NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 7, 2006

Since California passed the nation's first medical marijuana law a decade ago, a provision requiring written doctor approval to grow and buy pot has created conflict between the state mandate and federal drug laws, and strained the doctor-patient relationship.

Until the stalemate is resolved, doctors recommending marijuana do it with trepidation and a good deal of risk:

  • Medical marijuana advocates estimate that 1,500 doctors, mostly oncologists and AIDS specialists, have authorized pot for at least one patient.
  • But most recommendations have come from about 15 self-appointed specialists, the so-called "pot docs," who charge $150 and higher to walk what the California Medical Association calls "a gray area between the clearly permissible and clearly impermissible categories of action."
  • Following complaints by local law enforcement, nearly all have been investigated by the state board that licenses and disciplines physicians.
  • Four had devoted their practices to acting as medical marijuana consultants and ultimately were sanctioned, ranging from public rebukes to having their licenses suspended.

California's medical marijuana law, also known as Proposition 215, named a host of ailments for which marijuana might prove helpful in easing symptoms: cancer, anorexia, AIDS, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine.

Unlike medical marijuana laws enacted in 10 other states, California's also gave doctors discretion to certify patients with "any other illness for which marijuana provides relief," leaving open the possibility that recommendations could be made to people who did not need them.

David Thornton, executive director of the California Medical Board, said that until the board issued guidelines two years ago outlining what constituted "accepted medical standards," physicians pretty much had to figure it out on their own.  Most concluded it was not worth the risk.

Source: Lisa Leff, "Calif. 'pot docs' put selves at risk," Associated Press/Miami Herald, November 4, 2006.


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