Boards scrutinize doctors over medical marijuana

April 25, 2004

Damon Adams, American Medical News

California physician Philip Denney, MD, figures a complaint will be filed against him someday for recommending medical marijuana to patients.

'They'll make something up sooner or later, and I'll have to deal with them,' said Dr. Denney, who in February started a southern California practice dedicated to medical marijuana evaluations.

Dr. Denney isn't alone in his belief. Other California physicians as well as at least one in Oregon who recommend medical marijuana say they are being persecuted by medical boards because of the practice.

But the state medical boards say they aren't targeting physicians who recommend marijuana. They say investigations are based on questions of proper medical practice.

'As complaints come in, we're going to investigate them in the context of good medicine,' said Joan Jerzak, chief of the Medical Board of California's enforcement program.

In October 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of doctors to talk about marijuana with patients. Nine states have passed measures that make it legal for patients to grow and possess marijuana for medical use when doctors recommend it: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

In California, doctors said investigations are politically motivated, prompted by law enforcement agencies that don't condone what they do and lodge complaints with the board.

Last year, California physician William Eidelman, MD, had his license suspended after deputies said he recommended marijuana without proper medical cause.

Berkeley, Calif., psychiatrist Tod Mikuriya, MD, is appealing the medical board's March decision to place him on five years' probation over medical marijuana issues. 'We're known for representing medical cannabis, and the feds don't want it to happen, and they will stop at nothing,' he said.

In March, Phillip Leveque, DO, had his license suspended by the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners. He called the action an inquisition based on his authorizing medical marijuana.

'They've been harassing me now for years,' said Dr. Leveque.

Oregon board Executive Director Kathleen Haley said Dr. Leveque's license was suspended for violating a 2002 order. 'We have 20 years of dealing with this physician. This is more of a pattern with an individual physician than the board examining physicians who participate in the medical marijuana law.'

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