The American electorate drew the line on softening our nation's drug laws after voters in three states overwhelmingly rejected ballot measures designed to either legalize or ease penalties for personal possession or use of certain drugs, including marijuana. The votes came just a week after the battle for medical marijuana scored an important victory in the courts.
Nevada voters refused to legalize the personal possession of less than three ounces of marijuana by more than a 20-point margin. In Arizona, voters rejected a measure that would have imposed only civil fines for the personal possession of marijuana and probation and drug treatment for the personal possession or use of other drugs. Likewise, Ohio voters defeated a proposal that would have ordered certain non-violent drug offenders into treatment rather than prison.
Voters in San Francisco, however, demonstrated that the tide has not yet turned on medical marijuana as they authorized city exploration of a distribution program for marijuana to patients in need.
The message sent is clear: while Americans are willing to allow the limited use of marijuana in cases of medical necessity, they are unwilling to go a step further by easing restrictions on personal drug use in general.
The fact that medical marijuana is not dead was also reinforced by the federal appeals court in San Francisco, which added constitutional firepower to the arsenal of medical marijuana advocates in a decision issued a week prior to the elections. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that physicians have a First Amendment right to recommend the use of medical marijuana and that patients have the right to receive such information. As a result, the federal government may not investigate nor revoke the prescription drug license of a physician who recommends the use of medical marijuana to a patient, according to the ruling handed down on October 29.
The decision upheld an injunction preventing enforcement of a federal policy that declares any physician's recommendation or prescription of any Schedule I drug, including marijuana, "is not consistent with the 'public interest'" and that such action would lead to the revocation of the registration necessary to prescribe controlled substances.
"The government policy ... strike[s] at core First Amendment interests of doctors and patients," wrote Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder for the three judge panel. "An integral component of the practice of medicine is the communication between a doctor and a patient. Physicians must be able to speak frankly and openly to patients."
The policy was written in response to the legalization of marijuana use for limited medical reasons in Arizona and California. Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have all since passed similar laws.November 8, 2002
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