Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Author: Mayrav Saar
Published: Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Orange County Register
Contact: [email protected]
Lake Forest -- Two Sacramento physicians have put out their shingle in south Orange County, but it's not a shingle doctors have ever seen around here before.
Drs. Philip A. Denney and Robert E. Sullivan on Monday opened a medical-cannabis-evaluation practice. Their hope is to promote the medical use of marijuana for such ailments as cancer and chronic pain and to encourage other local physicians to do the same.
Denney said that since the medical-marijuana bill, Proposition 215, was voted into law in 1996, the federal government has thwarted attempts to enact the law and scared physicians into not talking about cannabis with their patients.
"We answer one specific question: 'Do you or do you not have a condition that is likely to be improved by cannabis?' " he said. "We decided that if nobody else is going to stand up and do this, we would."
If the doctors determine a patient could medically benefit from marijuana, they will issue a signed and embossed physician's statement that says as much. Under the law, the doctors cannot prescribe marijuana, and they said they can't distribute it, either.
But people who use medicinal marijuana said a doctor's note helps them feel less like criminals and more like patients. And proponents of medical marijuana hope such recommendations help patients in court.
"In California, if you have a doctor's recommendation, you are covered," said Anna Boyce, a retired nurse from Mission Viejo who helped write Proposition 215. "These are not potheads. These are CEOs and professional people who have chronic disease."
The law has met with resistance by the federal government and local law enforcement in Northern California. Orange County law-enforcement agencies said they recognize the law and try to uphold it.
"Things like fraud would never be allowed. Fraudulently representing that you have a condition when you don't," said John Anderson, assistant Orange County district attorney who heads the narcotics-enforcement team. "The number of issues that may arise in any case are so numerous that we have found no other way than to look at each case on its merits."
Federal Drug Enforcement Administration officials view it differently and consider practices like Denney and Sullivan's part of a drug-legalization deception.
"The marijuana lobby deceived the public in California with the compassionate-use campaign," said Richard Meyer, spokesman for the DEA in San Francisco. "Never has a substance become medicine by popular vote."
Meyer said the DEA focuses on drug traffickers, but that if a DEA agent catches a person smoking marijuana, a doctor's note won't protect him.
"I can arrest you and seize the drug," he said.
Denney, who started a similar practice in Sacramento four years ago, said the federal government's stance on marijuana makes practices like his and Sullivan's "targets," but they have faith in the medicinal properties of marijuana.
Sullivan said he and Denney don't plan to move here full time. The practice will see patients three days a week, and both doctors will divide their time between an apartment in Laguna Beach and their homes in Sacramento. Eventually, they hope to find a local doctor to take over the practice.
"Then we'll move on to another high-need area," said Sullivan, a board-certified emergency medicine doctor.
Melvyn Sterling, past president of the Orange County Medical Association, said he believes the doctors' new practice could greatly help Orange County.
"... Physicians are concerned they may be hassled by the government if they make these recommendations," Sterling said. "This could have a significant role to play."
For more information about the fee-for-service medical-cannabis-evaluation practice, call (949) 855-8845.
Note: Doctors set up shop to determine patients' need for pot. They don't prescribe, distribute.
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