Hurting Dr. Feelgood

How Oregon punished a doctor for legally recommending medical marijuana


The Oregon Board of Medical Examiners dispensed some pain to Dr. Phillip Leveque last month, suspending the 79-year-old osteopath's medical license for 90 days and fining him $5,000 for signing medical marijuana applications without examining patients. Under Oregon's 1998 medical marijuana law, patients who want to light up legally must first receive verification from a doctor that they suffer from one of nine medical conditions, ranging from AIDS to premenstrual syndrome. An unrepentant Leveque plans to spend his time off lecturing throughout the state about medical marijuana. Leveque recently talked with New York writer David Wallis.

Reason: Oregon's medical board suspended your medical license for 90 days and fined you $5000 for signing applications for medical marijuana "without examining the patient, conducting medical tests, maintaining an adequate medical chart, reviewing possible contraindicators, or conferring with other medical care providers." Are you guilty as charged?

Phillip Leveque: The Oregon medical marijuana law did not require that I see the patient or do an examination on them. If it had said so, I would have done it. And for the first 900 patients I recommended, the medical marijuana office approved 900 [applications]. All of a sudden, they say "Oh, we made a big mistake 900 times." Nobody makes a mistake 900 times.

Reason: Why not fight the suspension then?

Leveque: If I didn't accept that they would have revoked my medical license.

Reason: You've approved more applications than for medical marijuana in Oregon…

Leveque: The figure is more than 50 percent [of the total number of applications]--eight times more than any doctor in the state.

Reason: What does that say about your colleagues?

Leveque: They are scared to death of George W. Bush. They are scared of John Ashcroft. In my state in particular, they're scared of the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners.

Reason: John Ashcroft has warned doctors that they could face prosecuted for prescribing medical marijuana. Would you go to jail for your beliefs?

Leveque: I'm not doing anything illegal. I don't prescribe marijuana. I don't approve of marijuana. I don't recommend marijuana.

Reason: What do you mean you don't recommend it?

Leveque: If a patient tells me that he has one of the nine medical conditions which are acceptable by the state of Oregon [to be treated with marijuana], and it helps his medical problem, that's fine and dandy. William Osler, who was considered the father of American medicine, said "Your patient will tell you what's wrong with them."

Reason: Are there more than nine ailments that you would treat with marijuana if allowed to?

Leveque: A lot of veterans tell me that for post-traumatic stress disorder, it's better than anything else anyone has ever gave them. Also attention deficit disorder.

Reason: Pot helps people concentrate?

Leveque: Well, I guess so. It's also an excellent anti-anxiety drug.

Reason: Can you tell any difference between patients seeking medical marijuana and your other patients?

Leveque: These people are sicker, more disabled, more destitute than any patients that I saw in my regular medical practice.

Reason: But if some of your patients are in fact suckering you, do you care?

Leveque: Absolutely. I am deathly afraid of ringers being thrown at me by [regulators], and I am very, very cautious. It's just like the question, "How do porcupines make love?" Very carefully. I know that these people are out to get me.

Reason: So why take the risk?

Leveque: My Hippocratic Oath requires that I take care of my patients. And if marijuana is the way to take care of my patients, that's what I'm going to do. Any doctor who will not sign an application for medical marijuana is [guilty] of malpractice.

Reason: Did you ever expect to become a political advocate?

Leveque: I have a spinal cord injury myself. I had prostate surgery about 11 years ago, and they gave me too much spinal anesthesia, damaging my nerves going to my feet and tailbone. My feet are on fire all the time. When you walk you feel pressure. When I walk I feel fire. And when I sit down--fire. I have pain 24 hours a day. The only way I can escape from it is by taking a triple dose of sleeping pills at bedtime.

Reason: Why not smoke pot for your pain?

Leveque: If I did I would have a target on my front and back, and every cop in Oregon would be hassling the hell out of me. About 12 years ago, one of my smart-aleck sons gave me a loaded bong for Christmas and dared me to light it up. I took a couple of hits off the damn thing, I don't know if I had some bad grass, but I told him, "What do you see in this stuff, anyhow?"