Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Appeals Court Ruling Protects Marijuana Doctors

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Appeals Court Ruling Protects Marijuana Doctors

Article excerpt

A new appellate ruling protects doctors from federal prosecution when they recommend medical marijuana in accordance with state law.

In an Aug. 16 opinion, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Department of Justice cannot spend funding to prosecute physicians and patients who allegedly violate federal drug laws if their actions comply with state medical cannabis statutes.

The decision supports the longstanding policies of several medical specialty societies.

"The conflict between state and federal law regarding medical marijuana can be concerning for patients and physicians who may consider using or recommending marijuana as a treatment option," Hilary Daniel, senior health policy analyst for the American College of Physicians, said in an interview. "We are encouraged that the decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may help to address some of these conflicts and remain cognizant of the potential challenges faced by physicians and patients outside the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit."

The ruling stems from a 2014 federal appropriations law that banned the Justice Department from interfering with state implementation of marijuana laws. Short-term measures since then have extended the prohibition, which now continues through Sept. 30, 2016. Defendants in 10 criminal cases sued the federal government, requesting their prosecutions be dismissed on the grounds that the Justice Department is prevented from spending funds to prosecute them. The parties were accused of various federal marijuana offenses, including conspiracy to manufacture and possession with intent to distribute. The Justice Department argued it is not preventing states from operating their medical marijuana laws by prosecuting private individuals. Three district courts declined to halt the prosecutions from proceeding.

But the appeals court ruled that the Justice Department is prohibited from spending funds from relevant federal appropriations to prosecute the defendants if their conduct was permitted by state medical marijuana laws. …

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