California Cannabis Research Medical Group


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Spring 2004
Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group

Encouraged by 9th Circuit's Conant Ruling,
More California doctors Approve Cannabis Use

By Fred Gardner
Since November 1996, California law has authorized physicians to recommend cannabis in the treatment of a wide range of serious medical conditions. As of Spring 2004, by O'Shaughnessy's estimate, at least 100,000 patients have obtained physician approvals to do so.
We extrapolated from the number of Oregonians -more than 10,000- who had obtained physician approval as of Jan. 1, 2004. (The state of Oregon maintains a registry of medical marijuana users and physicians who authorize its use; California does not.)
Twelve doctors associated with the California Cannabis Research Medical Group-all but one from the northern part of the state- have issued approximately half of those approval letters.
Proprietors of dispensaries in Oakland and San Francisco report a marked increase in approvals issued by non-CCRMG doctors following a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Conant v. Walters case.

Doctors Denney and Sullivan outside their office in Lake Forest. Photo by Latitia Denney

Philip A. Denney, MD, calls the Conant decision "a key factor" in his decision to open an office in Orange County.

The background
In December 1996 Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey and other federal officials threatened to revoke the prescription-writing licenses of California doctors who discuss cannabis as a treatment option with their patients.
UCSF AIDS specialist Marcus Conant, MD, and co-plaintiffs immediately sought an injunction to prevent the government from carrying out the threat.
" The war on drugs has become the war on physicians," said co-plaintiff Virginia Cafaro, MD. But the tide was about to turn with respect to cannabis.
In April 1997 federal judge Fern Smith issued a temporary injunction protecting Conant and his fellow physicians from the federal threat. In 2000 federal judge William Alsup made the injunction permanent.
After the Bush Administration challenged the injunction, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld it in on First Amendment grounds; a doctor and patient discussing the medical use of marijuana, the Court ruled, are exercising a constitutional right to free speech.
In October 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the 9th Circuit decision. The permanent injunction became more permanent. [And isn't it just like The Man to go around calling his evanescent institutions "permanent?"]

Denney to Orange County
On Feb. 9, Philip A. Denney, MD-who formerly practiced in Loomis, a town East of Sacramento- started seeing patients at a "cannabis evaluation practice" in Lake Forest, a city at the intersection of Freeways 5 and 405 in Orange County.
If the demand for cannabis consultants in Southern California is as great as Denney anticipates, he hopes to interest other physicians in the new specialty, which he defines as "determining whether a patient has a serious medical condition that could be treated safely and beneficially with cannabis."
Denney recruited Robert E. Sullivan, MD, a former associate in Sacramento, to join him in Orange County.

Denney says that "even 100,000 patients" estimated to have used cannabis medicinally in California "represents a very small subset of the population that could be helped by cannabis if knowledgeable doctors were available throughout the state."
For most of his 27-year career Denney was a family practitioner. In the late 1990s, having become aware that doctors who approved cannabis in treating conditions other than AIDS or cancer were few and far between, he began studying the available medical literature and corresponding with specialists in the field.
In January, 1999, Denney opened an office in Loomis, specializing in cannabis evaluations.
" It was obvious when we had our practice in Loomis," says Denney (the 'we' refers to his wife Latitia, who manages his office), "and people kept showing up from all 58 counties, that there was a tremendous need and demand throughout the state."
A related need, according to Denney, is for a continuing medical education course that would bring California doctors up to speed on a subject they learned nothing about in Medical School.



O'Shaughnessy's is the journal of the CCRMG/SCC. Our primary goals are the same as the stated goals of any reputable scientific publication: to bring out findings that are accurate, duplicable, and useful to the community at large. But in order to do this, we have to pursue parallel goals such as removing the impediments to clinical research created by Prohibition, and educating our colleagues, co-workers and patients as we educate ourselves about the medical uses of cannabis.
The Society of Cannabis Clinicians (SCC) was formed in the Autumn of 2004 by the member physicians of CCRMG to aid in the promulgation of voluntary standards for clinicians engaged in the recommendation and approval of cannabis under California law (HSC §11362.5).

As the collaborative effort continues to move closer to issueing guidelines, this site serves as a public venue for airing and discussing these guidelines.

Visit the SCC Site for more information.