Dr. Philip Leveque, a 78-year-old osteopath from the Portland suburb of Molalla, is the leading prescriber of medical marijuana patients in Oregon, where the state operates a registry of persons certified to use medical marijuana under state law. By his own count, he has signed for some 1,800 patients in the last two years -- more than 40% of all medical marijuana applications submitted in the state since the law went into effect in 1999. That's too many for the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners (BME), which this week filed a formal complaint against Leveque, alleging that he engaged in unprofessional conduct by failing to conduct physical exams of all patients for whom he signed certifications. Leveque's prolific certifications earlier prompted the state to tighten up the rules for doctors certifying patients, and now the state has struck again.
But Leveque, who has requested a hearing before the board, insists he has done nothing wrong, and some of the state's leading members of the medical marijuana community back him up.
"They think I'm the crazy doctor who wants to make everybody a pothead," laughed Leveque. "But there are more than 8,000 doctors in Oregon and only about 700 have ever signed for a medical marijuana patient," he told DRCNet. "Only 277 have signed for more than one patient. That's outrageous. That's where the problem is. The doctors are afraid of George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, and Oregon BME, and the patients are suffering."
"The large number of people Dr. Leveque signed for, that's a trumped up charge against him by people stunned by the sheer numbers," said John Sajo, director of Voter Power (http://www.voterpower.org), an Oregon group instrumental in passing and defending the state's medical marijuana laws. "Voter Power was intimately involved in Leveque signing up so many people. We held clinics around the state to meet a compelling need from patients who clearly qualified under the law, but could not get a local physician to sign the paperwork," he told DRCNet. "The doctors would tell the patients, ‘go ahead and smoke it, but I'm not going to sign for it.' They're scared. That's why Leveque signed up so many. Without someone like Leveque, if you have a debilitating medical condition and marijuana helps you, but your doctor won't sign you up for it, you're in a world of hurt."
The Eugene Compassion Center (http://www.compassioncenter.net) also worked with Leveque, according to Oliver Lambert, a member of the center's board of directors. "Leveque is not a poor doctor, he's a cultural hero," Lambert told DRCNet. "We have worked with Dr. Leveque and sent roughly 200 patients through him. He is doing the job that no one is willing or capable of doing right now," Lambert said. "Instead of persecuting Leveque, the BME ought to be issuing immediate relief to all physicians in the state by issuing some clear, current guidelines for implementing the program."
Leveque said that he worked with six different medical marijuana organizations. "What they do is assemble the patients, then screen them, and if something seems fishy, they'll say sorry. That is very helpful to me," he said. "There are also 150 veterans whom I've taken care of because the Veterans Administration doctors are forbidden by federal law to sign the medical marijuana applications," the World War II veteran added.
But although Leveque and the Oregon medical marijuana movement suspect that it is the large numbers that are behind Leveque's troubles, that is not what the BME is alleging. In its complaint, the board accused Leveque of signing applications "without examining the patient, conducting medical tests, maintaining an adequate medical chart, reviewing for possible contraindications, or conferring with other medical care providers." The complaint cites three examples of Leveque practicing medicine "below the standard of care" required of Oregon doctors. Two involve patients Leveque never met or examined but approved for the program; the third cites a letter Leveque wrote to the board challenging the utility of physical exams in detecting or diagnosing diseases such as AIDS, chronic pain, and cancers.
Leveque is anything but contrite. "I rigorously followed the law as written," he said. "For the first 900 patients, no physical exam and no personal interview was required. The law said I had to review their previous doctors' medical records when available, and especially their own personal medical histories. I did that."
As for signing applications without meeting patients, Leveque said it was out of consideration for the patients. "I have patients 300 miles away, disabled, and they're supposed to come see me in Portland? Give me a break. I don't require quadraplegics, paraplegics, the blind, epileptics, or people with cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis to come see me," he said. "That's torture. So I'm a bad ass doctor because I'm helping patients, what a load of crap."
Sajo also scoffs at the allegation that Leveque practiced substandard medicine. "This is a witch hunt," he said. "There are no patients complaining, no adverse health consequences reported, no allegation of harm. That should be the driving force behind going after a doctor, but there is no allegation of harm," he said.
Quite the contrary. "Virtually all the patients are reporting health benefits, some perhaps trivial, but others say that medical marijuana is keeping them alive. This isn't about Leveque's medical practices, this is about the marijuana and the number of people he signed for. The BME should be focusing on why so many physicians are afraid to recommend it; instead, they're trumping up charges against the one physician with the courage to act."
Lambert agreed, but worried aloud what would happen should Leveque be sidelined. "The state and the BME are vilifying a 78-year-old doctor for following the letter of the law. These personal attacks are unforgivable," he said. "And what if they suspend him or take his license? It could have a devastating effect on our program. If he has signed for 40% of all medical marijuana cards, what happens when those cards expire in a year? What will the state do? This only creates additional anxiety for the patients, and that is just obscene."
Leveque remains unbowed. "I guess I'm a cannabis kamikaze. I was a battalion scout in the army," he said. "When you're out in front you get shot at, and I'm getting shot at. But medical marijuana needs all the publicity it can get and it has to be nationwide. I'm not going away."
But if Leveque is unbowed he is also angry. "Whoever these bureaucrats are, they're trying to drive me crazy and put all the patients in jail. They're acting like a bunch of second lieutenants -- if you've been in the Army, you'll know what I mean. They're harassing me and my patients. Some of my patients are absolutely panic stricken. That's the worst thing of all."