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News Briefs II

Suit Seeks to Ban Punishment Of Doctors Recommending Pot

Los Angeles Times

A group of doctors and patients filed a lawsuit Tuesday to block the federal government from punishing physicians who recommend marijuana for sick people in their care.

The suit is a response to Clinton administration plans to fight implementation of California's medical marijuana initiative, approved by voters in November.

Under the initiative, patients with cancer, AIDS, and a variety of other illnesses may legally grow and smoke marijuana with a recommendation from their doctor. Last month, the federal government warned that doctors who make such recommendations could face criminal charges and lose their authority to write prescriptions.

In the class-action lawsuit unveiled Tuesday, doctors said such punishment would be a violation of their free speech rights. They argue that discussions between doctors and patients are protected by the First Amendment and that government efforts to "gag physicians" are unconstitutional.

"When a physician goes into the exam room with a patient and closes the door, the discussion they have should not be encumbered by some government drug czar sitting there and threatening punitive action," said Dr. Marcus Conant, a well-known San Francisco AIDS specialist and plaintiff in the suit.

New Clash Heightens Tensions Between Russians, New York City

The Washington Post

For the second time since the start of the new year, Russia's U.N. mission complained formally Tuesday that it is being hassled by New York's police department.

In the latest incident, the Russians said Ambassador Sergei Lavrov's limousine was targeted for three parking tickets Monday. That signaled an escalation of the dispute that began Dec. 29 with an encounter between police and two diplomats in a car allegedly parked too close to a fire hydrant.

The diplomats - respectively first secretaries of the Russian and Belarus missions - both had diplomatic immunity. Nevertheless, as Russia complained in a formal protest to the U.S. government, the police attacked the diplomats with "unacceptable brutality," breaking the Russian's arm and hauling both to a police station before releasing them.

New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has said the two diplomats were drunk and abusive and had come out swinging when the police tried to restrain them from driving in their impaired condition.

Giuliani demanded that the State Department kick both diplomats out of the country. For good measure, the mayor added that the Russians might also pay more than $40,000 in parking fines racked up by mission cars last year.

Officials of the U.S. mission said the incident had been "an isolated one." Police spokeswoman Marilyn Mode noted, however, that in each instance, the ambassador's car was in a no-standing area directly across from a fire station. When the driver ignored the police officer's request to move, a ticket was put on the car.