The DEA is extorting Massachusetts doctors into cutting their ties to medical marijuana clinics, the doctors say.
Several physicians say DEA agents visited their homes or offices and told them they would lose their federal prescribing licenses if they don’t quit the boards of MMJ dispensaries.
Massachusetts voters legalized MMJ in 2012, and the state has licensed the first round of dispensaries. But there have been numerous problems already, from misrepresentations by applicants to conflicts of interest. The DEA’s new tactics may delay the first pot shops, which were set to open this summer, even further.
DEA Leaves MMJ Doctors with Little Choice
The Boston Globe, which first uncovered the scheme by the anti-drug agency, reported agents had targeted at least three physicians, maybe more.
“Here are your options,” Dr. Samuel Mazza said George Kelly, a DEA investigator, told him. “You either give up you license or give up your position on the board . . . or you challenge it in court.”
Mazza is chief executive of the Debilitating Medical Conditions Treatment Centers. He said he came home from vacation in February and found a DEA business card and several phone messages waiting for him. He was instructed to call the agency immediately. When he called back, he spoke to a group of agents.
“You are chairman of an organization that is going to distribute a product that is against federal law,” Mazza said he was told. His choice was simple: the dispensary or the license.
DEA Uses Licenses to Interfere with Legal Weed
Doctors who wish to prescribe substances that are controlled by federal law must obtain a license from the DEA. That includes the most common prescription painkillers, sedatives, and cough syrups.
Marijuana is legal for medical purposes in Massachusetts, as it is in 22 other states. But it remains entirely illegal under federal law, classified as a schedule 1 drug. This means the government believes it has a high potential for abuse, is very dangerous, and has no medical use. Other drugs on schedule 1 include heroin and LSD.
It’s not terribly surprising that the DEA would try to deny prescribing licenses to doctors who work with marijuana. The agency threatened to do the same thing to California doctors in the late-1990s, after that state legalized MMJ and physicians began recommending weed to patients.
A federal judge in California overruled the DEA, however, and affirmed the right of doctors to recommend medical marijuana in the state. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose rulings apply to 10 western states, upheld that ruling, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review it, so the precedent only applies to those states – not Massachusetts.
As of yet, there is no word that DEA agents have tried to intimidate doctors who plan to issue MMJ recommendations in the state.
DEA Taking Marijuana Personally
What is surprising is the personal nature of the extortion, visiting doctors at home or at work and impressing upon them the urgency of the situation. Most of the physicians contacted by The Globe had agreed to cut contact with the dispensaries where they worked. They said it was their only realistic option.
That will make it harder for those shops to win licensing approval and to get off the ground. That may ultimately be what the DEA is after.
Everywhere else in the federal government, signs are pointing toward reform. President Obama has said he’s willing to work with Congress to reschedule marijuana so the laws banning it can be rewritten. The House recently passed legislation ordering the DEA and other agencies to stop meddling with MMJ in states where it’s legal.
But the more things change, the more the DEA seems to stand still. As agency chief Michele Leonhart told members of Congress in April, continuing marijuana reform “makes us fight harder.” Recent efforts by her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, to rein her in don’t seem to have had much effect.