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Oregon Medical Marijuana Program: Dr. Marcus Conant; et al.; v. McCaffrey et al.
This information provided by the Office of the State Public Health Officer. Dr. Marcus Conant, et al., v. McCaffrey et al. This September 7, 2000 U.S. District Court held that the U.S. Government could not punish physicians for voicing their professional opinions based on their best medical judgment. According to the Court decision, "the government is permanently enjoined from revoking a physician's DEA registration merely because the doctor recommends medical marijuana based on a sincere medical judgment and from initiating an investigation solely on the ground" that a physician recommends the use of medical marijuana for a patient.


The Human Services Assistant Attorney General for the Oregon Department of Justice, prepared this summary at the request of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. This summary describes highlights of the September 7, 2000 US District Court decision and is intended for information purposes only and is not to be used for legal purposes or reference. For more complete information please check the transcript for the text of this decision.

SUMMARY

Dr. Marcus Conant, et al., v. McCaffrey et al.
Nos. C 97-00139 WHA

September 7, 2000

The US District Court held that the US Government could not punish physicians for voicing their professional opinions based on their best medical judgment. According to the Court decision, "the government is permanently enjoined from revoking a physician's DEA registration merely because the doctor recommends medical marijuana based on a sincere medical judgment and from initiating an investigation solely on the ground" that a physician recommends the use of medical marijuana for a patient.

The US District Court for the Northern District of California decided this case on Sept 7, 2000. Plaintiffs (represented by Dr. Conant) were a class of physicians who feared prosecution or loss of Drug Enforcement Administration registration that would affect their licenses to practice medicine. The Defendant was Barry McCaffrey, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

On November 5, 1996, voters in California adopted Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, also known as the Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Act provides in relevant part that: "...seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician who has determined that the person's health would benefit..." The California Health and Safety Code and the Act say "[No] physician in this state shall be punished, or denied any right or privilege, for having recommended marijuana to a patient for medical purposes."

On December 30, 1996, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy issued a response to California's Act, stating "that a practitioner's action of recommending or prescribing Schedule I controlled substances is not consistent with the 'public interest' (as that phrase is used in the federal Controlled Substances Act) and will lead to administrative action by the Drug Enforcement Administration to revoke the practitioner's registration." In addition, the US Inspector General for Health and Human Services was authorized to exclude specified individuals (for example, physicians who recommend marijuana to patients for medical purposes) from participation in Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The US Government later clarified its position, stating that "nothing in federal law prevents a physician, in the context of a legitimate physician-patient relationship, from merely discussing with a patient the risks and benefits of the use of marijuana to relieve pain or alleviate symptoms." At the same time, however, "physicians may not intentionally provide their patients with oral or written statements in order to enable to obtain controlled substances in violation of federal law."