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California Doctor Sues Over Right to Discuss Possible Medicinal Uses of Marijuana

Aired August 4, 2000 - 1:39 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Should the federal government be able to tell your doctor which drugs he or she can prescribe? An M.D. in California wants the right to merely discuss the possible medicinal uses of marijuana.

But CNN's Greg Lefevre reports, the prognosis for that is guarded, at best.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREG LEFEVRE, CNN SAN FRANCISCO BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): California law lets very sick patients under a doctor's care use marijuana. But when that law passed in 1996, the battle had only begun. Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. And federal agents have threatened that a doctor who even suggests marijuana could lose his license.

DR. MARCUS CONANT: The drug czar wants to tell me as a physician that I cannot give patients my best medical opinion. And that's a gag order, and that is against the First Amendment to the Constitution.

LEFEVRE: No doctor has yet had their license revoked, but the threat remains.

(on camera): Federal prosecutors are especially nervous about pro-marijuana opinions that conflict with federal law, especially when those opinions come from so respected a source as the family doctor.

(voice-over): Dr. Marcus Conant, supported by the ACLU, says that's censorship. He's suing in federal district court.

GRAHAM BOYD, ACLU: They do not want doctors talking about marijuana to their patients, at all. And they're willing to use federal power to try to censor, to stifle physician conversation.

LEFEVRE: In hearings Thursday, Justice Department attorney Joseph LoBue argued that federal law against marijuana should prevail. "There is a national standard here," he said, "using marijuana should not be up to a single physician." Federal Judge William Alsup seemed unbelieving. He shot back, "who better to decide the health of a patient, than a doctor." Half a dozen states have approved medical marijuana in some form. Both sides agree the debate will likely wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court. Greg Lefevre, CNN, San Francisco.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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