By Gregory B. Hladky
4:20 PM EDT, July 23, 2013
In California, someone who wants a doctor's prescription to get medical marijuana can obtain one for just about any "health-related" reason, including writer's cramp. Of course, you do have to pay the pot doctor's fees first.
In Colorado, a new audit report blasts that state's shoddy oversight of its medical marijuana system, which has let a tiny handful of physicians hand out tens of thousands of weed prescriptions to folks looking for a little Rocky Mountain high.
Connecticut officials insist that's not going to happen here. Even so, it seems many of the 93 physicians who have so far signed up in this state to prescribe medical pot are wary of being openly tagged as "pot doctors."
"I imagine a lot of doctors may have reservations about going public," says Dr. Gary Blick, medical director of the Circle Care Center in Norwalk, which is dedicated to the care of patients with HIV/AIDS or sexually transmitted diseases. "They don't want everybody coming in just for that (medical marijuana) purpose."
Blick himself isn't so shy. "I'm signed up... I've got about 15 patients registered," he says, adding he expects that another 35 to 50 of his regular patients are likely to eventually register with the state to be able to legally obtain and use pot.
"From my point of view, I don't give a damn," Blick says of the possibility of being labeled as one of those pot docs. "It's a medicine now... and I don't care what people think."
Blick says he has no intention of simply prescribing pot to anyone who claims to need it. "I don't want to be just a dispensary," Blick explains. The only people he plans to issue prescriptions for are his regular primary care patients, people suffering from major ailments who can benefit from a marijuana treatment to ease symptoms such as pain or nausea.
State Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein says that's exactly how Connecticut's system is intended to work. His agency is in charge of setting up this state's medical marijuana program and monitoring it to make sure Connecticut doesn't end up with pot doctors whose only purpose is to turn weed prescriptions into cash.
Rubenstein's department has proposed a tough set of regulations for medical marijuana, including a slew of standards and requirements for doctors who prescribe pot for patients. Those new rules are scheduled to be voted on by a legislative oversight committee next month, and state officials hope to have the entire program up and running by this time next year.
Any Connecticut physician who wants to prescribe pot must be a medical doctor, registered and licensed in this state, who is also certified by the state and the feds to prescribe other controlled drugs like oxycodone or Percocet, according to the proposed regulations.
There must also be a "bona fide physician-patient relationship" involved, detailed records of the doctor's evaluation and assessment of the person's condition, and a diagnosis that the individual has a "debilitating medical condition."
(Which presumably would let out that California doc described in a Sacramento Bee story back in May. This guy did interviews with patients over Skype and was willing to issue a pot prescription for 249 "conditions" ranging from cancer to stuttering to writer's cramp. All you needed to do was pay $50 to the dude's receptionist, have your photo taken, and you could get your pot card.)
Connecticut's "debilitating conditions" are spelled out in detail. They include things like HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress syndrome and several other major ailments.
The proposed rules would also require a doctor to produce a long-term plan for treatment and provide an explanation of why pot was being prescribed rather than some other form of drug.
Rubenstein says Connecticut officials developed these regulations in large part by looking at the mistakes made in other states and figuring out ways to avoid them.
"Our structure is entirely different," he says. "Our oversight is entirely different." The Connecticut method is to treat medical marijuana the same way it regulates other controlled substances, and to keep track of doctors' prescriptions for medical pot the same way it has done for other medical drugs.
All of which would make a Connecticut repeat of Colorado's troubles kind of unlikely.
The latest performance audit on Colorado's medical marijuana program was issued last month and it included some highly amusing findings. (Amusing, that is, if you weren't one of the officials responsible for keeping that program from becoming a laughingstock.)
As of October of 2012, a total of 903 doctors in Colorado had issued marijuana prescriptions for about 108,000 patients in that state. But more than half of all those were handed out by just 12 pot doctors.
One of the "medical" dudes had more than 8,400 pot "patients" on his books. Another apparently felt so sorry for one patient that he recommended that person be allowed to keep 501 marijuana plants, according to the Colorado state auditor.
There were similar stories during Prohibition about easygoing, good ol' boy doctors prescribing "medicinal alcohol" for friends and relatives looking for a little otherwise illegal booze.
Of course, Colorado voters have now approved the legalization of pot, so that state's medical marijuana plan may be totally unnecessary, in the same way that repeal of Prohibition made booze prescriptions obsolete.
Consumer protection officials here say more than 500 Connecticut residents have now signed up for the medical marijuana program.
Blick, who testified before the General Assembly in favor of medical marijuana legislation, says he and other doctors are worried about people looking for a pot prescription going "doctor hopping" to find a physician who will help them out.
Rubenstein doesn't think that's going to be any worse than patients who now go shopping for a doctor who will give them the controlled drug they think they need.
"Patients look around for doctors who will treat them the way they think they should be treated," says Rubenstein. "It's not a different problem than patients trying to get other controlled substances prescribed."
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