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Hall of Shame - Witnesses for the Prosecution - Jeffrey Barke, M.D.

Medical Board Hearing Over, Suspended Medical Cannabis Doctor Awaits Results

The hearing of William S. Eidelman, M.D., before the Medical Board of California, has finished all testimony. Dr. Eidelman and his patients are awaiting the recommendation of Judge Stuart Waxman to the Medical Board. The Medical Board makes the final ruling, which must be issued no later than April 15. The Board was seeking complete revocation of Dr. Eidelman's license. Dr. Eidelman's license was suspended in May, 2002, based solely on the affidavits of four undercover police officers, to whom Dr. Eidelman gave recommendations for medical marijuana.

Dr. Eidelman was accused of violating the standard of care in treatment of the four undercover officers. Other accusations against Dr. Eidelman involved one undercover agent of the Medical Board, plus two real patients. The complaints for the two real patients came from one disgruntled wife and one disgruntled District Attorney. The patients themselves had no complaints about Dr. Eidelman.

The Medical Board's expert, Dr. Jeffrey Barke argued that Dr. Eidelman was far outside the standard of care by not giving physical exams or taking in-depth medical histories or ordering blood tests, x-rays, or MRI's. Following the Board's position that Dr. Eidelman was not being accused of wrong-doing for writing the marijuana recommendations, Dr. Barke said the standard of care is the same for giving medical marijuana as it would be for any other prescription or even recommendation (such as exercise or take vitamins).

Dr. Eidelman's expert was Tod Mikuriya, M.D., whose field of expertise has been addiction medicine for the past forty years. Dr. Mikuriya is widely known as one of the world's leading experts on medical marijuana. Dr. Mikuriya recently went through his own Medical Board hearing, and is awaiting the ruling from the Board. Dr. Mikuriya argued that physicians specializing in medical cannabis had recognized a different standard of care relative to giving medical marijuana recommendations pursuant to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (aka Proposition 215). The standard for a cannabis recommendation required only a brief review of the medical history to verify a legitimate need, and only occasionally a physical examination. This lower standard for cannabis was based on the combination of the herb's remarkable safety record (no deaths, no organ damage from short or long term use), its very low dependency profile (there is no physical addiction and the vast majority of people do not abuse or misuse it), and its wide range of applications (Dr. Mikuriya presented a list of over a hundred medical conditions for which marijuana provides benefit).

Dr. Eidelman was allowed to present three patients. These patients, all with serious medical problems, testified that Dr. Eidelman had done a good job in caring for them. All reported that they had referred many very sick patients to Dr. Eidelman for medical cannabis recommendations, all of whom were satisfied with Dr. Eidelman's care. One patient testified that Dr. Eidelman recommended a separate treatment for her osteoporosis which, after two years, had brought her from the severe stage to within normal limits, as documented by bone scans.

Dr. Eidelman himself testified that he saw a wide range of patients with different types of conditions and with different degrees of severity. While the undercover officers were obviously at the low end of the scale of severity, all reported conditions which Dr. Eidelman believed qualified for the cannabis recommendation. The purpose of the cannabis recommendation was to provide a defense against criminal prosecution for marijuana possession or cultivation (for personal use). It might also protect against other non-criminal sanctions, such as losing your job or your child. Dr. Eidelman testified that most of his patients' conditions were serious or very serious, and that the "low-end" patients such as the undercover officers were small in number.

In closing arguments, Rajpal Dhillon, deputy Attorney General arguing for the Medical Board, claimed that there was no separate standard for recommending medical marijuana, and that Dr. Eidelman's violation of the standards represented an extreme departure whose only solution was revocation of the license to practice.

Richard Jaffe, representing Dr. Eidelman, argued that despite Dr. Barke's opinion, there are many standards of care for many different specialities, different situations, and for different treatment options and drugs. He argued that even if you don't accept the idea that the standard is exactly the one proposed by Dr. Mikuriya and Dr. Eidelman, what occurred was not negligence or incompetence, but simply a difference of opinion in the medical field.

Dr. Eidelman said he is hopeful for a positive outcome, and looks forward to returning to practice.