In medical marijuana states, ‘pot doctors’ push boundaries

Writing a law to restrict how doctors recommend marijuana is tricky

Photo Courtesy: MGNonline

CHICAGO (AP) — The slogan “WE’ED like to be your doctor!” has attracted hundreds of medical marijuana patients in less than a year to Dr. Bodo Schneider’s clinics in Illinois.

Dr. Anthony Anzalone has a similar following at his New Jersey clinics, marketed with a marijuana leaf logo and a “DrMarijuanaNJ” web address.

The two doctors in states with similar laws face starkly different treatment by government regulators. When it comes to oversight of doctors, enforcement practices vary in the 23 states allowing medical cannabis.

Schneider, a former emergency room doctor, may get his license revoked in a medical board case that begins Tuesday. Accused of charging patients for marijuana recommendations without a legitimate doctor-patient relationship, he’s the third Illinois physician to face punishment related to medical marijuana in a state where legal sales only started this month.

“I understand why they don’t want everybody and their uncle opening up a marijuana stand,” said Schneider’s attorney, Luke Baumstark. “But I think the regulators have gone after a very high percentage of the people who have tried to use this law at all. It’s over-aggressive.”

New Jersey has taken no disciplinary action against Anzalone, a gynecologist, or any other doctor related to medical marijuana since sales started three years ago, according to Jeff Lamm, spokesman for the state’s Board of Medical Examiners.

“The state’s been very good to me,” Anzalone said in a phone interview. “We’re complying with the law as best we can. … All I’m doing is the job other doctors don’t want to do.”

Such doctors fill a void left by physicians unfamiliar with marijuana’s health benefits and fearful of endorsing what the federal government regards as a controlled substance, cannabis advocates say.

Schneider is a “godsend to patients” in southern Illinois, where two major health care organizations actively prevent their doctors from recommending marijuana, said Dan Linn of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Writing a law to restrict how doctors recommend marijuana is tricky. Laws commonly call for a “bona fide” relationship, with a physical exam and review of medical records.

New Jersey doctors must register in a publicly viewable database and take courses in addiction medicine and pain management.

Colorado physicians are barred from working out of dispensaries or having any financial stake in the marijuana business. As in other states, they’re required to examine patients in person once a year.

The Colorado Medical Board says it has sanctioned at least six physicians since 2009 for violating pot regulations, though details of those cases aren’t public.

California, which was the first to legalize medical cannabis, has disciplined only eight doctors in 20 years for improper marijuana recommendations.

But the state’s laid-back approach may change. It recently enacted legislation to require the Medical Board to crack down on doctors who write recommendations without a proper patient exam or valid medical reason.

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AP writer Kristen Wyatt in Denver contributed to this report.

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