Pot-Prescribing Doctors Could Face Harsh Penalties In Arizona

By Paul Gaita 02/22/18

Some lawmakers want to pass legislation to punish doctors who prescribe medical marijuana cards to unqualified patients.

doctor prescribing medical marijuana

Though doctors in Arizona may legally prescribe medical marijuana to patients who meet a list of qualifications, a cadre of state lawmakers have proposed new regulations which could levy felony charges against medical professionals if they do not follow additional requirements before recommending cannabis to patients.

High Times has reported that Arizona's House Health Committee has voted 6-3 in favor of HB 2067, which could put doctors at risk of up to a year in prison if they do not conduct a full medical exam on patients or review at least a year of their prior medical records before issuing the state certification for medical marijuana.

The measure was spurred by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who seeks to cut into businesses conducted by "pot docs," whom she claims are making money by providing medical cards to unqualified patients. The bill needs full approval by the House to pass, but it faces opposition by lawmakers who view the measure as unnecessarily punitive.

Polk said that her position is motivated by what she views as lax laws that allow anyone, especially young people, to acquire a medical marijuana card. "I hear a lot from the parents who are very frustrated because their son has turned 18," she told legislators. "They visited what we call the 'pot docs,' and 30 minutes later, they walk out with that recommendation."

Polk also claimed that 85% of cards are obtained by men between the ages of 18 and 30 for chronic pain—a condition that legally qualifies for a state-obtained card under the requirements of the 2010 voter-approved law. Fewer than 3% of patients have requested cards for cancer-related conditions, according to Polk, while less than 2% have received it for post-traumatic stress disorder.

"This is a de facto recreational marijuana program," she claimed.

Polk acknowledged that there are currently laws in place that allow medical boards to discipline doctors, including a revocation of their license to practice, who do not adhere to state regulations. But she opined that these regulations are not a sufficient substitute for criminal prosecution—a view not shared by every member of the Arizona House, as the Prescott, Arizona-based Daily Courier noted.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hanley (D-Tucson) said that the bill is an "attempt to overregulate a medicinal plant that has been used for centuries safely." She also decried Polk's suggestion that men between the ages of 18 and 30 had no need for medical marijuana, noting that the same demographic is among the largest number of users for opioids. "I don't think you should discount the idea that because a man is young that he does not have chronic pain," she said.

Rep. Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley) said that while she does not support recreational marijuana use, she doesn't see the need for additional restrictions imposed on medical use or to "criminalize physicians who are doing their job," as she noted. "I do think there is a serious medical need for it."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.