Tag Archives: medical marijuana

Marijuana debate: Taxes, research and regulation #ahcj14

About April Dembosky

April Dembosky is a health reporter for The California Report at KQED public radio in San Francisco. She is attending Health Journalism 2014 on an 2014 AHCJ-California Health Journalism fellowship, which is supported by The California HealthCare Foundation.

Photo by Phil Galewitz

Photo by Phil Galewitz

Legalizing marijuana in Colorado has been a boon not just to people who want to use marijuana recreationally, but also to medical researchers who want to study its effects.

The state public health department wants to channel tax revenues from marijuana sales into human research trials — permitted by the new law — and plans to ask the state legislature for authority to spend $10 million on these studies. Continue reading

CA docs recommend pot, but never see the patient

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Once again, the the Redding Record Searchlight’s Ryan Sabalow has used his distance from the clinic booms in Southern California and the Bay Area to tackle the the state’s medical marijuana issues with clarity and context.

It’s because Sabalow knows all four clinics, as well as local law enforcement and other authories, in his mid-size Northern California town that he’s able to illuminate issues such as traveling clinics and, most recently, the ambiguous regulations that seem to allow physician assistants to examine patients looking for marijuana recommendations as long as they’re “overseen” by a physician, one who may live hundreds of miles away.

reeferPhoto by Troy Holden via Flickr.

420 Med Consultations, the PA-staffed clinic in Redding, competes on price (it’s $120 for a recommendation, while the others are in the $149 to $200 range), and has recommendations endorsed remotely by doctors in other parts of the state. An apparently related Craigslist posting invited patients to “COME GET LEGAL!” and announces that “We will renew for any Doctor!! With 24/7 Verification!!”

State physician assistant regulators say that a licensed doctor must personally examine each patient before issuing a “recommendation” that they be allowed to use medical marijuana, but the law itself is ambiguous. By being examined by an assistant, patients just might be at risk of their recommendation being considered invalid at some point down the road. The LA doctor who owns the Redding clinic, Dr. Xueren Zhao, says his operation is “100 percent legal.”

He said that in traditional medical clinics, doctors can review a patient’s chart and make a treatment determination based on an evaluation by a physician assistant.

… each patient’s chart is reviewed by a physician and that the patient’s recommendation would be revoked and their money refunded if the doctor found anything wrong, Zhao said.

Cannabis carpetbaggers crisscross California

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The Redding Record Searchlight‘s Ryan Sabalow paints a classic tale of the principled old guard taking a stand against exploitative, profit-hungry carpetbaggers, one that just happens to take place in the wild west of northern California’s medical marijuana clinics. Since last year’s federal directive effectively allowed the state’s clinics to operate with impunity, a number of traveling physicians have come up from the south to open clinics in this northern outdoor recreation hub which more than 100,000 residents call home.

redding1At $150 for each brief exam (no tricky medical procedures involved), the granting of medical marijuana recommendations is low-overhead work that holds the promise of substantial profit. A physician would need to see just 30 patients a day to gross more than $1 million a year, Sabalow writes. One local Redding doctor (the only one who specializes in pot, really) has found that the newcomers seem to care more about money than medicine.

[Dr. Terrence Malee] gave the example of a cage fighter who came in to his office trying to intimidate him into getting a recommendation that allowed him to have 7 ounces of marijuana in a week, when most patients are only recommended 2.

“I said, ‘Look, bud, the last time you went to the doctor and asked him for 1,000 Vicodin, did he give it to you? No. Well, I’m not going to give you 7 ounces either,” Malee said, laughing.

In a companion piece, Sabalow looks beyond California’s borders, thanks in part to the responses of other AHCJ members via our electronic discussion list. In particular, he looks at Montana, where traveling “cannabis caravans” have swelled the ranks of medicinal marijuana users in every corner of the state and Colorado, where five doctors accounted for over half of the state’s medical marijuana recommendations.

The Record Searchlight‘s editorial board followed up with an piece that questions the wisdom of making medicinal marijuana so easy to obtain.

But it’s hard not to see a stretching of the state’s groundbreaking 1996 Compassionate Use Act beyond all recognition when patients arrive not thanks to a referral from their family doctor, but after hearing a 30-second ad on the local rock station.

For more on Colorado’s effort to reign in physicians who recommend medical marijuana, see Eric Whitney’s piece for Colorado Public Radio.

Lopez finds glamour in LA’s marijuana community

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez has released his latest dispatch from medical marijuana’s front lines.

doc420
The Medical License page of Dr. Sona Patel’s site, Doc420.com. Patel specializes in medical marijuana recommendations.

This time, Lopez checks in with a physician who specializes in herbal medicine, worked as a model to help pay her bills to attend a Caribbean medical school, wears high heels and a lab coat in her ornate gold-and-maroon office, and writes about 15 medical marijuana recommendations a day.

“I guarantee a 100% refund if you do not qualify for a medical marijuana recommendation,” she announces on her Web site, Doc420.com. The really crazy part about Dr. Sona Patel? Unlike some of her peers, she spends about half an hour on each appointment and actually turns down some of her patients’ requests.

In two earlier columns, Lopez tells the story of how he got a recommendation to purchase medical marijuana after a brief visit to a gynecologist and how he then used that recommendation to join a cooperative and legally purchase marijuana.

Related

Lopez: Gynecologist gave me permit to buy weed

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez writes about his trip to a clinic specializing in herbal medicine (known for “writing recommendations that allow folks to buy medical marijuana”).

reeferPhoto by Troy Holden via Flickr.

After explaining the back pain he’s suffered through for the past few decades, Lopez was issued a form announcing that “Steve Lopez was evaluated in my office for a medical condition, which in my professional opinion, may benefit from the use of medical marijuana.”

The doctor, who described himself as a gynecologist, billed Lopez $150 for the visit.

On Sunday, Lopez will publish a follow-up (his stories are archived here) about his marijuana dispensary shopping experience.

Related

Feds issue guidance on medical marijuana

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

New federal guidelines specify that prosecutors should not target suppliers or users of medical marijuana if they are compliant with state law.

According to The Associated Press:

The new policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.

Thirteen states have laws allowing the use of medical marijuana: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Maryland laws provide for reduced penalties for the use of medical marijuana.

medical-marijuana
Photo by Neeta_Lind via Flickr

The federal government is still expected to prosecute people who are using medical marijuana as a cover for other illegal activities, such as those involving a firearm, sales to minors and money laundering.

The New York Times explains that “Advocates of medical marijuana say it can reduce chronic pain, nausea and additional symptoms associated with cancer and other serious illnesses.”

The Sacramento Bee reports that advocates are wary because the policy memo is vague and the “oversight of marijuana dispensaries remains a hodgepodge of local regulations.” In California, for example, no agency is responsible for regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, giving local officials leeway in how to deal with them.

Recent journal articles on medical marijuana

Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Cannabis Treatment for Chronic Pain.
Martín-Sánchez E, Furukawa TA, Taylor J, Martin JL.
Pain Med. 2009 Sep 1. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 19732371 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

Medical marijuana: the conflict between scientific evidence and political ideology. Part one of two.
Cohen PJ.
J Pain Palliat Care Pharmacother. 2009;23(1):4-25. Review.
PMID: 19296351 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Medical marijuana: the conflict between scientific evidence and political ideology. Part two of two.
Cohen PJ.
J Pain Palliat Care Pharmacother. 2009;23(2):120-40. Review.
PMID: 19492213 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

The debate about marijuana usage in transplant candidates: recent medical evidence on marijuana health effects.
Coffman KL.
Curr Opin Organ Transplant. 2008 Apr;13(2):189-95. Review.
PMID: 18685302 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Cannabis and anxiety: a critical review of the evidence.
Crippa JA, Zuardi AW, Martín-Santos R, Bhattacharyya S, Atakan Z, McGuire P, Fusar-Poli P.
Hum Psychopharmacol. 2009 Oct;24(7):515-23.
PMID: 19693792 [PubMed – in process]

Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Cannabis Treatment for Chronic Pain.
Martín-Sánchez E, Furukawa TA, Taylor J, Martin JL.
Pain Med. 2009 Sep 1. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 19732371 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

Tip sheet: Mining NLM databases: PubMed, Medline and more