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State health officials said Friday that they'll ask about 800 patients with
pending medical marijuana applications signed by the same physician to waive
their privacy rights so it can be confirmed whether they have a legitimate,
ongoing relationship with the doctor.

State officials say they're simply trying to uphold the state's 2-year-old
medical marijuana law, which requires that a doctor who signs a form for a
patient be that patient's attending physician.

The doctor and his supporters say the state's actions amount to a
heavy-handed infringement on doctor-patient confidentiality. They vow to
fight the state's tactics, in court if necessary.

The controversy stems from the disclosure in July that a single doctor,
Molalla osteopath Phillip Leveque, had single-handedly signed for 40 percent
of the state's 2,227 medical marijuana card-holders.

Leveque has signed for patients all over the state, sometimes consulting
with them over the phone. He has defended his aggressive practice by saying
it was his "moral obligation" to sign for patients who legitimately qualify
under the law, especially when other doctors are reluctant to do so.

Two weeks ago, in direct response to Leveque's busy pen, the state adopted a
temporary rule that requires physicians who signed medical marijuana cards
to have an ongoing relationship with their patients. The rule requires a
physician to conduct a physical exam, develop a treatment plan and maintain
an active, up-to-date medical chart for any patient he signs for.

"That is a pretty reasonable requirement for an attending physician," said
Dr. Grant Higginson, the state's public health officer in the Department of
Human Services. "From our perspective, if that is not met we do not feel it
meets the intent of the law for what is an attending physician."

The rule also gave program staff authority to require a physician to provide
a copy of the patient's medical file. That provision has been criticized by
the Oregon Medical Association, which said it may conflict with federal law
protecting patient privacy.

To date, the state has asked only one doctor to provide patients' medical
charts: Leveque.

About 800 pending applications have been signed by Leveque, Higginson said.
That's in addition to 935 approved applications he'd signed as of Aug. 8.

Leveque's attorney, Marc Blackman of Portland, has sent a letter to the
medical marijuana program manager saying Leveque "respectfully but firmly
declines your request to examine patient files."

"Acquiescing in your request would not only invade patient privacy rights,
but Dr. Leveque's ethical, professional and legal duties to his clients,"
Blackman wrote.

In an interview, Leveque said the state's request was "illegal, unethical
and extortion."

"This is awful. This totally destroys or is an attempt to destroy the
doctor-patient confidentiality, which is sacred," he said.

That's why on Friday the state began mailing letters to Leveque's patients
who have pending applications, asking them to sign releases so state
officials can inspect their medical charts, Higginson said.

If patients choose not to sign the release forms, that's their right, but
they won't get a medical marijuana card, he said.

"If we can't review the records, we will be unable to verify a legitimate
patient-physician relationship," he said.

If the state is unable to confirm such a relationship, then a patient will
have 30 days to get a statement signed by an attending physician. If that
doesn't happen, their application will be denied and their $150 application
fee will be returned.

Meanwhile, patients with a pending application are protected from civil and
criminal penalties for possessing marijuana, Higginson said.

Medical marijuana patients and their advocates complain that the state has
allowed a huge backlog of applications to pile up. Higginson confirmed that
the state has a large backlog but said most were signed by Leveque.

"We have basically taken care of the backlog except for this one physician,"
he said. "Right now we're unable to process those because we do not have the
ability to review those records."

Lee Berger, a Portland lawyer who helped draft the state's medical marijuana
law and who defends medical marijuana patients, said the state's actions
amount to a "witch hunt."

"It's improper to promulgate rules and apply them retroactively," he said.

He said "it's likely or possible" there will be a legal challenge to the
state's actions within the next two weeks.

In the meantime, a group calling itself the Oregon Medical Marijuana
Coalition plans a rally and news conference Monday morning on the main floor
of the State Office Building, 800 N.E. Oregon St. in Portland to protest the
way the program is being administered.

Newshawk: Campaign for the Restoration & Regulation of Hemp www.crrh.org
Pubdate: Sat, 25 Aug 2001
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2001 The Register-Guard
Contact: rgletters@guardnet.com
Website: Breaking local news, news updates, sports, business and weather | Eugene, Oregon
Details: Overload Warning
Author: Tim Christie, The Register-Guard
Bookmark: Overload Warning (Cannabis - Medicinal)
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