AMA Revises Medical Marijuana Guidelines For Doctors

New guidelines issued by the American Medical Association (AMA) and its California affiliate (CMA) support a physician’s right to freely discuss the use of marijuana as a therapeutic agent to his or her patient. The guidelines were issued, in part, to encourage area physicians to settle a federal lawsuit against Clinton administration officials who have threatened to sanction doctors who recommend marijuana to their patients under California state law. Many medical marijuana proponents feel the new guidelines represent a shift toward a growing acceptance of medical marijuana by America’s leading medical establishment.

“For the AMA, this is a very, very strong position to take,” said Dr. Marcus Conant of San Francisco, one of the nation’s most prominent AIDS physicians and lead plaintiff in the complaint against the government. “I don’t think organized medicine can make it any clearer. … The AMA has articulated … the position that the federal government should get out of the business of dictating doctor-patient relationships.”

NORML Board Member Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School was even more optimistic. “These new guidelines are one more small step toward the AMA’s inevitable, complete acceptance and support of cannabis as a remarkably useful, safe, and inexpensive medicine,” he said.

Under the proposed guidelines, which would be the basis for the settlement, physicians would be able to:

  • Freely conduct a good faith discussion with a patient about the “risks and benefits of any potential medical treatment,” including marijuana;
  • Document the discussion in the patient’s medical record;
  • Testify about that discussion in court.

“The guidelines address our fundamental concern that a physician be able to provide an honest, individualized opinion about the medical advisability of marijuana,” stated Graham Boyd, attorney for the plaintiffs in the California suit.

NORML’s Deputy Director Allen St. Pierre sees the guidelines as a step in the right direction, but cautioned that the language still fell well short of the provisions of Proposition 215. He noted that doctors are still encouraged to avoid taking any “intentional” steps to help a patient obtain the drug, such as deliberately “cooperate[ing] with a cannabis buyers club” or “issuing a written ‘recommendation’ whose ostensible purpose is to provide the patient with a defense against state prosecution.”

“Although the new guidelines provide support for the sanctity of the relationship between a physician and a patient, it fails to wholeheartedly endorse the needs of seriously ill patients in California who are relying on a doctor’s ‘recommendation’ to legally possess medical marijuana,” said St. Pierre.

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre of NORML at (202) 483-5500 or Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights at (310) 394-2952.