Paging Dr. Feelgood 

Sanctimonious Docs Pass the Medical Marijuana Buck

by Erin Ergenbright

The offices of Dr. Phillip Leveque have a bit of a madcap air to them. He has more patients than he knows what to do with. As the doctor most responsible for approving medical marijuana applications, he's at the center of a still-brewing controversy over legalized pot.

"They're trying to drive me crazy and put my patients in jail," he jokes.

In 1998, voters approved the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. According to the law, anyone in chronic pain or suffering from 20 qualifying conditions can obtain a medical marijuana card and grow plants at home. When the voter initiative passed, detractors sniped that the law would frustrate efforts by the police to crack down on illicit pot smoking. But five years later, the strongest objector to the medical marijuana programs appears not to be the police, but the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners.

The state medical board is, ironically, the very organization ordered by voters in 1998 to help bring marijuana to chronic-pain sufferers, as well as those afflicted with a variety of conditions from glaucoma to AIDS. But, according to Dr. Leveque, the state's medical board is hampering the law's implementation.

Though the Medical Marijuana Act states that any doctor who does not assist a patient in obtaining medical marijuana is guilty of malpractice, in five years only five percent of the state's physicians have signed a single application. Dr. Leveque says this low number is directly due to a campaign of fear and intimidation.

He should know. Leveque claims he's a primary target of the medical board. In 2002, they suspended him for 90 days and fined him $5,000 for signing medical marijuana applications without properly examining patients or maintaining adequate medical charts. Leveque says the charge is untrue, adding that he was not even able to fight the suspension without having his medical license revoked. He is now monitored by a compliance officer every three months.

An 80-year-old, Molalla-based osteopath and forensic toxicologist, Leveque has signed nearly half of the medical marijuana applications submitted in Oregon. He regularly travels the I-5 corridor to see patients in Medford, Ashland, Grants Pass, Eugene, and Salem clinics; he has 3,000 patients throughout the state.

Leveque says his clinics get an abundance of "left-handed" referrals, where doctors afraid to have anything to do with the medical marijuana program send him their in-need patients. He feels like the medical board has made an example of him.

"[Other doctors] read about this crazy Leveque dude," he explains, "and say, 'Boy, that ain't going to happen to me.'"

The Medical Marijuana Act will come under additional scrutiny this fall when the US Supreme Court reviews a lower court ruling that gives doctors the right to discuss medical uses of marijuana with their patients. The Bush Administration, which officially objects to medical marijuana, specifically requested that the court review the case. In announcing their docket for the upcoming year, on Monday the court chose the case as one of the 48 they intend to review in the upcoming months.

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