Dr. Denney Sues the DEA, et al

August 04, 2006

Fred Gardner, CounterPunch

"This is to keep Big Brother out of my exam room," says Philip A. Denney, MD, explaining the civil suit that attorney Zenia Gilg filed on his behalf Aug. 3 in the U.S. District Court for Eastern California. Denney had been sent documents by a sympathizer revealing that in the Fall of 2005, two individuals -an agent of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau, and an informer controlled by the Redding Police Department- had obtained his approval to medicate with cannabis by providing false histories.

The documents also made reference to a "DEA case number," apparently from another investigation of his practice.

"Doctors have to trust their patients when taking a history," says Denney. "Violating that trust has a chilling effect on my ability to practice ethical and thorough medicine." Denney's suit claims that he was a target of "an investigation involving the DEA acting under Administrator Karen Tandy, ATF acting under director Carl J. Truscott, Shasta County District Attorney Gerald Benito, the Shasta County Sheriff's Department and Sheriff James Pope, the Redding Police Department and Police Chief Leonard Moty," all of whom are named as defendants. Denney says that the protections afforded doctors by the First Amendment and upheld by a federal-court injunction in the Conant v. Walters case have been ignored by the agencies named in the suit.

Earlier this year, when Denney first learned about and protested being lied to by law-enforcement agents, Police Chief Moty and DA Benito contended that it was incidental to their investigation of a local dispensary, Dixon Herbs. As reported in the Redding Record-Searchlight: "The purpose of visiting Denney's office, Redding police Chief Leonard Moty said, was to obtain signed statements from a physician that could then be used to purchase pot at Dixon Herbs. 'Many people use (the medicinal marijuana law) as a means to get around illegal use of marijuana,' Moty said. The investigation into Dixon Herbs 'demonstrates how easy it is (to get a recommendation). It speaks a little bit to the credibility of the examination.'

"Both Moty and District Attorney Jerry Benito said Denney was never the focus of the investigation. 'Under the medicinal marijuana laws, we cannot touch the doctors in any way,' Benito said... The aim of the investigation was to build a case against Dixon Herbs, Benito said. 'If he feels like somehow he was used or exploited to get a recommendation, perhaps he should review his procedures.'"

Denney said at the time that whether or not he was their primary target, the visit to his office by law enforcement operatives left him feeling "violated and threatened." He added, "The effect of Moty's move against Dixon Herbs is that a thousand or so patients in the Redding area are forced onto the black market to buy their medicine. Is that really what the chief of police wants? Even if Dixon Herbs was not 100 percent up to snuff, it was far better than the alternative and deserved to be worked with. That's what the law requires -safe and affordable access. The collusion between the state agencies and the feds is for no other purpose than to overturn the will of the voters."

Denney has been licensed in California for almost 30 years and has never run afoul of the medical board. He has a cannabis-oriented practice with offices in Sacramento and Orange County, as well as Redding. "I'm confident I can convince a jury that my rights and my patients' rights were violated, and that government agencies have been conspiring to block the implementation of the medical marijuana law since it was enacted. This goes back to 1996, to [former attorney general] Dan Lungren's strategy of forcing doctors to appear in court and [former drug czar] Barry McCaffrey's threat to revoke Tod Mikuriya's license." Denney hopes to learn through the discovery process details of the DEA investigation into his practice. The suit cites ITAL Planned Parenthood v. Casey END ITAL as a case in which "the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that physician speech is entitled to First Amendment protection."

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