announced it will not review a lower court opinion that blocked the federal government from punishing doctors who recommend the use of marijuana to patients. The justices’ action, announced without comment, means doctors in California and other western states may continue to advise use of the drug under state laws without Washington threatening to revoke their licenses to prescribe federally controlled substances.

The Supreme Court’s decision Oct. 14 not to take up the case, Walters v. Conant, effectively upholds in the Ninth Circuit a 2002 ruling by that circuit’s appeals court. A three-member panel upheld last October a California federal court’s permanent injunction barring the federal government from revoking or threatening to revoke a doctor’s license to prescribe drugs if he has recommended marijuana use.

Both the Northern District Court of California and a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the federal policy violated First Amendment free-speech rights in the doctor-patient relationship.

Because of the high court’s refusal to review the decision, the injunction remains in effect in California and the other eight states in the Ninth Circuit. Six of the other eight states have laws permitting the medical use of marijuana: Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Two states outside the Ninth Circuit allow medical marijuana use: Colorado and Maine.

The federal government issued its policy threatening the prescription licenses of doctors after voters in both Arizona and California adopted in 1996 referendums legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. The measures also protected doctors who approved the use of marijuana for patients.

The court rulings do not bar prosecution of doctors who purchase, possess or distribute marijuana.

Advocates of medical marijuana use argue the illegal drug provides pain relief for some patients that prescription drugs do not. Opponents contend the campaign for medical marijuana use will further efforts to decriminalize the substance, which is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the country and often leads to use of even more dangerous drugs.

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