Oregon Medical Marijuana Doctor Provides Answers Part-5
June 22, 2007
Bonnie King, Salem-News (OR)In the fifth installment of our special look at medical marijuana around Oregon and the rest of the nation, Salem-News.com's Bonnie King and Dr. Phillip Leveque talk about many of the propaganda and myths that preceded any real knowledge about Cannabis in the United States.
At hand is the information taught to older Americans that centered around a movie called "Reefer Madness" which falsely convinced people that this herbal medicine causes violence and depravity. As the doctor implies, it is hard to teach an old dog a new trick.
Bonnie King: “Medical Marijuana has been legal in the state of Oregon since May of 1999. Since then we’ve had a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of it, but what we’ve mostly had is a lot of patients. Dr. Phil Leveque is with us again today to discuss a lot of the questions that have come in from viewers like you. So we’re going to start right off talking about the stigma that has actually followed marijuana since let’s say, pre-Reefer Madness. Now a lot of folks want to know, ‘what do we do about the stigma? We’re using this as a medicine, how do we convince our parents and society, whoever it might be, that this is something to take seriously?’”
Dr. Leveque: “That’s a very interesting question, and when I first started doing this; when the program first started, the patients were coming in really paranoid, and they would look around like this… and I would say ‘What are you looking for?’ ‘Where is the camera and where are the microphones?’ I’d say ‘Well, there are not any.’ ‘Well are there any police in the back room?’ ‘No, you want to look?’ ‘No, I’ll take your word for it.’ The whole thing about it is that the atmosphere by the federal; government and Hearst Newspapers, the movie ‘Reefer Madness’ and I think there was one called Mary Jane perhaps, I can’t keep track of all of them, but that scared the socks off a lot of people. And not only that, would marijuana drive you crazy, but if you get caught with it you’re going to go to jail for along time. And so I think the people were very rightfully, extremely scared of the whole business and the stigma as you say of the people who were sneaking their marijuana and so forth, which is kind of crazy because you can smell it a block away, so it is a very unusual situation but this has changed in the past now, since ’99 this is eight years, and the main clinic I used to work at in Portland - we would frequently have 20 or 30 patients in the clinic that were waiting to be, waiting to work on their paperwork and waiting to see the doctor, waiting to get their physical exams and so forth, and everybody knew that everybody else in the room was also looking for a medical marijuana permit. Well, one of the unusual parts of the business was that everybody actually working there was a medical marijuana cardholder also, and I was probably the only one in the building who didn’t have a card and wasn’t an actual user.”
Bonnie King: “So, about the patients; what’s the age group, who are the patients, and what are the average ages?”
Dr. Leveque: “The average age is around 48 for both men and women. And kind of the strange things about this is that up until the age of about 55, there’s an awful lot of patients, but from 60 on it just drops like a rock, so the people 65 years and older, very, very few of them, and those are the ones who were subject to the Reefer madness movie and the bad stuff in the newspapers and so forth. ‘If you smoke marijuana once you’re an addict and if you smoke it twice you’re going to go and kill your grandmother or your closest friend or something like that. Or rob a bank, but all that’s a bunch of hogwash, that just doesn’t happen.”
Bonnie King: “How old is your oldest patient that you ever signed a permit for?”
Dr. Leveque: My oldest patient was 90-years old and I had a very strange experience with this patient; she was an immigrant from Persian and her son who was about 55, was the first one to come in and he decided this was alright and legitimate what was going on here, so the next time I was down in Medford he brought his mother in and actually, I was on a radio talk show in Portland for one of the most obnoxious notorious whatever you call these guys, talk show hosts, and so he had asked me the same question; ‘What is your oldest patient? What’s wrong with her?’ I said, ‘Well I think its old age!’”
Bonnie King: “Can you fix that with medical marijuana?”
Dr. Leveque: “Well no matter how old they are you make them feel better anyhow, and I would guess that there are a lot of social security people that would love to feel better, and marijuana is better than alcohol and it’s a lot better than tobacco or you name it, and it is better than most medications that they carry around as prescriptions”
Bonnie King: “So she must have had some type of chronic illness that was beyond old age I would imagine, what are the illnesses that people are eligible to get a medical marijuana permit with?”
Dr. Leveque: “The most common reason is chronic pain, and that would be about 70% of the patients, number two is chronic spasm which usually goes with chronic pain and its usually bad backs, and the third is nausea and the nausea is caused by the prescription medications that these patients are getting. And from there on we have cancer patients, we have HIV/AIDs patients, we have some Alzheimer Rage patients, we have multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Cachexia which is a lack of appetite and it is usually for people getting chemotherapy from cancer or HIV/AIDs treatment or something like that, but I think that pretty well covers it, but all of those other than chronic pain, chronic spasm, chronic nausea, represent probably less that 5% of the total amount of patients, so the three most common ones represent about 80% of the cardholders.”
Bonnie King: “So if somebody has one of these afflictions, they certainly know it, they have been treated for years probably for it in different means, how do they go about going from a regular doctor they have been seeing for years, they want to get their medical marijuana permit, so how do they go about transitioning from that to medical marijuana?”
Dr. Leveque: “Well that requires a very strange answer; about 99% of the patients which I saw were using marijuana for their medical purposes when they could get it, and the reason they came is, ‘I want to become legal. ’ Well, who wants to go to jail? I have to speak about medical marijuana patients because I’m not too sure about anybody else but, it was so striking to me as a physician that, ‘Dr. Leveque, I know marijuana works for my problems, and so I know I have used it, I know it works, I want to get legal so I can use it when I want to’ just like that.”
Bonnie King: So if somebody has been seen all they need to do basically is call the clinic which they can get off the Internet, fill out the paperwork, and then call a clinic and make an appointment and call somebody there to make sure they are eligible?
Dr. Leveque: “OK, very good, the procedure goes something like this; a patient will call up the clinic because we have a television program in Portland that gives our phone number all the time, and we have had about 350 shows now, they are all about an hour long, and they are all available on the computer if you want to see them. They give the name and the phone number and people phone up and they say ‘what is your name and phone number and they will call them back, sometimes they get 50 or more telephone calls a day, so nobody sits by the phone, they are all recorded. And then they’ve got two or three people, their sole job is to phone back, and they ask the question, ‘what is your medical problem?’ The next question is, ‘do you have a doctor or physician’s notes which indicate you do have this condition? ‘Well, I can get them.’ Well ok, ‘get them and here is the FAX number, FAX in three or four pages indicating what your medical condition is and somebody from the FAX’d information will check it over and see if this is legitimate and so forth, and they will phone you back and say ‘yes you are eligible for a permit and we will give you an appointment on such and such day. I’m not sure what the fees are right now but the initial fee was about $150 or something like that, which you fill out about six pages of information, your history and so forth, and then the previous doctor’s notes are the key to getting a permit, because all the medical conditions which I have named require a specialist to diagnose and the strange thing about it is, that this written into the law about medical marijuana, but when the Board of Medical Examiners jumped on me they demanded that I myself diagnose Glaucoma, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDs and cancer, and there is no doctor in the world that can diagnose all of these conditions. And so I think this was totally ridiculous and based on total ignorance by the Board of Medical Examiners. They didn’t even read the law under which I was working.”
Bonnie King: “So you refer to the chart notes that already exist and go from there?”
Dr. Leveque: “Well, what the board said is, ‘you can use those as a reference, but you Dr. Leveque have to diagnose the condition yourself. And I’m just not a specialist in any of those fields; I’m just a general practice regular doctor."
Bonnie King: “I think you’re a little more than that actually.”
Dr. Leveque: “Well one thing is that I had about 30 years experience in pharmacology and toxicology, and I was offered the position of toxicologist for the state of Maryland, what’s the capitol of Maryland? Baltimore, and I was offered the position of Dean of the Osteopathic Medical School in California, I was invited by the University of London to teach the first doctors in Africa, so I’ve got enough stripes on my arm here, and the Board of Medical Examiners said, ‘huh, bunch of foolishness.’"
Bonnie King: “Well it sounds to me like you are qualified to review chart notes and make a determination as to eligibility.”
Dr. Leveque: “I read good, and I was asked one time by one of the Board’s investigators, ‘Dr. Leveque, we would like a list of the patients you have denied giving a card to. I said ‘they don’t even get in the building.’ He said ‘what do you mean you don’t let them in the building?’ I said, ‘If they don’t have one of these conditions and the medical papers we don’t let them get in the building.”
Bonnie King: Well that’s another point too because there is also this sort of an uneducated look at medical marijuana in the state of Oregon. People that are not patients or that don’t know the laws, they might just say ‘Hey, just go get yourself a permit, then you can do this legally,’ and that’s not what this is about at all.”
Dr. Leveque: “Well I think this is a rather strange situation in talking about it and the fact of the matter is, in Keizer, Oregon which is just north of Salem here, I was introduced one time as Oregon’s Medical Marijuana Doctor, and she said ‘how many degenerates are you taking care of?’ ‘Well, about four thousand.’ And there are right now in Oregon about 15,000 cardholders and all of those 15,000 are degenerates in her eyes.
Bonnie King: “Well and that is kind of, that is the age group that we were talking about, Reefer Madness was popularized around them, and once people learn something it is kind of hard for them to unlearn it.”
Dr. Leveque: “Well, the whole thing about it is, that you keep on reading about Barry McCafferty and a whole bunch of these turkeys that, I say they’re the scotch drinkers, and so ‘So scotch drinking and alcoholism, that’s OK, but it you use marijuana we’ll put you in the penitentiary for ten years.”
Bonnie King: “Well that actually has become the biggest risk in using marijuana, it is the legal risk.”
Dr. Leveque: “Oh absolutely, in some states they are absolutely draconian about it, I mean there are stories about a person being picked up with one marijuana cigarette going in the slammer for ten years. It is totally outrageous and the whole thing is that in recent years there have been about 750,000 people who have been picked up and jailed on marijuana charges, 750,000, and I did the math about this and I said well, only about one in ten or one in twenty marijuana users have been arrested, so if it’s one out of ten then that means there are seven million marijuana smokers and if it is one out of twenty then there are fifteen million marijuana smokers in the United States and they have not caused any large amount of, whatever crazy marijuana smokers are supposed to get, they are not doing it.
Bonnie King: "If you have any questions for Dr. Leveque or Reefer Madness, send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org."
In Salem, I’m Bonnie King for Salem-News.com.