Redding doctor sues DEA
November 30, 2006
Tim Hearden, Record Searchlight (CA)A Redding doctor who specializes in medical marijuana is suing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies for sending informants and undercover agents to his office posing as patients.
Dr. Philip Denney, who has testified as an expert on medical cannabis before the state medical board and in court, claims the agencies have violated his constitutional rights and have had a chilling effect on his conversations with patients.
The suit in U.S. District Court stems from an investigation last year of Dixon Herbs, a Redding dispensary that was shut down in December. As part of the investigation, undercover officers obtained recommendations from Denney to take to Dixon Herbs, but police have said Denney was not a target of the probe.
Also named in the suit are other agencies and individuals, including the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Redding Police Department; Shasta County Sheriff's Department; and county District Attorney Jerry Benito.
"I feel that my rights as a citizen and particularly the rights of my patients and our relationships . . . (have) been seriously threatened by their activities and (they've) been threatened primarily for political reasons because they don't like what I do," said Denney, 58, who lives in Greenwood, near Sacramento, and has offices in Redding and Southern California.
"The privacy and sanctity of physician-patient relationships has to be protected," he said Wednesday. "If I can't trust my patients, it makes it difficult for me to practice medicine ethically."
Casey McEnry, a DEA special agent in San Francisco, said Wednesday she was unaware of the details of the case but added that the agency does not comment on active lawsuits. Assistant Shasta County Counsel Mike Ralston questioned whether Denney has a basis for a suit.
"I don't think his contentions are legally well-founded," Ralston said Wednesday. "On the review of that complaint, I don't think the facts he alleges support the contention that he's making about his First Amendment rights being chilled. I don't think the one flows from the other."
Law enforcement agencies have authority to do undercover investigations, Ralston said.
"That's part of the tools of the trade that they have," he said. "I don't see anything wrong with the way that was gone about."
Denney's San Francisco-based attorney, Zenia Gilg, said courts have barred the federal government from investigating doctors just because they're recommending medical marijuana. Although law enforcement agencies say Denney wasn't a target, "he was certainly used by law enforcement to obtain a recommendation to further their investigation of other people," Gilg said.
"We want to make sure this never happens again and that he can feel confident that the government is enjoined not only from investigating him but also from using him in an investigation," she said.
California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996 gives seriously ill patients the right to obtain and use marijuana to control pain, nausea and other symptoms. Denney has been practicing medicine for more than 30 years and has been recommending marijuana as treatment for more than six years.
In the suit, Denney says an informant and an ATF agent visited his office on separate occasions, gave false identification, reported chronic pain and received written recommendations for marijuana. In both instances he acknowledges making the recommendations without having seen earlier medical records, which the patients told him were unavailable. Denney thinks there have been other undercover visits to his office, he said in the suit.
Denney said Wednesday that "most" new patients are granted slips for medical pot but also that those patients are typically screened and asked for medical records. His office in Redding sees about 100 patients a week, he said.
Determining whether a patient's request for cannabis is legitimate isn't difficult, Denney said. "It becomes pretty clear very quickly what people's motivations are," he said.
Denney believes the authorities' investigations are politically motivated, he said.
"The feds are in collusion with the state people to overturn state law, and I don't understand how state law enforcement can justify that," he said. "They work for the people of California. The people of California spoke loudly and clearly about this issue 10 years ago."
Reporter Tim Hearden can be reached at 225-8224 or at
href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com. Read his blog at http://blogs.redding.com/redding/thearden.