Doctors' Legal Risks With Medical Marijuana

Mark Crane

Disclosures

June 04, 2015

In This Article

States' Medical Marijuana Activities

Colorado

In addition to the two cases mentioned earlier, the state medical board has taken action against several other doctors. Colorado enacted its law in 2001 and the patient registry has grown to more than 100,000.

"On the basis of an informant's tip, undercover police officers visited two doctors in sting operations. Both physicians were charged criminally and were convicted for writing certifications for medical marijuana without good cause," said Dean A. McConnell, senior legal counsel for COPIC Insurance Co., a Colorado-based malpractice insurer. "One doctor was sentenced to 30 days in jail, and the other received 3 years' probation. The state board revoked both their licenses."

Colorado is one of three states that permit recreational marijuana. Why is there a need for a medical marijuana regime if any adult can walk into a store and legally purchase the drug? "Recreational marijuana is taxed at a steeper rate, making it twice as expensive as medical marijuana," said McConnell.

"Marijuana growers have developed a strain that works well in controlling severe epileptic seizures. One grower has a waiting list of 1200 patients. The strain has a low amount of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the ingredient that gets you stoned, but higher amounts of CBD (cannabidiol)."

The strain is now named "Charlotte's Web" after the child who was the first to benefit from it. But because the strain has low psychoactive properties, it was initially nicknamed "Hippies' Disappointment."

Arizona

State medical boards have disciplined dozens of doctors. The Arizona Medical Board issued a letter of reprimand to a physician for issuing 483 certifications before checking patients' prescription drug histories. The doctor conceded that he falsely attested on certification forms that he had reviewed patient profiles on the controlled-substances database.[5]

The state Naturopathic Physicians Medical Board suspended a physician for failing to physically examine eight patients before certifying that they qualified for marijuana. The doctor also failed to maintain adequate records. The records didn't indicate the patients were taking any pain medications, "which should have caused the doctor to question the validity of the patients' complaints." The board suspended the doctor's license for 30 days and imposed a $1000 civil penalty.[5]

Last year alone, there were more than 1.4 million medical marijuana transactions in a total annual sale of 322,528 ounces, the board said.

New York

The state's Compassionate Care Act, enacted last year, imposes a new felony for doctors who issue certifications if they have reasonable grounds to know that the patient has no medical need or isn't using medical marijuana to treat a qualifying medical condition.

Massachusetts

The law authorizing medical marijuana took effect only a few months ago. "Agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have reportedly visited at least 7 Massachusetts physicians at their homes or offices and told them they must either give up their DEA registration or sever formal ties with proposed medical-marijuana dispensaries," George J. Annas, professor and chair of the Department of Health Law, Bioethics, and Human Rights at the Boston University School of Public Health, School of Medicine, and School of Law, recently wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.[6]

"These encounters were meant to intimidate the physicians and to discourage them from taking an active role in medical-marijuana dispensaries," he said, noting that DEA agents did the same thing in the early days of California's medical marijuana law.

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