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California Pot Mandate Creates Conflict In Laws


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Dr. Mollie Fry never thought telling her patients where to get the medicine she recommended for pain, depression and nausea would be a problem.

Federal drug agents who raided her home and office thought otherwise, and she was indicted last year on felony charges of conspiring to distribute marijuana.

"I assumed the fact that I had 'M.D.' at the end of my name gave me the right to make judgments about people's health," said Dr. Fry, who estimates she has issued thousands of cannabis recommendations since setting up her thriving practice northeast of Sacramento in 1999.

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 has strained the doctor-patient relationship.

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 up to walk what the California Medical Association calls "a gray area between the clearly permissible and clearly impermissible categories of action."

After complaints by local law enforcement, nearly all of them 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 rebuke 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. 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, the 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.

Although a federal appeals court ruled four years ago that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration cannot go after doctors merely because they recommend marijuana to patients, the state medical board's guidelines make it clear the ruling did not amount to immunity from prosecution.

Dr. Fry, 50, who is awaiting trial, continues signing recommendation forms for patients who come to see her from throughout the state.

"What did I take an oath to do? To do no harm and to alleviate pain and suffering," Dr. Fry said. "I'm going to be true to my oath, and I'm even willing to go to prison for it."

Newshawk: CoZmO - 420Magazine.com
Author: Associated Press
Copyright: 2006 Augusta Chronicle
Website: RedOrbit - Space, Science, Technology News & Information
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