Another four medical marijuana physicians in Massachusetts have received surprise visits, at either their home or office, from investigators representing the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The doctors were told that they would need to end their professional relationships with dispensaries of medicinal marijuana if they did not wish to lose their licenses to prescribe medications. The total is now seven doctors in Massachusetts who have been given such an ultimatum. Clearly, there is much tension created by differing state and federal marijuana laws.
A statement was issued on Friday by the DEA in response to attempts made by journalists wanting to get a clearer explanation of the agency’s motivations. The short announcement pointed out that there is nothing unusual about the DEA contacting registrants with the agency. In its role as a regulatory agency, the DEA is responsible for reminding handlers of controlled substances of their obligations regarding the Controlled Substances Act. The statement concluded with the inappropriateness of commenting on any specifics regarding registrants and any investigations that are ongoing.
A lawyer from Newton, Massachusetts, Robert Carp is representing four of the contacted physicians. He said that the doctors could be facing a variety of legal issues. Some of the doctors Carp is representing are also administrators at state-approved companies which hold preliminary medicinal cannabis dispensary licenses. They have given the companies thousands of dollars in loans for hiring staff, purchasing equipment and various fees.
Carp goes on to say that his clients are now faced with some difficult questions. If the physicians do as they are being told, which would entail taking back their loans, they are risking being sued by their business partners. Also, without their presence, other investors may back away from the companies.
The attorney advised his clients to request an appropriate amount of time from the DEA in order to make a sound decision for themselves and their partners. They have a choice between relinquishing the federal licenses that grant them the power to prescribe medicines like painkillers and walking away from the dispensaries.
In 2012, Massachusetts voters changed their state law, allowing for the medicinal use of marijuana. Though 22 states have also done this, including the District of Columbia, federal law still has a ban on any type of use of the plant. The courts have continued to uphold the patient-doctor privilege when it comes to medical marijuana. Where the trouble begins is when physicians get involved administratively with dispensaries which may weaken the patient-doctor privilege protections. This is going to leave many other physicians in Massachusetts in the same position. They may hold positions of importance at a marijuana company, but their very livelihood depends on their ability to legally prescribe potent medications.
Carp has not been able to find any instances in other states resembling what has been happening in Massachusetts in the past few weeks. Neither has a spokesperson for the American Medical Association, Randi Kahn. She has said that she is looking into the matter. Carp said that he too is reviewing the leases, contracts and case law regarding the actions of the DEA. If more medical marijuana doctors are going to be receiving surprise DEA visits, he wants to be better prepared. The attorney stated that, “This is a new era.”
By Stacy Lamy