The Department of Health (DOH) announced today that they have filed charges against two naturopaths who each wrote more than 100 medical marijuana authorizations last year at Hempfest. The crackdown was prompted by a Seattle Times article in which a reporter described how he was able to obtain a pot prescription after a cursory exam, according to a DOH spokesman.
"It was on the front page," says DOH spokesman Tim Church. "We read it and used that as the basis to open a complaint. That was the basis for our investigation. He showed how he went through, had a cursory exam, and talked about a health problem that he considered not a big deal, but he got a medical marijuana authorization. That's what prompted us to say 'We better look into this.'"
The two naturopathic physicians charged are Carolyn Lee Bearss and Dimitrios Jimmy Magiasis. Both are contractors for the 4Evergreen Group, a large Puget Sound organization that deals with a broad range of medical marijuana issues, and bills itself as "The Premier Medical Cannabis Patient Network." (The director of 4Evergreen did not immediately return a call seeking comment.)
According to a DOH statement of charges, Magiasis examined 110 patients over the course of three days at Hempfest, and diagnosed 109 with debilitating or terminal conditions that qualified for medical marijuana. Bearss reportedly interviewed 106 patients and authorized 105 to use medical pot. They are accused of using an "assembly line" to evaluate patients, and putting boilerplate language on medical records. The charges (viewable in full below) provide an overview of several patient cases and question the diagnoses made by the naturopaths.
"There are legitimate ways for patients with legitimate health concerns to access medical marijuana," Church says. "If people need it they should do it in the way that the law allows them and providers should do thorough exams to make sure they know what's going on with their patients...we expect doctors to follow this law just like they would for any other ailment that's out there."
Despite the suspicious timing of the charges today in relation to Dr. Scott Havsy's marijuana authorization advertising case, Church says the DOH is not shifting its policies and putting more scrutiny on medical marijuana.
As for that Seattle Times article that prompted all this, here are a few key excerpts:
I was authorized for recurring lower-back pain, a condition the naturopath found to be covered under the law's definition "a terminal or debilitating medical condition" because it caused "intractable pain." It flares up weekly, but I haven't missed work for it in years.The exam Martin describes hardly sounds thorough, but it seems as though the doctor followed the letter of the law. Reached by phone this afternoon, Martin seconded that assessment.
The authorization process appears to largely comply with state law, even if I might not be the type of patient voters had in mind when they passed the law in 1998...
...I waited nearly two hours to see Dr. Carolyn Lee Bearss. . "Let's focus on your back," Bearss said.
State law limits medical-marijuana use to patients with such debilitating conditions as AIDS-related wasting syndrome and multiple sclerosis. Intractable pain is defined as not easily managed, relieved or cured by other treatments.
I did not embellish, although, with no medical records on hand, nothing would have prevented it. I describe a four-year problem, treated by physical therapy, prescription and over-the-counter pain remedies, with weekly flare-ups ranging from slight to severe. Most of my male friends and family have similar complaints.
As required by the state law, Bearss did a physical exam, asking me to stretch until it hurt. She talked about other alternatives, including acupuncture, and advised me to see my primary doctor about other medical issues.
Then, after 11 minutes, she signed the one-year authorization on tamper-proof paper, and I handed over my credit card.
"The 11 minutes they spent with me is not too much shorter that I've had in some regular primary care appointments," the reporter says. "The naturopath that saw me did follow the new requirements that had just been passed by the legislature. I think the question for the pubic about authorization is whether or not I'm the type of patient that voters had in mind when they passed the law in 1998, whether my desk jockey back pain is what you would call 'intractable pain.'"
Martin says he got the idea for the piece while walking around Hempfest and getting handed a flier advertising pot authorizations with no medical records. He called it a "no-brainer of a story to check out how easy it is to get a green card."
So, has he actually used his medical pot authorization since he got it last year?
"No," Martin says. "It's still up on the wall in my office."
Find the Statement of Charges levied against Carolyn Lee Bearss and Dimitrios Jimmy Magiasis by the state Health Department on the following page ...