Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical
Encouraged by 9th Circuit's
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
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.
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
" 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.