Doctors' Legal Risks With Medical Marijuana

Mark Crane


June 04, 2015

In This Article

How Are States Enforcing Medical Marijuana Laws?

The American Medical Association doesn't favor medical marijuana but has acknowledged some therapeutic benefits. In a policy statement, it added, "The patchwork of state-based systems that have been established for 'medical marijuana' is woefully inadequate in establishing even rudimentary safeguards that normally would be applied to the appropriate clinical use of psychoactive substances."[3]

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) hasn't tracked disciplinary actions specifically related to medical marijuana, said Drew Carlson, director of communications. The FSMB doesn't currently have a model policy on the regulation of medical marijuana but expects to develop guidelines later this year.

Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School who served as the senior drug-policy adviser in President Barack Obama's administration, believes that "it's pretty hard for a doctor to get into trouble, because the standards for recommending medical marijuana are just so low. There aren't many doctors writing certifications. A very small number of doctors generate the overwhelming majority of certifications."

Here's a snapshot of what's going on in some states.


"A physician friend of mine was walking in Venice Beach, when a young man in a tee shirt and gym shorts rollerbladed up to him and said, 'Hi, I am kush doctor! Would you like to come over to my clinic and get a prescription for medical marijuana'?" Humphreys wrote on a blog called "The Reality-Based Community."[4]

"As a cash-only business without any meaningful oversight, a medical marijuana practice is a dream come true for those who graduated at the bottom of their medical school class," he said. "There are plenty of ads in free newspapers from marijuana doctors saying, 'I'll write you a script for $50. No charge if you don't get a recommendation.'"

"It's pretty clear that dispensaries are using the medical marijuana law as a way to sell recreational marijuana," said Humphreys. "Many Californians who voted for medical marijuana thought they were being promised a tightly run system that provided cannabis to a small number of cancer and AIDS patients. Such people feel conned today, for the very good reason that they were. A deep-pocketed industry with lobbyists has been created to supply recreational users under medical cover. Many doctors feel their profession is getting a black eye. They support creating a legitimate recreational market so that marijuana can lose the imprimatur of medicine."

David F. "Max" Beach, an attorney in Santa Rosa, California, who lectures attorneys about medical marijuana, said that although California's enforcement is loose, it isn't quite the Wild West that Humphreys portrays. "It's definitely easier to get a recommendation than state legislators had intended, but the medical board and district attorneys are aware of the potential for harm and are cracking down more."

Beach cites two recent actions. One physician charged with failure to perform appropriate exams, coordinate care with other practitioners, and obtain medical records received 5 years' probation. Another doctor was sanctioned because he said he saw 60-70 patients on Fridays and charged $150-$250 per patient. The diagnoses were actually made by a physician's assistant. The Medical Board of California charged him with gross negligence, incompetence, and creation of false medical records. He received a 45-day suspension of his license and 5 years' probation.


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