More MS news articles for Aug 2001

Users of medical marijuana in Oregon rally to doctor's defense

Tuesday, August 28, 2001

PORTLAND -- Medical marijuana users yesterday rallied in support of an elderly doctor who has signed 40 percent of approved applications for medical marijuana and is under investigation by health officials.

The American Civil Liberties Union yesterday joined protesters in questioning the legality of tighter state guidelines for patients who want to use the drug for certain illnesses, including glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and AIDS.

The new rules were inspired by Dr. Phillip Leveque, a 77-year-old osteopath who has signed more applications for medical marijuana than any other doctor under Oregon's 2-year-old medical marijuana law.

About 935 medical marijuana applications approved by the state have been signed by Leveque -- in some cases, after he reviewed faxed medical records and talked to patients by phone.

"Because he's devoted the rest of his life to help people who need medical marijuana, he's being targeted. They're holding up 800 applications because Leveque has put himself out there basically as a patriot," said Pamela Snowhite-Day, a protester who smokes marijuana every 45 minutes to calm her multiple sclerosis and degenerative spine disease.

Snowhite-Day was one of about 50 protesters -- mostly marijuana users and their families -- who attended the rally outside DHS headquarters.

In response to Leveque's practices, state health officials on Aug. 10 said doctors who sign the applications must maintain up-to-date medical files on each patient, perform a physical exam and create a treatment plan.

The DHS asked the Molalla physician for medical records to verify Leveque had done so for 801 of his patients who still have applications pending.

Leveque refused to provide the records, saying that would violate doctor-patient confidentiality.

Now, the DHS is asking Leveque's patients to waive their privacy rights directly. Patients who refuse will not be approved for medical marijuana, said Dr. Grant Higginson, DHS state health officer.

"We're not trying to become more stringent and make things harder for patients. We are trying to make sure that people are complying with the law," he said. "We feel we need to see those records in order to make a determination."

David Fidanque, spokesman for the Oregon ACLU, said his organization is researching the legality of the state's latest move, but has not decided on a course of action.

"There's really no indication that I am aware of that Dr. Leveque has acted improperly. There are suspicions on the part of the health department, but I don't think there's any hard evidence," he said.

Fidanque said a state review of patient records could jeopardize doctors that signed off on the marijuana applications.

It is illegal for a physician to facilitate or encourage a patient to use a federally controlled substance, he said.

"If there were notes in the patient file like 'Discussed marijuana, notified patient that marijuana would be helpful,' that could conceivably be more likely to get the doctor in trouble," Fidanque said.

The new regulations could make already-skittish physicians even more wary of signing a medical marijuana form, he said.

Many protesters gathered yesterday said they went to Leveque after their primary doctors refused to sign the application form.

"The more the government goes on a fishing expedition into the confidential files of doctors, the more risk there is to doctors of running afoul of federal law," Fidanque said. "We are very concerned."

Higginson said the state will use the records to establish a legitimate patient-doctor relationship and nothing more.

"We only will review a file if there is a reason to believe that there may not be a legitimate relationship," he said.

"If we were subpoenaed by (the federal government), than we would fight that very strongly."

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