Supreme Court Declines to Hear Government Appeal
in Medical Marijuana Case:
Affirms First Amendment Rights of Doctors and Patients

In a victory for medical marijuana proponents, the United States Supreme Court today declined to hear the government’s appeal in Walters v. Conant, a case in which California physicians challenged the federal government’s attempts to revoke their power to prescribe medications if they discussed medical marijuana with their patients.   The Court’s decision means the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s unanimous ruling that such a regulatory penalty would violate the first amendment rights of both doctors and patients stands. The federal government is barred from investigating doctors solely on the basis of making medical marijuana recommendations.

In 1996, shortly after the passage of voter initiatives decriminalizing the medical use of marijuana in California and Arizona, the federal government promulgated a policy declaring that a medical doctor’s actions in recommending Schedule I controlled substances was “not consistent with the public interest.”  The government has argued that such recommendations aid and abet patients in violating federal law, which recognizes no legitimate medical use for marijuana.  But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal remained unconvinced that all recommendations would necessarily lead to illegal conduct, and thus reasoned that the government could not prohibit speech based on the mere probability that it may encourage criminal conduct. 

“The First Amendment protects the right to receive information as much as it protects the right to transmit it.” said Richard Glen Boire, Director of the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics, a nonprofit law and policy center in Davis, California.  “For patients coping with debilitating illnesses, obtaining candid information about potential remedies is essential,” said Boire.

By hampering doctors’ ability to recommend medical marijuana to their patients, the Ninth Circuit found that the government would compromise those patients’ ability to meaningfully participate in public discourse. “Petitioning Congress or federal agencies for a redress of a grievance or a change in policy is a time honored tradition.  In the market place of ideas, few questions are more deserving of free-speech protection than whether regulations affecting public health and welfare are sound public policy.  In the debate, perhaps the status quo will (and should) endure. But patients and physicians are certainly entitled to urge their view,” said the court, “To hold that physicians are barred from communicating to patients sincere medical judgments would disable patients from understanding their own situations well enough to participate in the debate.”

For more information contact: 
Richard Glen Boire, J.D. or Julie Ruiz-Sierra, J.D.
Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics
Tel./Fax (530) 750-7912

The Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics The CCLE is nonprofit law and policy center working in the public interest to foster cognitive liberty—the right of each individual to think independently, and to use the full spectrum of his or her mind. The CCLE encourages social policies that respect and protect the full potential and autonomy of the human intellect. For more information on our organization and the issues we investigate, visit the CCLE’s Web site at