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The 420 Times: Is Your Doctor Legit?

October 9, 2010

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According to recent reports, there have been a growing number of fake doctors issuing invalid medical marijuana recommendations in California and Colorado. These “doctors” hand out phony recommendations under the name of board-certified physicians who are clueless as to what is taking place behind their backs.

The presence of fake doctors understandably presents a problem for potential medical marijuana patients. How can patients verify that their doctor is, in fact, legitimate? Which doctors are allowed to recommend medical marijuana? What are some signs of a good doctor?

“I have definitely run across some medical marijuana physicians whose operations were a bit sketchy,” said Will Oppenheim, a medical marijuana patient from Orange County. “But their prices were so low that i was tempted to go their way.”

As you will soon find out, consulting with a good, caring doctor will not only help you choose the correct treatment for your condition, but it will also help you avoid legal troubles down the road. They might be more expensive, but the extra money spent just might pay dividends later on.

Is Your Dr. Legit?
It is legal for any board certified physician to suggest the use of medical marijuana. The first step, then, in verifying the legitimacy of your doctor is to make sure that your doctor is board certified. You can ask for their license number over the phone and verify online that he or she is licensed with the State of California. You can do that by going to the Medical Board of California’s website:

You should also ask over the phone to make sure that you will be examined firsthand by the doctor whose name is advertised — don’t settle for a consultation with an “assistant.” “Many of these clinics are advertising that an M.D. will sign the recommendation, but many times they are not physically present and simply fax their signature to the office where someone else takes their vital signs and may or may not do an examination,” said Dr. Sean Breen, a marijuana-recommending physician from Orange County.

But Does Your Doctor Care?
But even if your doctor is board-certified, you want to make sure that you find a doctor that cares. Doing so will help you avoid legal problems down the road.

While caring can manifest itself in many forms, there are two in particular that concern us: you want to make sure that consultations are thorough and that your doctor would show up to court on your behalf if the need should arise.

Thorough Examinations
The Medical Board of California sanctions the use of medical marijuana for approved conditions as long as doctors arrive at their decision to recommend in accordance with the board’s “accepted standards of medical responsibility.”

These standards include the following:
1. History and good faith examination of the patient.
2. Development of a treatment plan with objectives.
3. Provision of informed consent including discussion of side effects.
4. Periodic review of the treatment’s efficacy.
5. Consultation, as necessary.
6. Proper record keeping that supports the decision to recommend the
use of medical marijuana.

As you can see, before recommending any medicine — medical marijuana included — physicians have to methodically evaluate their patients. Thus, as a general rule of thumb, you want to avoid doctors who spend minimal amounts of time with patients. This is important because a quick, slipshod evaluation means that your doctor is probably not adhering to the Medical Board’s guidelines, which can jeopardize the license of your doctor and the legitimacy of your recommendation.

“[A] two to five minute visit doesn’t represent an appropriate evaluation, and one should be suspect about whether such a doctor even if he or she has a legitimate license,” said Dr. William Eidelman, a Los-Angeles-based physician who recommends medical marijuana.

And remember that you must have record of a previously diagnosed condition in order for a doctor to provide a valid medical marijuana recommendation. Some doctors might try to sidestep this important step, thus throwing into question their own legitimacy — and that of your recommendation. “Any doctor that truly cares about his license is going to comply with the state patients must have been previously diagnosed and worked up for their symptoms,” said Dr. Breen.

Will Your Doctor Fight For You?
Another question to consider is whether or not your recommending doctor would appear at court on your behalf. After all, a physician who performs thorough examinations should have no qualms defending their diagnoses in court.

“The main questions patients need to ask of their potential doctor is this: are they available to verify the letter with law enforcement and would they come to court if necessary?” said Dr. Eidelman. “Most cannabis doctors, and especially the low-budget ones, are not doing anything else besides the cannabis recommendation, and not even enough to back up the recommendation should one have law enforcement problems,” he continued.

A New Industry
Maybe it was inevitable that money-hungry phonies would find their way into the medical marijuana industry. But moving forward, how can the industry weed out the fakes? Some suggest that some due diligence on the part of dispensaries can help remedy the problem.

“[A]ll dispensaries should research and contact the clinic if they are not familiar with the doctor who signed the recommendation. They should at least do one on-site visit to introduce themselves to the staff and doctor to make sure the clinic is being run above board and in complete complains with the state medical board,” said Dr. Breen. “This alone would solve many of the issues with fake clinics where doctors are not on-site,” he continued.

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