Colorado doctor dispute leaves pot patients in limbo
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado – Some 1,300 people waiting for medical marijuana cards in Colorado are in limbo because of a dispute over which doctors can recommend pot.
Colorado health regulators are puzzling over how to interpret a new state law requiring doctors that recommend pot to be “in good standing.” The requirement, which took effect in July, led the state to send rejection letters to thousands of marijuana-card applicants who used recommendations from doctors with restrictions or conditions on their medical licenses.
Problem is, there’s a difference between doctors with “restrictions” and doctors with “conditions” on their licenses. The distinction – with “restrictions” considered more serious than “conditions” – has thousands of would-be marijuana patients saying they were wrongly rejected, and the Colorado Medical Society joining marijuana advocates in the dispute.
“There’s thousands and thousands of patients out there who probably feel they’ve been scammed,” said Dr. Janet Dean, a Denver physician who is licensed with conditions. The conditions on her medical license are related to obstetrics and gynecology – not the ailments for which she’s been writing medical marijuana recommendations for more than a year.
Dean found out a few weeks ago that some of her patients were getting rejection letters saying that she was unqualified to write them. She went to a health advisory committee considering the “in good standing” question and argued that the state would be wrong to reject all physicians “with conditions” because many of those conditions don’t relate to recommending drugs.
The Colorado Medical Society agreed, giving the example of a neurosurgeon developing arthritis. Conditions could be added to that surgeon’s license, such as additional supervision for surgery, but that physician is still allowed to perform “the full scope of medical practice,” something a doctor with a restricted license may not.
Doctors with restrictions can also be barred from certain privileges in a hospital, or barred from working in federally funded health clinics, prohibitions that wouldn’t affect a licensee with conditions.
Kari Hershey, lawyer for the Colorado Medical Society, argued that lumping in both kinds of doctors could lead to limits on how doctors with conditions could practice.
“It improperly punishes a whole range of physicians,” Hershey said.
Colorado health authorities sent marijuana rejection letters to 500 applicants whose recommendations came from doctors with restricted licenses and to 1,300 patients with recommendations from doctors with conditions on their licenses. Draft rules considered by the health department’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee requires recommendations from a physician with “a fully active license with no restrictions or conditions.”
One of the committee members, Ted Tow of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, said both kinds of doctors should be banned from writing marijuana recommendations. The distinction between restricted doctors and doctors with conditions, he said, is too academic.
“That’s all hyper-technical inside-baseball stuff,” said Tow, who argues that lawmakers probably intended both types of doctors to be banned from recommending pot.
The marijuana advisory committee hasn’t decided which interpretation to recommend to the full Board of Health. A final decision won’t be made until March at the earliest.
In the meantime, state health authorities have sent new letters to the 1,300 patients telling them that their applications are on hold until the matter is settled. As long as those patients can show that they’ve applied, they’ll be allowed to buy medical marijuana, but they won’t have cards until sometime next year.
Marijuana activists say the confusing doctor delay isn’t fair for the 1,300 patients who thought they had a doctor’s approval to use pot.
“They’ve had their recommendations denied through no fault of their own,” Josh Kappal of Sensible Colorado told the marijuana advisory committee.
As for the 500 patients with recommendations from doctors with restricted licenses? They’re out of luck. They’ll have to find unrestricted doctors – and pay another $90 application fee – if they want to be considered.
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