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Most Doctors Reluctant to Recommend

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Feb 27, 00
Redding Record Searchlight (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Redding Record Searchlight
Author: Kimberly Bolander
Conflicting state and federal laws about marijuana, a lack of clinical research on the drug and threats to their livelihoods make most doctors unwilling to recommend its medical use. Dr. Tod Mikuriya of Berkeley, who signed the doctor's note approving marijuana use for Redding's Richard Levin, is one exception. He said he has been investigated by the California Medical Board for years; and although he's never been criminally charged, he fears prosecution. "It's kind of like being put on the enemy's hit list, and targeting yourself for the roving band of persecutors," he said. The bulk of Redding's medical community is opposed to medicinal marijuana use. Mike Arnold, executive director of the Shasta-Trinity Medical Society, said the 200-some private doctors belonging to the society are advised not to recommend marijuana. "There has not been enough research that is medically justifiable, so a lot of doctors area waiting," Arnold said. Under federal law, writing a prescription for marijuana is illegal. Cannabis pundits say a written recommendation is not a prescription. The feds disagree. After medicinal marijuana laws passed in California and Arizona in 1996, the Washington Post reported, federal officials warned that doctors who exercised the state laws could lose their authority to write prescriptions. But, the officials said, there will be "no widespread enforcement effort" to seek out doctors for prosecution, unless they act "on such a large scale that they in effect act as drug traffickers," the Post reported Dec. 31, 1996. Still, Arnold doesn't want his physicians taking the risk. "Federal law takes precedence, That's what we've been told," Arnold said. He referred to documents drawn up by the California Medical Association, warning physicians that under federal law a patient's marijuana use is illegal, doctor's note or not. At the same time, the CMA states California's Compassionate Use Act protects the state's patients who have recommendations and the doctors who issue them. Prosecutors are struggling to clear the haze. California officials have made statements encouraging counties and cities to set their own limits about how much pot a patient can grown without fear of jail time. Some areas have approved definite rules. In Shasta County, Undersheriff Larry Schaller has said county officials are on the brink of releasing guidelines, possibly this week. Like most of the state, Shasta County has thus far decided whether to prosecute on a case-by-case basis. State Sen. Maurice Johannessen , R-Redding, introduced a bill Friday in Sacramento that would make it illegal for medicinal marijuana patients to grow more than two outdoor plants or six indoor plants at a time. Another bill intended to help clarify medical pot -- by Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose -- is already on the Assembly floor. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is challenging voter-approved laws passed in Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Arizona, and California according to a November report by the Associated Press. Until a legal precedent sticks, Shasta Community Health Center maintains its policy against the prescription or recommendation of marijuana, said Executive Director Dean Germano. The private, nonprofit community health center employs 12 physicians who treat 40,000 patients, Germano said. "We basically are saying we are not involved in that conversation until (marijuana) is legal. It's one of those things that time will have to shake out," Germano said.