California doctors under attack

Dr Tod Mikuriya: one brave doctor.Dr Tod Mikuriya: one brave doctor.Cannabis-hating US feds have boarded-up med-pot clubs, ripped up and burned medical gardens and jailed med-pot patients. Now they’re going after the doctors. In the face of persecution, some doctors have buckled under the pressure and agreed to stop prescribing pot. Others have stood up for what they know to be their right, to prescribe for their patients the medicine that they know is best suited to relieve their suffering.
Tod Mikuriya is one such brave doctor. Mikuriya, a former director of marijuana research for the National Institute for Mental Health and an outspoken world-expert on medical marijuana, helped draft Proposition 215, California’s Compassionate Use Act. He is now defending his medical license against the California State Medical Board.

Although California’s Compassionate Use Act makes it illegal for medical authorities to investigate doctors for recommending marijuana, the State Medical Board claims that their investigation has nothing to do with the more than 7,000 med-pot prescriptions Mikuriya has written in the last few years.

“The fact that marijuana happened to be the drug in question is quite irrelevant to the charges,” reads a brief filed in July by the state’s Attorney General.

Yet Mikuriya showed that, in every case, complaints against him came from law enforcement officers and prison officials in a small cluster of anti-pot counties, many of whom had a bone to pick with him because he gave med-pot patients a legal defense, or refused to revoke med-pot recommendations to his imprisoned patients.

Earlier this year, when California journalist Fred Gardner investigated the Medical Board’s case, he discovered a pile of abusive anti-med-pot investigations against other doctors in the state. Doctors’ licenses were threatened by complaints from police, probation officers, district attorneys and park rangers, who were sore about med-pot prescriptions that prevented them from arresting and prosecuting people who possessed cannabis.

Last fall, Dr Mikuriya was offered a deal, a “seemingly benign probation” that included monitoring of his practice, which he rejected.

“I will not admit to guilt because I am innocent of all their accusations,” he wrote. “I believe that to cave to the settlement would send the wrong signal to my fellow physicians? I am not going to make it easy for the forces of evil. I intend to exhaust all administrative remedies.”

Shortly after Mikuriya’s announcement, he was brought before the court to defend his license. The patients in whose names the Medical Board is prosecuting Mikuriya ? none of whom filed a complaint against him ? testified in his defense. Their convincing testimony put the lie to the board’s claims that Mikuriya hadn’t spent enough time interviewing patients before prescribing them pot. One patient emphasized that Mikuriya spent more time with him than any doctor had in the past. As of this writing in late November 2003, Mikuriya’s case is still pending.

Trials and tribulations

Dr Mikuriya sees his troubles as a sign that the federal government is fed up with pro-med-pot court decisions in California and the larger 9th Circuit. The Conant vs McAffrey decision particularly rung the bells of anti-drug alarmists. It began in 1997 when Doctor Marcus Conant, an AIDS specialist, asked the courts to protect him and other MD’s from then-Drug Czar Barry McAffrey’s threats. McAffrey had publicly promised to strip pot-prescribing doctors of the licenses that allow them to prescribe controlled substances.

The 9th Circuit Court upheld doctor’s rights, ruling that it was okay for doctors to talk with their patients about marijuana. The court also said, however, that doctors who make med-pot prescriptions or recommendations “for the patient to use? as the means for obtaining marijuana? would be guilty of aiding and abetting a violation of federal law.” Government lawyers appealed the decision, hoping to completely prohibit any physician/patient parley on pot, but lost their bid last October, when the US Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision.

While the feds were working to limit med-pot access, California’s State Assembly approved resolution AJR-13, asking the feds to respect California’s Compassionate Use Act and leave med-pot prescribing doctors and med-pot using patients alone, in a 42-32 vote last summer.

Truth in trials

Meanwhile, the med-pot battle rages on in the nation’s capitol, a landslide of anti-drug bills filling Congress, threatening to bury the American people in incomprehensible last-minute changes to amendments and slippery legal-babble.

One proposed bill, the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2003, would give the Drug Czar power to redirect five percent of federal law enforcement funding out of med-pot-friendly states and into the pockets of federal narks. On September 30, 2003, the bill passed Congress and as of this writing only awaits the Senate’s approval. The message is clear: redirected money will be used to pay federal cops to persecute med-pot users and clubs.

Luckily, the med-pot faction has the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) on its side. The MPP was founded in 1995 by Rob Kampia and Chuck Thomas, the seed of what would become a powerful pro-marijuana lobbying group centered in Washington, DC.

In early 2003, the MPP unveiled the Truth in Trials Act, which would let Americans charged with marijuana offenses defend themselves with medical arguments. The bill grew out of the experiences of Cannabis Culture grow guru Ed Rosenthal, who was charged with growing marijuana but gagged from telling the jury that he was growing for sick people. Jury members found him guilty, but then publicly denounced the judge and backed Ed when they learned the truth after the trial.

The Truth in Trials Act would also protect med-pot users in states that have passed pro-med-pot laws, preventing federal judges from sending them to federal prison.

The act was introduced to Congress by Democratic Representative Sam Farr and Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher on April 10, 2003, and has gathered 40 co-sponsors, but is still under consideration by Congress. When Cannabis Culture contacted some of the co-sponsors’ offices this past summer, it became clear that some of them didn’t publicly support med-pot. So why support the Truth in Trials Act?

“There are different reasons, but mostly it’s about ideals,” said Bruce Mirken, MPP Director of Communications. “Some people genuinely believe that when the people of a state like California make a decision by a democratic process that it should be respected.”

That’s a good sign. It means that despite the heavy polarization of the drug war, those in the middle are tired of the excesses of a White House gone med-pot mad. As one congressman’s aid confidentially opined, “It’s like burning down the house to kill a fly.”Dr Tod Mikuriya: one brave doctor.

? Marijuana Policy Project: PO Box 77492, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, 20013; 202-462-5747, ext113;