Los Angeles Times Examines Small ‘Cadre’ of ‘Pot Docs’
The Los Angeles Times on Saturday looked at "a tight-knit cadre of about 15 California physicians" who "blithely claim credit for nearly half" of the estimated 100,000 marijuana recommendations that have been issued since the state in 1996 legalized the drug for medicinal purposes.
The so-called "pot docs" are under "intense scrutiny," and at least 11 of them have been investigated by the Medical Board of California; half the cases were closed without formal accusations, the Times reports. The board has questioned the doctors' methods of prescribing marijuana and whether they conduct thorough examinations before determining patients are seriously ill. The board, which receives about 12,000 complaints about doctors annually and investigates roughly 2,000 of them, has fined doctors who prescribe cannabis and sentenced them to years of probation. The medical board in May said that if doctors follow "accepted medical standards, they can avoid being investigated."
David Bearman, one doctor who has been investigated, said he conducts a detailed screening and complete physical before recommending marijuana to patients. According to the Times, such examinations are "a delicate dance between advice and advocacy of a drug still wholly illegal under U.S. law."
Bearman said, "Basically what we have here is a turf war between doctors and the criminal justice system. They're second-guessing physicians." He added, "There's no doubt, this is part of a larger cultural war at play."
Tod Mikuriya, a peripatetic Bay Area physician who has been fined by the board for his prescription practices, said marijuana is so effective and benign that the threshold for patient approvals should be lower than for prescription drugs.
Philip Denney, another physician who recommends the drug, said law enforcement officials "have scared the hell out of California doctors, and it's been left to us so-called mavericks." He said, "Their attitude is, 'This isn't medicine, but rather a way to abet drug abusers.'"
Joan Jerzak, the medical board's chief examiner, said that if doctors do not conduct complete examinations before recommending marijuana, "there isn't good medicine going on. It's just sales of a particular prescription. It's Dr. Feelgood." Jerzak added that people with terminal cancer, AIDS and other "serious illnesses are going to obtain the recommendations with no complaint." Jerzak said that some doctors who support legalizing recreational marijuana use "don't mind flouting the law."
Jack Lewin, CEO of the California Medical Association, said the medical board should focus on doctors who truly endanger lives, adding that the pursuit of doctors who recommend cannabis "seems like a witch hunt" (Baily, Los Angeles Times, 11/6).