|02-20-2002, 03:01 PM||#1|
Join Date: Jul 2001
Oregon Marijuana Doctor Under Scrutiny
Oregon Marijuana Doctor Under Scrutiny
By ANDREW KRAMER
.c The Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Karel Redeker touches a lighter to the bowl of a water pipe and inhales a puff of marijuana smoke. She is breaking no law: The 33-year-old has a doctor's approval to get high.
But the physician who authorized her to smoke medical marijuana is surrounded by a cloud of controversy because health officials say he is too generous with his signature.
Dr. Phillip Leveque, 78, has approved medical marijuana for 1,718 patients - more than 40 percent of all doctor-approved applications since Oregon's medical marijuana law took effect three years ago.
The state says he's approved medical marijuana without conducting the required physicals - in many cases after other doctors turned down the patients.
The board of Medical Examiners has charged Leveque with unprofessional conduct and put him on notice that his license to practice medicine could be revoked or suspended.
But the semiretired osteopath says he is doing nothing illegal under Oregon and federal laws. He said Oregon's law did not originally require that he personally see patients before approving medical marijuana.
Leveque also said many patients live so far away that it's been difficult for him to see them.
Leveque said his sole motivation is alleviating pain. About 150 of his patients are Vietnam and Gulf War veterans suffering from chronic pain, he said.
``These people are sick, disabled and destitute. Who am I to say 'Oh, you just want to get high,''' Leveque said.
For Redeker, Leveque's signature means she can get marijuana to help alleviate the back pain she still feels from being struck by a car three years ago.
When a doctor refused to sign papers that would enable her to get the marijuana, Redeker turned to Leveque.
``A patient says it hurts, Doctor Leveque's inclined to believe you,'' she said.
Leveque does not charge patients. He asks them to contribute to Voter Power - a group that was instrumental in getting the medical marijuana initiative on Oregon's ballot in 1998 - or help offset some of his legal expenses, which he says have reached about $10,000. Patients typically donate from $50 to $100, he said.
Oregon is among eight states that allow the use of marijuana as medicine. The others are California, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada and Colorado.
Leveque says he approves applications if he is convinced a patient has a condition such as AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis or glaucoma, as allowed under Oregon's voter-approved Medical Marijuana Act.
But the board of Medical Examiners may shut him down.
The board has ordered Leveque to undergo physical and psychological exams to determine his competency to practice medicine, which he said he would do.
In response to Leveque's practice, state health regulators also have tightened the rules for approving medical marijuana cards. Now doctors must perform a physical exam before approving a card, and also must maintain up-to-date files on their patients.
Leveque has attracted the board's attention before. In 1987, his federal license to subscribe drugs was revoked for 10 years after the board found he oversubscribed pain killers, said Kathleen Haley, director of the medical board.
John Sajo, director of Voter Power, maintains the real issue is state regulators don't like Oregon's medical marijuana law.
``What we have here is hundreds and hundreds of patients saying he's a life saver. Almost every single one of them talks about how much better their life is.''
Under Oregon's law, there is no limit on the number of medical marijuana applications a doctor can sign. All patients need to do is get a doctor's signature on the application and send it along with $150 to the state.
Patients can then either grow their own marijuana - up to three mature plants and four immature plants - or have a ``caregiver'' grow it for them.
Leveque says he is providing a necessary service that most Oregon doctors are reluctant to provide.
Scrutiny from Oregon health officials has done little to slow Leveque's practice. He said he has up to 1,000 patients waiting for exams.
``If they have one of the conditions, I feel no hesitation in signing their applications,'' he said.
On the Net:
Oregon Department of Human Services: http://www.hr.state.or.us
Voter Power: http://www.voterpower.org