Pubdate: Mon, 25 Aug 2003
Source: Daily Breeze (CA)
Copyright: 2003 The Copley Press Inc.
Author: Tom Elias
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


When U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft asked the Supreme Court to
overturn an appeals court decision blocking federal agents from
punishing - or even investigating - doctors who recommend
marijuana to patients, he was not doing anything unique.

For California Attorney General Bill Lockyer was already moving
against the most prominent medipot doctor in the nation, helping the
Medical Board of California in its attempt to get the doctor's medical
license lifted.

The question: Is Lockyer, who says he favors medical use of marijuana
to help alleviate severe pain and other conditions including nausea
caused by AIDS and cancer drugs, trying to clamp down on free speech
or simply trying to restrict trade in an illegal drug?

Another question: How much leeway should doctors have when
recommending pot use to patients? Should physicians be required to
examine those patients, verifying they have the conditions they claim?

All these questions are central to the case of Tod Mikuriya, a
Berkeley physician revered in the medipot movement who also serves as
medical coordinator for the embattled Oakland Cannabis Buyers

`Dr. Tod is like an emergency physician,' says Steve Kubby, a medipot
user and former Libertarian Party candidate for governor who sought
refuge in Canada after being convicted of possessing a single
hallucinatory mushroom. `He's attempting to help a huge population of
sick and disabled people who are being shunned by most other
physicians. He is one of our movement's greatest heroes.'

The medical board moved last spring to take away Mikuriya's license,
claiming he did not take proper care in recommending pot to patients.
After reviewing records of 16 of the more than 7,000 patients for whom
Mikuriya has recommended marijuana, a Medical Board expert blasted his

The expert, said Lockyer's court brief, `was critical of Dr.
Mikuriya's failure in virtually every case to examine the patient, to
obtain a history, to perform appropriate workup of the patient's
symptoms and findings, or to follow up with or monitor the patients.'

In short, Lockyer implies that Mikuriya essentially recommends pot to
anyone who claims to have a problem which he thinks marijuana might

The doctor, however, claims he examines each patient, spending at
least 15 minutes in every case.

His lawyers contend all that is irrelevant, anyway. They say the case
is about free speech. The government =8B state and federal =8B is out
to get doctors who recommend pot under any circumstance, they imply,
with authorities disregarding the protections written into the 1996
Proposition 215, California voters' attempt to legalize medical
marijuana, which passed with a 56 percent majority.

Says the law, `Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no
physician in this state shall be punished, or denied any right or
privilege, for having recommended marijuana to a patient for medical
purposes.' This section, Mikuriya's lawyers note, is silent about
physical exams or checking patient histories.

But that is simply standard medical practice, replies the attorney
general. Without such a stricture, doctors could simply sanction use
of marijuana by anyone, facilitating trade in and use of an illegal

Nope, say medipot advocates, doctors who make recommendations are only
saying the weed can be helpful for certain conditions and recommending
it for such use. What anyone does after that is not their

What's more, say Mikuriya's lawyers, the ongoing action against him,
with the next hearing set for Sept. 3, is a roundabout way of getting
back at patients authorities have tried and failed to convict for using pot.

`The case against Dr. Mikuriya is based on the hearsay of disgruntled,
sore losers: the police, deputy sheriffs and district attorneys who
lost their criminal prosecutions against a bevy of medical marijuana
patients,' says Mikuriya lawyer John Fleer. `They're angry because
they lost their underlying prosecutions.'

If Mikuriya loses his license, chances are other doctors will refuse
to make many recommendations under Proposition 215, and the patients
who say they desperately need marijuana will have the rug pulled from
under them.

Tom Elias is author of The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer
Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It, now available in an
updated second edition.
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