Medical Pot Applicants Put on Hold
April 01, 2004
Bill Kettler, Mail Tribune - Medford, OR
Seventy-three Southern Oregon residents who applied for state medical marijuana cards during the past few months will have to find a new doctor to certify their need.
They’ll have plenty of company. About 500 applicants statewide who were initially approved by Dr. Phillip Leveque have been put on hold after Leveque’s medical license was revoked March 4 by the state Board of Medical Examiners. The board determined that Leveque was 'grossly negligent' in approving applications for medical marijuana and posed an 'imminent risk to public health and safety.'
The Board of Medical Examiners ruled that Leveque cannot sign any statements for patients who want to use medical marijuana, including so-called 'verification' letters that state officials send to physicians to confirm that they are in fact treating the patients whose applications they have signed.
Marijuana is an illegal drug in the same class with heroin and the psychedelic drug LSD under federal law, but state law allows patients who have one of nine conditions (such as multiple sclerosis, HIV, severe pain, frequent nausea or seizures) to possess marijuana and use it as medicine if they have obtained a physician’s approval.
A doctor must evaluate a patient’s condition and sign a form before a card is issued. Leveque, a Molalla osteopath, has been an outspoken advocate of using marijuana as medicine, and he called on the medical establishment to recognize the plant’s medicinal role.
Leveque has visited Grants Pass and Medford over the past 18 months to see patients who could not find a local physician who would approve their application. He described his support for medical marijuana as 'a moral obligation' when he visited Medford in 2002.
'If I can help somebody, I will,' he said. 'That’s why I’m a physician.'
Letters were mailed Thursday from Portland to the people whose applications are now considered to be 'pending,' said Dr. Grant Higginson, state public health officer in the Department of Human Services. They will have three options: find another physician to certify their application; withdraw their application; or do nothing.
Higginson said the state cannot assist people in finding a new physician because the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program does not take a position for or against medical use of cannabis.
Finding a new doctor 'is going to be a hardship for a lot of people,' said Geri Kulp, an Applegate woman who has helped people obtain medical marijuana cards. 'They’ll just have to spend more time and money (to find a new physician) and if they don’t do that they’ll be in jeopardy (of criminal prosecution).'
Higginson said people whose applications are now pending will have 90 days to obtain new attending physicians to sign their applications. Those who have pending applications on file are protected from legal consequences for 90 days (until July 2, 2004).
As of Thursday, medical marijuana cards had been issued to 709 Jackson County residents and 507 people in Josephine County. Taken together, the two counties account for 13.5 percent of the 8,975 cards that have been issued. With a population of about 250,000, the two counties represent about 7 percent of Oregon’s 3.5 million residents.
An activist who supports legalizing marijuana said his organization and several other groups are considering legal action to prevent the Department of Human Services from rejecting the applications that were approved by Leveque before his medical license was revoked.
John Sajo, of Voter Power, said state officials may have failed to process many of those 500 applications within the 30 days that are allowed under state law.
'If they’d issued those cards in a timely fashion this wouldn’t have come up,' Sajo said. 'Does he (Leveque) need a license to verify that he had a license?'