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Medical marijuana: Health dept. reinstates 1,300 rejected MMJ patients -- for now

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The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's rejection of nearly 2,000 medical marijuana patients' licenses prompted talk of potential lawsuits from MMJ advocacy groups. But the dynamic changed at yesterday's meeting of the CDPHE's medical marijuana advisory committee, when the department temporarily backed off its earlier pronouncement.

According to CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley, approximately 1,800 applications dating back to the early part of 2010 were rejected beginning late last month because the doctors who issued the recommendations had either a restriction or a condition on their license. Of that total, around 1,300 recommendations were penned by physicians with conditions on their license, with the additional 500 coming from docs sporting restricted licenses.

Salley says letters will be sent to the former group of 1,300 over the next several days informing them that their denials will be set aside until the health department formally puts a new policy in place -- something that probably won't happen until meetings in March, with additional delays possible. However, no letters will be sent to 500 patients whose recommendations were written by doctors with restricted licenses.

The roots of the controversy can be traced to Amendment 20, the 2000 measure that legalized medical marijuana in Colorado. In the measure, a physician allowed to recommend MMJ is described as "a doctor of medicine who maintains, in good standing, a license to practice medicine issued by the state of Colorado." But Senate Bill 109, a piece of legislation intended to clarify the relationship between doctors and medical marijuana patients, which became law in June, tweaked this definition, stating that a doctor in good standing must hold "a valid, unrestricted license to practice medicine in Colorado."

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As pointed out in a letter on view below from the Colorado Medical Society, which was represented at yesterday's meeting, restrictions and conditions aren't synonymous terms -- and they can be applied in a slew of ways. For instance, a surgeon who's developed arthritis might be restricted from performing operations, but he can continue to practice medicine in other areas. In addition, conditions may be placed on the licenses of doctors with suspect patient communication skills or a range of other flaws deemed to require correction. But in most cases, physicians with either restrictions or conditions can continue to practice and write prescriptions for Oxycontin and the heaviest of narcotics.

Nonetheless, the health department recently began sending rejection notices to patients whose recommendations had been written by doctors with license restrictions and conditions -- and there were plenty of them, since staffers began setting aside such packages around February, months before SB 109 was signed. However, the department didn't contact the eighteen doctors in Colorado affected by the change. Physicians like Dr. Janet Dean, who has a condition on her license, found out when confronted by angry patients, some of whom accused her of fraud and more.


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