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  Kaiser Lawyers Back Medical Marijuana
Posted by FoM on July 07, 2001 at 13:41:47 PT
By Michael Perrault, News Staff Writer 
Source: Rocky Mountain News 

medical Attorneys for Kaiser Permanente in Colorado have given its doctors a tentative green light to endorse medical marijuana use for qualified patients.

Doctors sought legal advice from the nonprofit HMO's lawyers in recent weeks after they became concerned about facing prosecution despite an 8-month-old Colorado law that authorizes use of marijuana to alleviate certain debilitating medical conditions.

Under state law, doctors must sign official documents stating that their patients could benefit from using marijuana. The confidential documents are then filed with the state to protect patients in the event they're arrested for marijuana possession.

"Using their own judgment, doctors can sign them or not, depending on what they think medically is the right thing to do," said Steve Krizman, a Kaiser spokesman in Colorado who talked about the HMO's legal advice.

Kaiser plans to provide its doctors with further information about potential legal issues when executives at the parent company in Oakland, Calif., make a final decision next week, Kaiser officials said.

The legal advice comes not long after Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar and Gov. Bill Owens issued a letter to the Colorado Medical Society warning that doctors face the risk of federal prosecution if they participate in the state program. Owens and Salazar also sent a letter to acting U.S. Attorney Richard Spriggs, asking him to enforce federal law.

In November, Colorado voters approved Amendment 20, allowing patients to use marijuana for conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and severe nausea.

Since the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment established a Medical Marijuana Registry and began issuing identification cards, 38 people have applied, said Gail Kelsey, administrator for the program.

Of those, 35 applications have been approved, two are pending and one has been denied, Kelsey said Friday.

Patients with identification cards can possess no more than 2 ounces of a usable form of marijuana and not more than six marijuana plants, state officials said.

At Kaiser Permanente, the legal issue came to a head recently when Dr. Miguel Mogyoros sought legal advice before signing a recommendation for a medical marijuana identification card for a patient. Other doctors then joined Mogyoros' request.

Kaiser's partnership with its physicians sets it apart from other health plans in the state, which contract with physicians and physician groups.

Because Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and PacifiCare of Colorado contracts with doctors, for example, it leaves decisions to individual physicians, preferring not to interfere with a physician's judgment about whether patients would benefit from marijuana usage.

Likewise, there are no restrictions on doctors at PacifiCare of Colorado who want to recommend marijuana use for patients, although the health plan's benefit package doesn't cover marijuana and wouldn't pay for it, said Amy Hudson, PacifiCare spokeswoman.

Salazar said Friday he had "no reaction" to the Kaiser attorneys' legal advice.

He reiterated that he upheld the state's medical marijuana law following a May 14 U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlaws cannabis buyers clubs for patients in California.

Salazar personally opposed the medical marijuana law last year for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the initiative wouldn't legalize marijuana use under federal law.

Source: Denver Rocky Mountain News (CO)
Author: Michael Perrault, News Staff Writer
Published: July 7, 2001
Copyright: 2001 Denver Publishing Co.

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